Previewing Elche vs Athletic Club: Copa Del Rey Round Of 32
Athletic will continue their quest for a 25th Copa del Rey title on Wednesday when the team faces Elche in a rematch of the 1969 cup final. Following wins over Intercity and Sestao River, the Lions must now travel to Estadio Martínez Valero and come away with a victory to earn their place in the next round. Elche will be the most difficult opponent the Basques have faced thus far, though Athletic are heavy favorites in Alicante.
It’s been nearly five years since the last time these two teams met. Athletic won 3-2 at Estadio Martínez Valero back in May of 2015 which was the only victory over Elche during their two-year stint in La Liga from 2013-2015. Before then, Athletic had not played Elche since 1989.
Elche have enjoyed relative success in Segunda over the past few years and currently sit 9th in the table, just two points off the top six. Wins over Gimnástica Segoviana and Yeclano booked Elche’s place in the Copa del Rey third round and Los Franjiverdes hope to shock Athletic in front of their own fans on Wednesday.
Pacheta’s side play a traditional 4-2-2 formation and like to have possession of the ball. Forwards Fidel and Yacine Qasmi currently lead the team with seven goals each while center-back Gonzalo Verdú has been a dangerous threat from set pieces and has contributed three goals as well. Elche will be expected to field a very strong lineup though Andoni López – who is on loan from Athletic – will be unavailable as his loan agreement prevents him from playing games against Athletic.
Athletic have been dominant in the Copa del Rey through the opening two rounds, scoring seven goals without conceding once. Gaizka Garitano has made it clear that the Zurigorri are taking the tournament very seriously and has fielded strong teams. The lineup on Wednesday night will be strong as well as the Mister has called up many key players including Iñaki Williams, Raúl García, and Iker Muniain. Unai López, who is suspended the upcoming league fixture over the weekend, will likely start in midfield.
Winger Ibai Gómez didn’t make the squad after starting Sunday’s match against Celta. Garitano mentioned in his press conference that some players were dealing with mild discomfort which appears to be the case with Gómez. Aritz Aduriz, Mikel San José, Gaizka Larrazabal, and Cristian Ganea were all left out of the team while Unai Simón (mumps) and Oscar De Marcos (ankle) are unavailable as well.
While Elche have played well this season there will be no excuse for Athletic losing at Estadio Martínez Valero. The Zurigorri are a much stronger side and are fully aware that they must win on Wednesday to advance. Athletic will look to control the game, strike early, and keep the pressure on Elche for 90 minutes to ensure victory.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Iñigo Lekue, Unai Núñez, Iñigo Martinez, Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel Vesga, Unai López, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Kenan Kodro