Two of La Liga’s most in-form teams turn their attention to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as Real Betis welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Estadio Benito Villamarin on Thursday night.
The hosts go into this game after beating Osasuna in the top flight on Monday, whereas Athletic’s winning streak ended at the hands of Barcelona.
NAME: Real Betis – Athletic Bilbao
DATE: 4 Feb 2021
TIME: 20:00 UTC
VENUE: Benito Villamarin, Seville, Spain
Real Betis head coach Manuel Pellegrini pictured on November 7, 2020© Reuters
Major doubts arose over Manuel Pellegrini’s future in the Betis hotseat during the first half of the campaign, but the former West Ham United and Manchester City manager has overseen a magnificent start to 2021 so far.
Los Verdiblancos are unbeaten since the turn of the year – winning six and drawing two of their eight matches across all competitions – and they secured a third consecutive home win by beating Osasuna last time out thanks to substitute Borja Iglesias’s winner.
The hosts have now propelled themselves up to seventh in the La Liga table and a European berth is firmly within their sights, but the Copa del Rey takes precedence for the time being as Betis bid to reach the semi-finals for the second time in three seasons.
Betis were sent packing in the third round during the 2019-20 tournament, but their semi-final finish of the 2018-19 season – where they were dumped out by Valencia – remains their best run in the competition since their triumph in 2005.
Pellegrini is under immense pressure to get his team selection bang on for this game, though, as Barcelona lie in wait for Los Verdiblancos at the weekend, but the Betis manager will be aware that his side have a real shot at a first piece of silverware for 16 years in their current form.
Athletic Bilbao head coach Marcelino pictured alongside Barcelona’s Ronald Koeman in January 2021© Reuters
Athletic are still waiting for their shot at glory in the 2019-20 final due to the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but for now, they will simply be focused on increasing their chances of a domestic cup double in the current campaign.
Marcelino’s men have already lifted one trophy in the form of the Spanish Super Cup by beating Barcelona in the final, although the Blaugrana got revenge on Athletic by beating them 2-1 in the league at the weekend.
Lionel Messi in particular was out for blood after his sending-off in the Super Cup final, and the Argentine’s sublime free kick – his 650th goal in Barcelona colours – broke the deadlock before Antoine Griezmann’s winner condemned Athletic to their first defeat since also losing to Barca earlier in January.
In between both defeats to the Blaugrana, Athletic had marched to victory five times in a row across all competitions, but the Super Cup champions could only muster 2-1 wins at minnows Ibiza and Alcoyano to advance to the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.
However, Marcelino fielded weakened teams for those ties, as expected, and fans can look forward to something of a more full-strength Athletic side here given the calibre and form of opponent they are up against.
Athletic stormed to a 4-0 victory over Betis when the sides met earlier in the 2020-21 campaign, and Los Verdiblancos can only boast two wins from their last 13 against the visitors in all competitions.
Real Betis Copa del Rey form:
Real Betis form (all competitions):
Athletic Bilbao Copa del Rey form: WW
Athletic Bilbao form (all competitions):
Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams celebrates scoring their third goal with teammates on January 17, 2021© Reuters
With goalkeepers Dani Martin and Claudio Bravo still on the sidelines, there will be no rest for Joel Robles as he looks to keep the Athletic attack at bay.
Marc Bartra is another defensive absentee for the hosts, and Victor Ruiz is also a doubt after he had to come off at half time in the win over Osasuna.
On a lighter note, Guido Rodriguez has returned to training and is in contention to play, while Iglesias – who scored two extra-time goals in the last-16 win over Real Sociedad – has surely done enough in the past week to earn a start.
Meanwhile, Athletic left-back Mikel Balenziaga is still struggling to shake off a hamstring problem and may not be involved this week, while Inigo Vicente continues to recover from coronavirus.
Club stalwart Oscar de Marcos recently penned a contract extension with Athletic until 2022 and should play at least some part here despite being rested against Alcoyano, while cup goalkeeper Jokin Ezkieta could retain his place over Unai Simon.
The visitors next face off against an out-of-form Valencia in the top flight so can afford to go strong here, but the likes of Unai Lopez and Alex Berenguer will be vying for starts nonetheless.
Real Betis possible starting lineup:
Robles; Montoya, Mandi, Sidnei, Miranda; Canales, Carvalho; Joaquin, Fekir, Tello; Iglesias
Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup:
Ezkieta; Capa, Martinez, Nunez, Berchiche; Lopez, Vesga; De Marcos, Muniain, Berenguer; Villalibre
Can Athletic Club Bilbao stay in the hunt for more silverware?
Last month, Athletic beat Real Madrid and then Barcelona to win the Supercopa de España; just their second title since 1984.
Then, in this competition, the Lions have won two away matches 2-1 so far, seeing off Ibiza and Alcoyano.
Athletic Club are already through to last season’s Copa del Rey Final, they’ll take on Real Sociedad on 3 April, but are just two ties away from being in this season’s final too.
Marcelino has enjoyed his start to life at Athletic although, they were beaten 2-1 at Camp Nou by Barcelona on Sunday night.
This leaves them 11th in La Liga.
Real Betis meanwhile are up to seventh after their upturn in form which included Monday night’s 1-0 victory over Osasuna.
Borja Iglesias with a late winner to ensure Béticos have taken 11 points from the last 15 available.
In this competition, los Verdiblancos have beaten UCAM Murcia, Mutilvera, Sporting de Gijón and, last midweek, Real Sociedad 3-1 after extra time.
Manuel Pellegrini is dreaming of leading Betis to their first major honour since 2005.
Who will reach the semi-finals at Estadio Benito Villamarín?