New year’s action in Spain continues with the Copa del Rey fixtures scheduled for the middle of the week. Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal open the programme with the first leg of last 16 early on Wednesday with both teams eager to continue their fine forms of late.
Athletic Bilbao’s three-match winning run was cut short by an exciting 2-2 draw versus Las Palmas on Sunday which came as an unpleasant surprise to the home fans, who were expecting a win over the team hovering above the relegation zone. Ernesto Valverde conceded his team ‘were not comfortable’ in their performance, but was pleased with the fact Athletic Bilbao moved up the table, even though it is just one place up the ladder. Los Leones squandered the lead twice and will be looking to bounce back and return to winning ways when they host Villarreal on Wednesday. Athletic Bilbao boss has made a promise to the fans that he will not tolerate any excuses in the Copa del Rey and that his team will do their best to be truly dominant as they always tend to be at San Mames. Aritz Aduriz was once again on target as the experienced Spanish forward has netted his 11th goal against Las Palmas. The 34-year-old striker has bagged the total of 11 league goals in 18 La Liga appearances, while he also added 6 more in the Europa League. Athletic Bilbao secured their place in the last 16 round with a comprehensive aggregate win of 8-0 over lowly Linense.
Ernesto Valverde will have no major selection issues as Ibai Gomez remains the only unavailable player for the Wednesday clash due to a knee injury he picked up in November.
Ager Aketxe could be given the chance to shine, as it was confirmed that the 22-year-old attacking midfielder will remain in the club despite the interest from a host of La Lila teams willing to take him on in January.
The Yellow Submarine are coming into their Copa del Rey clash on the back of their fifth consecutive win in all competitions. What is more, Villarreal have lost only twice and drawn once in last ten matches, but their latest 2-1 victory over Deportivo La Coruna away saw them cement the fourth spot in the standings with 36 points to their name. Marcelino’s men have a five-point cushion ahead of Celta Vigo in fifth spot and are a single point away from Real Madrid sitting in third place. Villarreal manager admitted, though, that his side were lucky to leave Deportivo La Coruna with three points in the bag and that the fairest result would have been a draw. Indeed, the Yellow Submarine clinched their win through Bruno Soriano’s penalty in the fifth minute of injury time. Bruno Soriano has bagged a brace in the game taking his tally to four goals in 13 La Liga appearances. The 31-year-old Spanish midfielder has added two more goals in the Europa League, while he is yet to make his mark in the Copa del Rey. Villarreal have moved through to the last 16 round with a 4-3 aggregate win over Huesca.
Marcelino has announced that Leo Baptistao could get more playing time if everything goes smoothly, but Villarreal manager is travelling to San Mames without Adrian Lopez, who is experiencing hamstring problems.
Bojan Jokic is also injured for the trip to San Mames and the Slovenian international is also close to joining Nottingham Forest on loan.
Key Factors to Consider
- Athletic Bilbao have won 6 of their last 9 home matches
- Aduriz has impressed with 11 league goals this term
- There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 11 of Bilbao’s last 12 games
- Villarreal are without a defeat in their last 3 games on the road
- Marcelino’s men have scored 2 or more goals in 5 of their last 7 away games
The visiting side have managed back-to-back away wins and will have to be taken seriously as they arrive to San Mames. On the other side, Athletic Bilbao are without a defeat in nine matches at their fortress and will be keen on keeping the fine home run going. The two rivals have been on a fine scoring run lately and I expect to see goals at both ends.
Verdict: Both teams to score – Yes
Best odds: 10/11