On Wednesday, 7th February, in the first leg of the Spanish Cup semi-final, Atletico Madrid will host Athletic Bilbao at their home ground. "Los Rojiblancos" remain undefeated in six consecutive matches, having clawed to a draw in the capital derby during the past weekend, while the Basques, currently fifth in La Liga, continue to perform strongly this season.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Hermoso, Witsel, Reinildo; Molina, De Paul, Koke, Saul, Lino; Griezmann, Morata.
Athletic Bilbao: Agirrezabala; Lekue, Vivian, Paredes, Berchiche; Ruiz de Galaretta, Prados Diaz; I. Williams, Sancet, Ares; Guruzeta.
The clash will take place in Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Atletico Madrid is an arm’s length away from their 11th Copa del Rey in their history, yet they will have to work tenaciously in the semi-final against Athletic Bilbao. Remarkably, the hosts knocked out Real Madrid in the round of 16 (4:2 after extra time) and beat Sevilla in the previous round by a slim margin (1:0). During the past weekend at Santiago Bernabeu, Diego Simeone's boys managed to secure a draw, equalising the score in injury time (1:1), and remain 10 points behind their neighbours and the leader in La Liga.
After Brahim Diaz's shot, Los Blancos took the lead in the first half, but Marcos Llorente restored parity on the scoreboard in the third minute of added time. Notably, Atletico remains unbeaten in six consecutive matches across all competitions, with five wins, and hasn’t suffered any defeats at home this season. On Sunday evening, the "rojiblancos" headed to Santiago Bernabeu without injured Thomas Lemar (out until March) and defenders Gimenez and Azpilicueta - they were not listed in the squad for the upcoming cup clash.
Athletic Bilbao is often referred to as a "cup team," and they justify this moniker by reaching the Copa del Rey semi-final yet again, following two failed attempts to win the final and a defeat against Osasuna at this stage of the competition last season. Interesting fact: The Basques rank second in the number of national cups won, with 23, although the last one came in the distant 1983. Importantly, Ernesto Valverde's men have every chance of finishing in the Champions League top four in La Liga: they are only three points behind Atletico Madrid in the league table! In the previous round, the guests beat Barcelona 4:2 after extra time. During the past weekend, the team secured a resounding 4:0 victory over Mallorca in the league, thanks to a brace by Yuri Berchiche.
During the January transfer window, the Basque club, as usual, did not show much activity. Notably, they signed Adama Baïro (Osasuna), but that seems to be the only significant personnel change. Therefore, the team will remain the same compared to the first half of the season, although Lekue and Berenger (4 goals in La Liga) might miss out on the clash due to minor injuries. Nico Williams (2 goals, 3 assists in Copa del Rey) and his older brother Inaki (8 goals, 3 assists in La Liga) will form the attacking duo.
In the first round of the league season, these two clubs clashed at San Mames, and the Basques emerged victorious on home ground, winning 2:0.
The teams are neck and neck in the La Liga table, vying for a spot in the top four to get into next season’s Champions League. After defeating Real Madrid twice in the current campaign, Atletico certainly looks favourable in this head-to-head. The hosts understand the importance of home support and will strive to gain an advantage ahead of the second leg - I’m expecting a win for "Los Rojiblancos".
In the past four head-to-head clashes between these teams, at least one side failed to score. Both teams rely on a solid defence, therefore, I would place a bet on under 2.5 total goals.
Athletic averages nearly one more corner kick per match than Atletico. I would bet that, at a minimum, the guests will not be outperformed in terms of corners.
Both sides are renowned for their strategy of committing small fouls. Considering the cup nature of the clash, I suggest betting on over 4.5 yellow cards in total.
I'll place my bet on a 1:0 win for Atletico Madrid.