The Copa del Rey final of the 2019/20 campaign will take place on Saturday as Athletic Bilbao take on Real Sociedad at Estadio de La Cartuja.
Following a week full of international matches, the domestic leagues in Europe get back underway this weekend, with interesting title-deciders in the Bundesliga and in Ligue 1 set to take place on Saturday.
For Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, it will be a completely different story as the two sides meet in Seville this weekend, to play out the final of the 2019/20 Copa Del Rey.
It is a bizarre fixture that was ruled out last year due to football coming to a halt in light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the proceeding pandemic. Although the Spanish FA were able to play out the remainder of La Liga campaign, the cup final was shifted to April 2021 as neither of these two legendary Basque outfits agreed to play without fans.
Unfortunately, fans are not still not allowed inside the stadium in this final as these two rivals play for glory, with Athletic, in particular, hoping to end their 37-year major trophy drought.
Interestingly, Bilbao will get another bite at the cherry if they fail to win this one, as they have reached the final in this edition of the Copa del Rey as well. In fact, they are scheduled to play FC Barcelona in the final later this month, at the same stadium.
Nevertheless, the Catalans are a much trickier opposition when compared to their Basque rivals, although the stakes might be considerably higher in this derby. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over both these sides ahead of this 2019/20 Copa del Rey final this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
🗣️ “We know that what Athletic means for the people, for our city, for all fans across the world.”
— Athletic Club (@Athletic_en) April 2, 2021
Athletic Bilbao boss Marcelino does not like too many chops and changes, even though he has recently switched to a 4-4-2 that has served him well in the league. He is likely to continue with a similar setup, with Inaki Williams and Raul Garcia spearheading the attack.
The generic 4-4-2 usually points to a narrow setup with central midfielders, in particular, working closely together to offer more solidity in the second line of press. It will be interesting to see whether Unai Lopez and Mikel Vesga operate in that same role, with further assistance from wide attackers in Alex Berenguer and Iker Muniain.
Both the attackers, though, should play a key role in offering the creative essence going forward, in addition to their vital presence in the first line of press. In fact, their use of covershadows to block the passing options from the opposing ball-carrier could go a long way in restricting Sociedad from building up from the back.
Defensively, Marcelino is unlikely to make any changes to the side that secured a narrow win over Eibar in the last league game. As such, we expect Yeray Alvarez and Inigo Martinez to marshall the four-man backline with Oscar de Marcos and Yuri Berchiche occupying the full-back slots.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; de Marcos, Alvarez, Martinez, Berchiche; Muniain, Lopez, Vesga, Berenguer; Williams, Garcia
Despite an unconventional 5-4-1 against FC Barcelona in the last match, Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil primarily prefers a fluid 4-3-3 that will mainly focus on taking control of the possession through the numerical advantage in the middle of the park.
— Real Sociedad (@RealSociedadEN) April 2, 2021
The midfield trio of Mikel Merino, Asier Illaramendi and David Silva is going to play a central role in helping Sociedad dictate the play. The experienced Silva, in particular, should be in charge of offering the creative influence in the final third, with the former Man City icon more than capable of threading those passes to find the attackers upfront.
Speaking of which, the onus will be on top-scorer Alexander Isak to provide the productivity going forward, with additional support from Adnan Januzaj and Mikel Oyarzabal. Alguacil does have a few alternatives in attack, including Ander Barrnetxea, who had scored the only goal in the humiliating 6-1 defeat to FC Barcelona.
Defensively, Real Sociedad are likely to opt for a conventional back four with Robin Le Normand operating at the heart alongside either Igor Zubeldia or Aritz Elustondo. Andoni Gorosabel and Aihen Munoz remain likely starters out wide, hoping to provide the width going forward for Los Txuri-Urdin.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Remiro; Gorosabel, Zubeldia, Le Normand, Munoz; Silva, Illarramendi, Merino; Januzaj, Isak, Oyarzabal
- Athletic Bilbao last won a major trophy way back in 1984 during the golden period that saw them win La Liga twice as well as one Copa Del Rey.
- Athletic Bilbao bizarrely play two Copa Del Rey finals this month; their 2020/21 campaign final will be played against FC Barcelona later this month.
- Real Sociedad do have the upper hand in this derby, winning five of the last ten meetings between these two sides, with Bilbao winning four of them.
- La Real have also won the last two derbies, although they have lost the last two league matches, including a humiliating 6-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona.
- Athletic Bilbao have drawn five of their last eight matches in the league, with a majority of them finishing either 1-1 or 0-0.
Player to Watch
As the first black goalscorer in Athletic Bilbao’s history, with the club famously known for incorporating only homegrown talents, this will be a special game for Inaki Williams, as the Bilbao born attacker hopes to clinch the title against his Basque opponents in Real Sociedad this weekend.
Although Alexander Isak may have stolen the limelight with his performances and goals in the final third this season, Williams certainly remains the focal point of this encounter.
His pace, trickery and hard-working qualities already make him the most important attacker for Athletic and most of the club’s attacking forays will go through him. Therefore, it will be integral for Real Sociedad to keep the 26-year-old quiet, although that has proven to be a difficult job for many clubs in Spain this season.
Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Real Sociedad
This is an extremely difficult game to predict as both sides are well-matched and are desperately looking to win, not just for the cup but also for the bragging rights. Although the absence of fans will be disappointing in its own right, Athletic do have the upper hand heading into this game as they performed well in the cup and wouldn’t have to deal with the ignominy of conceding six goals in their last game.
In addition, the Basque outfit has most of their key players available over their neighbours and could pose quite a threat on the counter. We are thus expecting them to secure a narrow 2-1 victory this weekend.