Athletic are determined to reach the Copa del Rey final and challenge for a 25th title but, for this to happen, the Basques should 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 difference in quality, suggests that Athletic ought to have the ability to win and progress. Both clubs have faced off a total of 26 times throughout history with the Basques winning 13 of these meetings. It has been almost ten years since the last game, which Athletic won 4-1 in San Mamés, though the Lions haven’t been drawn against Tenerife from the Copa del Rey.
Tenerife have made it to this stage 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 that can make things hard for Athletic.
Tuesday’s game 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 chance 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 decide on lots of scoring records at the youth level whilst there.
Athletic’s route to the fourth round has been interesting. The wins over Intercity and Sestao River were as straightforward as anticipated, but Elche proved to be a fierce opponent last week. Garitano admitted that the team foresaw a tricky match and are getting ready for the same contrary to Tenerife.
The Mister has called up 18 players for the match and the squad shows once again just how seriously Athletic are taking the contest. 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 essential players.
Iago Herrerín will keep his place in the group 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 lately and might be the one to lead the assault with Kenan Kodro not traveling. With Getafe visiting San Mamés on Sunday it will be up to Garitano to get 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 game and not allowing Tenerife to build momentum. Athletic learned a valuable lesson contrary to Elche and will probably look to utilize a high press early in the match to set up the pace and create opportunities 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 play on the island.