Previewing Huesca vs Athletic Club: Copa Del Rey Second Leg
Athletic Club have hit the reset button on their season, so to speak. Eduardo Berizzo was relieved of his duties on Tuesday and was replaced by Bilbao Athletic manager Gaizka Garitano who is now tasked with leading the Lions out of the relegation zone. The La Liga season has been bleak, but Garitano tenure will actually begin in the Copa del Rey as Athletic travel to face Huesca in the second leg of the Round of 32.
These two clubs have only met twice in their history with both games taking place this season. They drew 2-2 at the San Mamés back in August before Athletic cruised to a dominant 4-0 win at home last week in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie. Thanks to a solid result Garitano won’t have as much pressure on his shoulders as he makes his Athletic coaching debut on Thursday. To put things into perspective, there hasn’t been a club to come back from a 4-0 deficit in the Cup in the last 41 years.
Both teams come into the match having gone 13 straight league games without a victory, although Athletic did beat Huesca one week ago. Their situations are strikingly similar as they are in a battle against relegation and desperately need to pick up points in La Liga to start climbing out of the drop zone. Above all else, the league campaign is the focus and that could have a massive affect on the Cup game at Alcoraz.
Huesca left several key players out of the squad for the first meeting and, being down 4-0 on aggregate, will likely do so again. Francisco Rodríguez has made it clear that he will prioritize La Liga which puts Thursday’s match in the control of Athletic and Garitano who will benefit from such a comfortable lead. That being said, the new Athletic manager was sure to point out that the round isn’t decided when he spoke to the media following Wednesday’s training session.
Garitano’s first squad list didn’t look all that different from Berizzo’s recent groups. Cristian Ganea, Gorka Guruzeta, and Mikel Rico were ruled out due to injury while Iñigo Lekue, Ander Iturraspe, and Alex Remiro were left behind. The rest of Athletic’s heavyweights were called up for the match as the new manager will be looking to install his own tactics ahead of Monday’s La Liga match against Girona.
There really is no way to anticipate what the starting lineup will look like or what tactical battles will determine the result. This is Garitano’s very first game as manager of Athletic and all eyes will be on him as fans have been filled with hope and excitement. The Zurigorri certainly need a win to kick off the Garitano era, and start building momentum for La Liga, and Thursday’s match presents the team with the perfect opportunity to restart their season.