Previewing Tenerife vs Athletic Club: Copa Del Rey Final 16

Asier Villalibre Celebrate Sestao River Copa del Rey

Athletic have had a strong run in the Copa del Rey through the first three rounds (AC)

Athletic are determined to reach the Copa del Rey final and challenge for a 25th title but, for that to happen, the Basques must first earn their place in the quarterfinals. Following wins over Intercity, Sestao River, and Elche the Lions will travel to Tenerife on Tuesday in search of another victory. Although Athletic will be heavy favorites Gaizka Garitano’s side isn’t taking anything for granted.

History, as well as the gap in quality, suggests that Athletic should be able to win and advance. The two clubs have faced off a total of 26 times throughout history with the Basques winning 13 of those meetings. It’s been nearly ten years since the last match, which Athletic won 4-1 at San Mamés, though the Lions have never been drawn against Tenerife in the Copa del Rey.

Tenerife have made it to this point in the Cup with wins over Mensajero and Rayo Majadahonda before eliminating Real Valladolid last week. Despite their Cup success, the islanders haven’t fared as well in the Segunda where they currently sit just six points off the bottom in 18th place. Rubén Baraja’s side play a tradition 4-4-2 formation and like to keep possession of the ball which will make things challenging for Athletic.

Tuesday’s match will also be a special moment for Tenerife midfielder Iker Undabarrena who spent his entire childhood at Lezama and captained Bilbao Athletic before leaving in 2018. The 24-year-old will have the opportunity to play against the club he grew up supporting, though that won’t be the case for Isma López who will miss the game with  appendicitis. López also spent time at Lezama and set a number of scoring records at the youth level while there.

Athletic’s path to the fourth round has been interesting. The wins over Intercity and Sestao River were as straightforward as expected, but Elche proved to be a fierce opponent last week. After being taken all the way to penalties, Athletic managed to defeat Elche 5-4 in the shootout to advance. Garitano admitted that the team foresaw a difficult match and are preparing for the same against Tenerife.

Celebrate Elche Copa del Rey

The Lions got a wakeup call in the penalty shootout against Elche (EC)

The Mister has called up 18 players for the match and the squad shows once again just how seriously Athletic are taking the competition. Apart from Unai Simón, Aritz Aduriz, Iñigo Córdoba, Mikel Balenziaga, Oscar De Marcos, Mikel San José, and Kenan Kodro the manager is taking a full strength team to Tenerife and will likely field a lineup with several very important players.

Iago Herrerín will keep his place in the team as the Cup goalkeeper while Unai Núñez and Ibai Gómez are expected to return to the lineup. Asier Villalibre has been in impressive form for the Lions in recent weeks and could be the one to lead the attack with Kenan Kodro not traveling. With Getafe visiting San Mamés on Sunday it will be up to Garitano to find the right rotations to field a capable lineup while also keeping players fresh and rested.

In his pregame press conference Garitano highlighted the importance of controlling the match and not allowing Tenerife to build momentum. Athletic learned a valuable lesson against Elche and will likely look to utilize a high press early in the match to establish the pace and create chances from turnovers. Athletic have the quality and motivation to come away with a convincing victory over Tenerife but must execute the game plan and finish chances to avoid any drama on the island.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Unai Núñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Ibai Gómez, Asier Villalibre

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