Thursday, January 19, 2017

Prediction: Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona

Verdict: Both teams to score – yes

Best Odds: 4/6

Bookmaker: bet365

Two of the Copa del Rey’s most successive sides with 52 titles between them will square off in the last 16 phase of this year’s competition, with the first leg taking place at the iconic San Mames. Considering that Athletic have done well of late, this will be anything but a walk in the park for Barcelona.

Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao are a perfect club for football romantics, and not only because they solely rely on players of the Basque origin, but also because of their in-your-face style of play that is not discarded even when they are facing Spain’s and Europe’s strongest sides. Their incredible passion and full on high pressing are some of the reasons why both Real Madrid and Barcelona have found it hard to dominate games at San Mames, and los Leones will be relying on their trademark approach in an attempt to get revenge on the Catalans for several costly defeats in previous Copa del Rey campaigns. One of just a handful of clubs that always play at full strength in domestic Cup, Athletic reached the final in two of last five campaigns, only to be defeated by Barcelona in the final. Los Leones were able to taste revenge as they hammered their more illustrious opponents in the 2015 Spanish Super Cup, but have since lost five straight matches against the Catalans, including last year’s double defeat in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals. Nevertheless, Ernesto Valverde’s side appear to have again turned San Mames into a real fortress, having won 10 of last 11 matches on home soil in all competitions.

Team News

Important midfielder Benat Etxebarria has resumed full training, but Inigo Lekue is unlikely to be risked as he battles a thigh problem.

Meanwhile, Oscar de Marcos (foot), Yeray Alvarez (illness) and Ager Aketxe (knee) are definitely out of the Barcelona game.

Barcelona

Barcelona haven’t exactly impressed in the first part of the season, and this especially applies to their La Liga performances. The Catalans are now three points behind leaders Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand, meaning they face an uphill task in their attempt to defend the league trophy. At the same time, Luis Enrique and his men hope to go all the way in UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey, and their next obstacle in the Spanish Cup is not one to be taken lightly. Barcelona did show improvement ahead of the winter break, winning four straight matches and scoring 18 goals in the process, but it remains to be seen how the team will look like after the holidays. It is important to note that star players Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were given a two-week break and they only resumed training on Monday, but, given the importance of the game at San Mames, the trio is expected to be in the starting line-up. As we have already pointed out, the Catalans won their last five meetings with Athletic, but three of those wins were recorded by the narrowest of margins.

Team News

In spite of the prolonged break, the MSN trio should lead the line, while Jeremy Mathieu is back in contention after recovering from injury.

Considering that Jasper Cillessen is out injured, Jordi Masip may be given a chance to start the clash at San Mames.

Key Factors to Consider

  • Barcelona (28) and Athletic (24) have won 52 Copa del Rey trophies between them
  • The Catalans beat los Leones in 2014/15 and 2011/12 finals
  • Barcelona won last five meetings with Athletic
  • Los Leones have ten wins in last eleven home games (D1)
  • MSN trio has yet to feature in this year’s Copa del Rey

Conclusion

Athletic Bilbao will not be lacking motivation when they take on old Copa del Rey rivals, and with evergreen Aritz Aduriz still bagging goals for fun, we are backing los Leones to make life difficult for Barcelona. The hosts’ risky high-pressing approach should guarantee us an entertaining encounter, so we expect both teams to get on the scoresheet.

Verdict: Both teams to score – yes

Best Odds: 4/6

Bookmaker: bet365

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