Athletic Bilbao are aiming to reach a historic final of the Copa Del Rey this season as they take on Levante in the semi-final first leg on Thursday.

Athletic Bilbao lock horns with Levante at San Mames on Thursday as both sides look for a ticket to the final edition of the Copa Del Rey. For Athletic, it could be a chance to seal an early advantage and move one step closer towards securing a historic result that could see them play in the final of this coveted competition twice this year.

Los Leones had reached the final last season, which has been postponed till April later this year. They are scheduled to face Real Sociedad in 2019/20 final while a triumph over Levante could see them take on the winners of the first semi-final between FC Barcelona and Sevilla.

Levante are hoping to spoil the party and continue their excellent run of form that has seen them register three wins in their last four competition – a run that includes a 2-1 upset over Real Madrid. They are also undefeated in all competitions since 2nd January – making them quite a sturdy opposition for Athletic Bilbao.

Unlike Levante, the Basque outfit is currently under pressure in LaLiga, having won just two of their last five league matches. They have been quite busy in cup competitions in recent weeks, with Marcelino hoping that it wouldn’t end anytime soon.

Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at the two sides in this exciting first leg encounter of the Copa Del Rey semi-final on Thursday.

Tactics & Team News

Athletic Bilbao

Marcelino has urged a more aggressive prior to this game, which is hardly a surprise as Athletic Club do need to secure a win. The typical objective will be to seal a narrow victory in this tie and aim for the elusive away goal in the second leg. So essentially, there could be a balanced approach, with one side providing more attacking thrust than the other.

That is where Marcelino’s 4-4-2 becomes quite crucial. Oscar de Marcos, in particular, is a curious case. He is a far more defence-oriented wide midfielder than Alex Berenguer so one could expect the latter to get more attacking freedom on the left flank. Similarly, the onus will be on left-back to Yuri Berchiche to move forward more often than Inigo Lekue on the opposite flank.

Iker Muniain is a doubt after missing the last game. His potential absence could be a major blow and though we do expect him to start, the Unai Vencedor is the likely deputy in central midfield. Much like Berchiche and Berenguer, Muniain could also operate much forward than Dani Garcia.

The triol will essentially be looking to provide the supply for the offensive duo of Asier Villalibre and Raul Garcia, although Marcelino does have the option of the pacy Inaki Williams.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; Lekue, Alvarez, Martinez, Berchiche; De Marcos, Garcia, Muniain, Berenguer; Villalibre, Garcia

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Levante

Jose Campana remains a huge absentee for Levante in this crucial encounter. The 27-year-old could have provided the industry that is required to combat the likes of Muniain and Garcia.

The onus, in the meantime, will be on Nemanja Radoja and Mickael Malsa to provide the solidity in the second line of press, with the visitors likely to shift to a 4-2-3-1. It won’t be surprising to see these two operate deep and support the two centre-backs in Sergio Postigo and Ruben Vezo as Levante look to avoid any unnecessary goal.

However, coach Paco Lopez will also have one eye on the away goal that could give his side a great deal of advantage heading into the second leg. As such, he could unleash his two fullbacks, along with his two wide midfielders to bombard the flanks, causing problems for the likes of Lekue and Berchiche.

Finally, the Levante attack is likely to spearheaded by top-scorer Roger Marti, with Ruben Rochina operating just in behind the central striker. Club captain Jose Luis Morales could be another option either out wide or in the central attacking position, though he will likely be used as a sub.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Cardenas; Coke, Postigo, Vezo, Tono; Radoja, Malsa; Son, Rochina, Bardhi; Marti

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Key Stats

  • Despite their relevance in the Spanish top flight in recent years, this is the first meeting between the two sides in the Copa Del Rey.
  • Levante’s last win against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions came way back in December 2018, in what was Levante’s last home against Los Leones where crowds were present inside the stadium.
  • Enis Bardhi, Inaki Williams and Raul Garcia have all netted three goals in this fixture over the years, highest among current players.
  • Only four clubs have scored more goals than Levante in La Liga this season including the top three and Real Sociedad.
  • Among clubs not in the top six, only SD Eibar have conceded fewer goals than Athletic Bilbao in La Liga so far.

Player to Watch

Inaki Williams

Lenglet was solid, but there is room for improvement. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Inaki hoping to cause some trouble. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Although we don’t predict Inaki Williams to start, the Athletic Bilbao forward could play a key role in the outcome of this tie. The attacker has been in decent form, of late, creating a good offensive partnership alongside Asier Villalibre.

In a game that is likely to remain cagey for the most part, Inaki’s pace could indeed be a focal point of the Athletic Bilbao frontline, especially during the final stages of the game when it will be easier for him to penetrate the lines against the tiring defenders. Utilising him as a super-sub, therefore, could turn out to be an ingenious move by Marcelino.

Prediction

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Levante

Athletic Bilbao are the favourites to perform well in this encounter, in light of their performance in the cup competitions under Marcelinho. However, Levante are in great form and could potentially disrupt the opposition defence with a brilliant strikeforce that features the likes of Marti and Rochina.

Their recent win over Real Madrid was a great indicator of the threat they possess, especially on the counter. Athletic Club does have the edge with their experience in these sort of high stake encounter, but an in-form Levante could prove quite the hurdle. We are predicting a 1-1 draw in this first-leg matchup.

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