Previewing Athletic Club vs Sevilla: Copa Del Rey Round Of 16 First Leg
Athletic Club’s big win over Celta Vigo is sure to build confidence, but the players must quickly shift their focus. Sevilla will visit the San Mamés on Thursday for the first leg of the Copa del Rey Round of 16 and the Lions will have to be ready. The two sides with actually play three straight games against each other, with a La Liga fixture bookended by the Cup matches, which will only add to the drama.
When it comes to football in Spain Athletic and Sevilla have a rich history. The two clubs have met a total of 152 times with the Basques winning 59 matches and Sevilla with 63. Despite having more losses, the Lions do boast an all-time +16 goal difference. The story is quite different in the Copa del Rey. They’ve only played twice with Athletic winning the tie by an aggregate score of 4-2. This time things will be as difficult as ever.
Sevilla are having an incredible season so far and currently sit third in the La Liga table. Competing in three different tournaments can stretch a team thin and the Rojiblancos only managed to beat Villanovense 1-0 on aggregate in the previous round of the cup. Manager Pablo Machin will likely try to rotate the lineup once again, but Sevilla will be dangerous no matter who is on the field.
Athletic’s path to the Round of 16 was simple. The Lions defeated Huesca 8-0 on aggregate and their recent form under manager Gaizka Garitano has built confidence and positivity within the team. Due to their position in the league table the Lions will prioritize La Liga, but they’ve also made it clear that they will compete in the Copa del Rey. Garitano admitted that he will have to make some changes to the lineup and with three straight games against Sevilla coming up he will have to be thinking ahead at the same time.
Mikel Rico and Iñigo Lekue are already ruled out due to injury, as are Yuri Berchiche and Raúl García. Iñaki Williams, Dani García, and Iñigo Córdoba were able to return to training on Wednesday but their status is still uncertain. Meanwhile, Athletic starlet Iñigo Vicente was called up to train with the first team and will be in the squad. Of course, Unai Simón will start in goal. Selecting a starting XI will not be an easy task, but Garitano has had the entire Holiday break to prepare his rotations. He said in his pregame press conference that changes will be made, but that some players will not get the chance to rest.
Playing three straight games against the same team comes with unique challenges, but Athletic must be solely focused on this first game right now. If the Zurigorri want to advance to the next round of the Cup they must get a positive result at home and that means they will have to limit Sevilla’s ability to counter-attack and use the wings. The fullbacks will be as important as ever and it will be important to control the midfield and dictate the pace of play. Tactically this should be an entertaining match and Athletic will be hoping to create chances and secure a clean sheet at the San Mamés.
Athletic Club Projected XI: Unai Simón, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel San José, Peru Nolaskoain, Markel Susaeta, Iker Muniain, Gorka Guruzeta, Aritz Aduriz