Previewing Athletic Club vs Huesca: Copa Del Rey 1st Leg
Athletic Club will finally begin their Copa del Rey campaign on Wednesday after being forced to reschedule the first leg fixture earlier this month. Huesca will be coming to the San Mamés for the second time this season and both clubs are in need of a big win. The Lions have made it to the Copa del Rey final 39 times, winning the trophy 24 times. The Cup has always been a big part of the club’s history and will be a priority again this season.
Surprisingly, Athletic and Huesca have only met one other time in history which was their La Liga clash at the San Mamés earlier this season. The Basques played a terrific game to take a 2-0 lead with nearly 30 minutes left to go, then Huesca then responded with two great goals of their own to draw level. The match ended in a 2-2 draw. This time neither side will be satisfied unless they come away with a victory.
It’s been a difficult year for Huesca who are currently enjoying their very first season in the Primera. The newly promoted side won their first game of a season against Eibar, but have not been able to secure a victory since. They have lost 9 of their 13 league games and currently sit at the very bottom of the La Liga table. The players have been open about the fact that staying alive in the league will be a bigger priority than the Copa del Rey which will influence how they approach this match.
Huesca will be without several key players as Francisco Rodríguez left Xabi Etxeita, Moi Gómez, David Ferreiro, and Gonzalo Melero out of the squad for Wednesday’s game. The manager stated in his pregame press conference that Etxeita and Gómez were left behind due to fitness, but their absence will definitely be felt. Still, leading scorer Álex Gallar and dangerous forward Juan Camilo Hernández will demand attention.
Athletic’s league campaign has been almost a mirror image to that of Huesca. The Basques defeated Leganés 3-2 to win their first game of the season and haven’t won another game since. Eduardo Berizzo’s side have now gone a club record 12 straight La Liga matches without a win and the fans aren’t happy. Athletic currently occupy the 18th spot in the table and are desperate to climb out of the relegation zone as quickly as possible.
Despite their struggles in the league the team has made it clear that the Copa del Rey is still an important competition. Berizzo clarified in his pregame press conference that Raúl García and Mikel Balenziaga will be unavailable due to the injuries they sustained on Sunday, which isn’t a surprise. Mikel Rico was able to return to training on Tuesday, but is also doubtful to play. Meanwhile, Yeray has fully recovered from his muscle injury and the manager said that he will be in the squad, although it’s unlikely that he will start.
With another big La Liga match on Monday night Berizzo will have some difficult decisions to make when choosing the lineup against Huesca. He’s already stated that there will be some changes from the team used on Sunday, but not many. Berizzo hinted at the idea of Aritz Aduriz starting at striker and Unai Simón taking Iago Herrerín’s place in goal. There are plenty of options to rotate the team, but selecting the midfield will be the biggest challenge.
With Huesca resting several key players this could be the perfect opportunity for Athletic to pick up a vital win that will help build confidence. The Zurigorri will be playing in front of their own fans at the San Mamés and the patience is already running thin. For Athletic to win they will need to control the game while also creating enough scoring chances. Finishing in front of goal will be a big factor on Wednesday, as will Athletic’s ability to keep Huesca’s counter attack under control. The Basques can’t afford to make any more mistakes or waste this prime opportunity. This is a game that Athletic can win, and they desperately need it.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Unai Nuñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iñigo Córdoba, Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta, Aritz Aduriz