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Europa League preview: La Liga sides set sights on final

Atletico Madrid travel to Valencia in their all-Spanish Europa League semi-final on Thursday in a second successive Iberian last four.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao trek to Portugal to do battle with Sporting Lisbon in the other tie in a reversal of last season’s semi-finalists where three Portuguese and one Spanish side locked horns.

Valencia boss Unai Emery said his side was fully focussed on the tie having put memories of their 2010 exit from the competition to Atletico at the same stage behind them.

“We could look back on (a controversial non-penalty against Atletico at the same stage in 2010) to try to motivate the players but we won’t do it,” Emery said.

“We put that incident behind us as soon as it happened and you have to look forward and wait for another chance.

“We have to focus on today, how we will approach the game and how we build up our hopes.”

Atletico are on a run of nine straight wins in the Europa League but will have to make two forced changes in defence.

Diego Godin (suspended) and Silvio Pereira miss out with Juanfran Torres and Joao Miranda expected to deputise.

For Valencia, full-back Antonio Barragan is suspended while the return to fitness of Spain striker Roberto Soldado straightens up their formation.

These two sides were drawn together in the 2010 semi-finals with Atletico scraping through on away goals after a 2-2 draw and 0-0 stalemate at home.

In the other tie, Bielsa will have selection concerns of his own with suspended star midfielder Javi Martinez unavailable while striker Iker Muniain will undergo a late fitness test on an eye problem.

Sporting go into the home leg at San Mames undefeated in Europe on their pitch this season but manager Sa Pinto knows only too well the threat Athletic pose.

“Athletic Bilbao are a quality team,” Pinto said.

“They live and breathe as a team, with an intense rhythm for the full 90 minutes. It seems that nothing scares them, they are frenetic and high-paced.

“They have no interest in changing this set-up, no matter who they play.”

Key to Bielsa’s approach will be star marksman Fernando Llorente who has netted four goals in the last four Europa League games for Bilbao.

Pinto could welcome back midfielder Daniel Carrico from suspension to bolster the midfield.

Thu 19 April, 2012
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