Barcelona will be hoping to book a place in the Copa del Rey semi-finals when they take on Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Thursday.
Spanish football royalty will be in action on Thursday as Real Madrid and Barcelona play their respective Copa del Rey quarter-finals. Holders Barcelona will travel to the Basque Country on the day, as they lock horns with Athletic Bilbao for a place in the penultimate stage of the competition.
Athletic Bilbao entered this season’s Copa del Rey in the very first round, where they beat fourth-tier Intercity 3-0. A convincing 4-0 win over another fourth division team, Sestao, followed in the second round. In the last two rounds, Los Leones have needed penalty shootouts to prevail in each of the last three rounds, first against Elche then at Tenerife last time out.
On the other hand, Barcelona’s first bow in this season’s Copa del Rey came in the Round of 32, where they met UD Ibiza. The third division side posed a scare after grabbing an early lead, but the reigning champions prevailed 2-1 in the end. In the fourth round, the Catalans were much more comfortable, as they cruised to a 5-0 win over Leganes.
Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao have already clashed once this season, with the Basque outfit coming away with a 1-0 win on the opening weekend of the season at San Mames. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Gaizka Garitano does not have a lot of pressing roster issues hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Thursday, the Athletic Bilbao manager will be without just two first-team players due to injury and suspension.
Oscar de Marcos is a long-term absentee due to a muscular injury. Iago Herrerin, who has been the preferred goalkeeper in the Copa del Rey, is suspended after being sent off against Tenerife in the last round. In his stead, Unai Simon will step in, starting in the competition for the first time this season.
In the absence of the injured de Marcos, Ander Capa is likely to start as Athletic Bilbao’s right-back. On the opposite flank, Yuri Berchiche ought to start, with Yeray Alvarez and Inigo Martinez partnering up at the heart of the defence.
Up ahead in midfield, Dani Garcia and Unai Lopez will be stationed in the double pivot, with the duo tasked with keeping things tight in the middle of the park. Top scorer Raul Garcia will be given a free role in the final third, with the veteran midfielder looking to arrive late in the box to look for scoring opportunities.
Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain will be the two wide men for Bilbao, with the duo charged with creating overloads in the central areas to allow the full-backs to provide the width. Asier Villalibre will lead the line against Barcelona, with Aritz Aduriz being a backup option on the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Simon; Capa, Alvarez, Martinez, Berchiche; Dani Garcia, Lopez; Williams, Raul Garcia, Muniain; Villalibre
Unlike his counterpart in the Athletic Bilbao dugout, Quique Setien has one major problem area troubling him ahead of the trip to the Basque Country. On Thursday, the Barcelona boss will be without three first-team players, with attack posing a huge issue.
Luis Suarez (knee) and Ousmane Dembele (hamstring) are long-term absentees, with the duo expected to miss out much of the remainder of the season, if not all of it. The only other player who is sidelined is backup goalkeeper Neto.
With the usual cup goalkeeper unavailable, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal once again. Nelson Semedo seems to have usurped Sergi Roberto of late, but the Spanish international could get a chance to impress and will start at right-back. On the opposite flank, Junior Firpo should start, giving Jordi Alba the opportunity to get a breather.
Gerard Pique is a certain starter at the heart of the Barcelona defence, seeing as he will be serving a suspension this weekend in the league. Pique’s central defensive partner should be Samuel Umtiti. The rest of the team should have a strong composition, with Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong starting in midfield.
Busquets will be deployed at the base of the three-man midfield, with de Jong reprising a more advanced role. The third man in the middle of the park ought to be Arthur, who will be hoping to make an impression. Up ahead in attack, there is no looking past Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati, with Alex Collado being the backup option.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Firpo; de Jong, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Griezmann, Fati
- Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao are the two most successful teams in the Copa del Rey, with 30 and 24 triumphs, respectively.
- Athletic Bilbao have won seven of their 16 Copa del Rey meetings with Barcelona at San Mames (D4 L5).
- Athletic Bilbao have been beaten just twice in 11 games at home this season (W6 D3).On the other hand, Barcelona have won just five of their 12 domestic games on the road this season (D3 L4).
- Quique Setien will face Athletic Club for the ninth time as a coach, the first with Barcelona. In the previous eight encounters, he has won one, drawn three and lost four games.
- Lionel Messi has played against Athletic Bilbao eight times in the Copa del Rey, scoring in six of those matches.
Player to Watch
After a slow start to the season, Antoine Griezmann has slowly been coming into his own and finding his feet as a Barcelona player. The Frenchman has been in fine form in Copa del Rey, in particular, where he has already scored three goals in two games.
With Quique Setien down to his bare bones, Griezmann needs to continue performing at the top levels if he has to help Barcelona win silverware this season. In Athletic Bilbao, he faces a team that have contained him well this term, and Griezmann will be eager to set the record straight at San Mames on Thursday.
Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Barcelona (Barcelona to win on penalties)
Athletic Bilbao have been on a poor run of form lately, with wins being hard to come by. Los Leones have won just one of their last 8 games in regulation time, although that victory did come in the Copa del Rey. However, in Barcelona, they face a team that have struggled on the road this season and were made to work hard in their only away cup game so far this term.
Considering the respective struggles of the two teams, it looks as if the game will not have a lot of goalmouth action. In the end, draw specialists, Athletic Bilbao, could end 90 minutes with another stalemate. To that end, The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw, with Barcelona prevailing on penalties.