Previewing Athletic Club vs Barcelona: Copa Del Rey Quarterfinals
Athletic’s dream of lifting a 25th Copa del Rey title has brought the team to the foot of a mountain that must be overcome. The Basques have been drawn against Barcelona who will visit San Mamés on Thursday with the winner advancing to the semifinals. Although Barcelona beat Athletic the last two times the Lions made it to the Cup final, this team has no fear and is full of confidence.
Playing at San Mamés will give Athletic a significant advantage with some going as far to call the Basques favorites against Barcelona. Recent history is quite telling as well. The Catalans haven’t won at San Mamés since October of 2017 and lost in their last visit at the beginning of the season when Aritz Aduriz scored a lovely overhead kick to secure a 1-0 victory for Athletic.
It’s also true that the Basques haven’t had much success against Barcelona in the Cup, yet they were victorious at home the last time these two met in this tournament. Even more promising is the fact that Athletic haven’t lost a game against Barcelona since Gaizka Garitano took over as manager in December of 2018.
Barcelona come into Thursday’s match having beaten Ibiza and Leganés to reach the quarterfinals but are in an interesting situation. Having recently hired Quique Setien, the Blaugrana are going through a major change of style and are doing so with several injuries. Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembélé are both sidelined with serious injuries. Off the field, drama has dominated the headlines with Lionel Messi taking to social media to air his frustrations with Director of Football Eric Abidal.
While Athletic aren’t dealing with any drama, the team is in a bit of turmoil at the moment. After easy wins over Intercity and Sestao River the Zurigorri had to survive penalty shootouts against Elche and Tenerife to book their place in the quarterfinals. Athletic have also struggled in league play as of late, picking up five draws and two losses in their last seven matches.
Fortunately for the Lions, Gaizka Garitano will have nearly the entire squad at his disposal. Aritz Aduriz made his return from a hip injury over the weekend and has been named to the squad, as have Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche who both missed training throughout the week but were back with the group on Wednesday. On the other hand, Iago Herrerín won’t be available after being a shown a red card in the last Cup fixture while Oscar De Marcos continues to recover from ankle surgery.
With Herrerín suspended Unai Simón will start in goal, but the real question is whether or not Garitano will field a lineup with three center-backs once again. The manager has done so against stronger opponents over the past months and, if that’s the case on Thursday, Raúl García and Iñaki Williams would likely lead the attack with Iker Muniain playing in the space behind.
Eliminating Barcelona from the Copa del Rey will demand a perfect performance from Athletic and the players are up for the challenge. The team’s poor form over the past few months has been worrying, though the Zurigorri will be expected to turn up for Thursday’s match where a win could be just the spark needed to jumpstart a positive run of results. Athletic dream of reaching the Cup final and are prepared to topple Barcelona to get there.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Unai Núñez, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Unai López, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams