Athletic’s dream of lifting a 25th Copa del Rey name has brought the group to the foot of a mountain that has to be overcome. Although Barcelona beat Athletic the past two times the Lions made it to the Cup final, this group has no fear and is full of confidence.
Playing at San Mamés provides Athletic a substantial edge with some going as far as to call the Basques favorites against Barcelona. Recent history is telling as well. The Catalans have not won at San Mamés since October of 2017 and lost in their final visit at the start of the year when Aritz Aduriz scored a beautiful overhead kick to secure a 1-0 victory for Athletic.
It’s also a fact that the Basques have not had much success against Barcelona in the Cup, nevertheless, they had been victorious at home the last time these two met in this particular tournament. Much more promising is the fact that Athletic have not lost a match against Barcelona because Gaizka Garitano took over as manager in December of 2018.
Having recently hired Quique Setien, the Blaugrana are going through a significant change of design and are doing this with different injuries. Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembélé are both sidelined with severe injuries. Off the field, the play has dominated the headlines with Lionel Messi taking to social media to air his frustrations with Manager of Soccer Eric Abidal.
While Athletic are not dealing with any play, the group is in a bit of turmoil right now. After simple wins over Intercity and Sestao River, the Zurigorri needed to endure punishment shootouts from Elche and Tenerife to reserve their place in the quarterfinals.
Luckily for the Lions, Gaizka Garitano will have almost the whole squad at his disposal. Aritz Aduriz made his return from a hip injury over the weekend and was named to the group, as have Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche who missed training during the week but were back with the group on Wednesday. On the other hand, Iago Herrerín will not be accessible after being shown a red card at the past Cup fixture while Oscar De Marcos continues to recover from ankle surgery.
The supervisor has done so against more powerful opponents over the past months and, if that is the case on Thursday, Raúl García and Iñaki Williams would probably lead the assault with Iker Muniain playing at the space behind.
Eliminating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey will require a perfect performance from Athletic and the players are up for the challenge. The team’s poor form over the last couple of months has been stressing, although the Zurigorri will be expected to turn up for Thursday’s game where a win could be just the spark needed to jumpstart a favorable run of results. Athletic dream of reaching the Cup final and are ready to topple Barcelona to arrive.