Gaizka Garitano “We’re in better shape for Eibar than for Granada”
Having had two weeks to prepare for Sunday’s trip to Ipurua, Athletic expect to put in a strong outing against Eibar. The Lions are coming off of a disappointing 2-0 loss to Granada to start the season and hope to pick up all three points this weekend. A Basque Derby is always unpredictable. Anything can happen, but Gaizka Garitano is confident in his team heading into Sunday’s match.
“We’re in better shape for Eibar than for Granada,” Garitano said during Saturday’s press conference. “Not playing match day two has allowed us to give more time to the players that weren’t quite ready for the start of the league.”
Garitano knows Eibar well from his time as the club’s captain and coach. Games at Ipurua are always difficult for visitors and the Mister emphasized the importance of controlling the ball in Eibar’s half of the field.
“We are two teams that share some of the things we like. We both like to play in the opposite field, we like to push up and take risks with the defense quite high. The fight is for the territory in the opposite field. Playing more in the opposite field makes you more comfortable. We will try to create danger for them where they have the most problems, which is at the back. They have many players in attack and put in good crosses. You always have to suffer at Ipurua, every team has moments where they suffer.”
The Derby was originally scheduled to be played on Friday night, but once again it was moved to the weekend just days before kickoff. Like Eibar manager José Luis Mendilibar, Garitano spoke out about the constant changes that make it difficult to properly prepare.
“We have had two weeks and didn’t know when we would play until Wednesday afternoon. You don’t know what content you need to do in training when you don’t know when you’re playing. I think it’s a great lack of respect for the professionals, for the clubs, and for the fans. It’s a disaster that you don’t even know when you’re going to play. As long as it goes on like this, the competition isn’t serious. You have to take things seriously and this isn’t serious.”
Speaking about specific players, Garitano was asked about defender Unai Núñez who will start in place of Yeray. The Mister spoke highly of the 23-year-old, praising his work in recent training sessions at Lezama.
“I see him well. He’s working hard and going to play tomorrow. Last year he played 25 games, which is many, and he is a very good center-back. We trust him and we want him to be at Athletic for many years. Tomorrow he will play and we hope he gives a good performance as always. I take into account more than anything what players do on the field. What they say I don’t follow too much. He works well, he’s trained well all week, and he will play tomorrow.”
Núñez recently confirmed that he’s asked the club to leave on loan as a stipulation to sign a new contract. The defender said he’s currently the third option at the back, but Garitano denied having given any players a specific role in the team. “It’s not true,” said the manager. “Never in my life have I told a player that he is a third center-back or a fourth midfielder. I never talk to the representatives, I don’t know them. It’s something that’s not true.”
Garitano also touched on Peru Nolaskoain’s situation with the 21-year-old currently recovering from a muscle injury. Despite being moved to center-back a two years ago, Garitano still views Nolaskoain as a midfielder.
“For this game he was clearly an option as a defender. He’s a player who can play in both positions. I see him more as a midfielder, but it’s true that he can help us in defense. Given Yeray’s injury and taking into account that we are a team with three center-backs, when the normal thing is that all Primera teams have four, it’s possible for Yeray to play there, but he’s also injured right now.”
Asier Villalibre got some attention from the manager as well. After stepping up at the end of last season, Villalibre figures to take on a more important role in the team this year. Garitano ensured that the striker will see more minutes.
“He’s playing a lot, more and more, and you’re going to see him start more than once. He’s the only real striker that we have. It’s true that he gives us a boost when he comes on, which is important with five changes. He’s a player that when he enters, he does well. Last year he played a lot and this year he will do more, because he’s a player we like who can score goals.”
Of course, young players were also a topic of conversation. Unai Vencedor and Oier Zarraga both had incredible preseasons and were called up for Sunday’s visit to Ipurua. Garitano asked for patience with the starlets, but confirmed they can help the first team.
“Each player has qualities and contributes to the team. Each one has his own citrus and his weaknesses. I see the strengths more than the shortcomings. Unai (Vencedor) passes the ball well. He has that quality that sometimes we need in the center of the field and he has other shortcomings as well. Zarraga has a long leash, he runs all over the field. He’s a very complete player, with quality from box to box. He’s a young player and we’re very happy with him. These are players who are appearing more and more, a new generation. We have to have a little patience with them because they are counting more and more.”
In closing, Garitano addressed the ongoing transfer drama. Athletic have been linked with moves Javi Martínez and Alex Berenguer, though it’s unlikely either will be signed this summer. The manager refused to comment on specific players, instead reinforcing that he’s only focused on the players currently in the team.
“I am fully informed daily of all the club’s movements, but that’s not my job. My job is to prepare for tomorrow’s game to win it. I always focus more on what the team has to do here at Lezama to prepare for the games. It’s a subject that other people handle, talking about players who are on other teams right now. My job is to get the best performance from the players we have here.”
Athletic sit at the bottom of the La Liga table going into match day three, albeit with a game in hand. The Lions must win at Ipurua to start climbing. Eibar always play strong at home, but the Zurigorri are confident they can bring all three points back home to Bilbao.