This intriguing Iberian duel recommences on Thursday, only now we’re crossing the border as Athletic Club look to overturn their 2-1 defeat suffered at the hands of Sporting Clube de Portugal.
It was an enthralling, high tempo, unforgiving game at the José Alvalade which featured many twists and turns. Sporting dominated throughout, with Athletic reliant upon quick counters and breaks in play. The Basque outfit taking the lead came as a shock, and so did Diego Capel’s winner with little time left to set things up perfectly.
Athletic come into the game confident despite trailing. They’re unbeaten in 8 European home games since a 3-0 loss to Werder Bremen in 2009/2010, while also winning every single opponent from Portugal at San Mamés. During the competition this season, Athletic have scored two goals in five of their six home fixtures since the start of the group stage, and have scored at least once in every single game. Over 2.5 goals at 1.60 looks assured, while they are 1.55 to win on the night and 1.70 to go through outright.
More goals can be expected, and as ever Fernando Llorente is their main source of attacking danger. He has six goals in the competition this season since the group stage, one more than Ricky Van Wolfswinkel of Sporting. Llorente’s team are the second most prolific left in the competition, with 25 goals, and have scored the majority of them between 31st and 45th minutes in the first half, while in the second 61 and 75 minutes. It’s no surprise they’ve found the net, as they’ve made the most attempts to do so – 168, with 78 on target – in this seasons competition. Llorente is 4.00 to score a header, and 5.00 to grab a brace.
A huge loss for this game is Òscar De Marcos, the livewire midfielder who engages every area of the field is out through suspension, and it will be Ibai Gómez’s job to replace him. Javi Martínez returns from suspension though, and will no doubt give a commanding performance in defence. He’s at 2.30 to get a yellow card, and defensive partner Fernando Amorebieta is 2.30.
Sporting meanwhile, will be advised to play their own game against Athletic. Sitting back could draw Bielsa’s men on and give them the confidence to make the breakthrough. Ricardo Sá Pinto setting his side up in a similar manner to what he did last week, would make Athletic uneasy and force them into further mistakes.
Sá Pinto was obviously disappointed his side could not add more goals to their tally, given their dominance throughout the game was clear for all to see. Plus, taking note of Sporting’s away form might give cause for concern. Sporting have never won against Spanish opposition away, and they’ve only won 1 of their last 10 games away in Europe, drawing 4 and losing 5. It explains why they’re 6.20 to win at San Mamés, and 2.02 to go through outright.
Sporting have scored 19 goals in 13 games since the start of the group stage, and have been found to be most profitable between the 31st and 60th minutes with 9 of their goals in that period. Van Wolfswinkel is the top scorer, with 5 goals, and his industry will be required more than ever here as Sporting looking to get a vital away goal. He’s at a generous 4.30 to score anytime, while Sporting to score generally are 1.44.
The Portuguese are boosted by the return of Chilean magician Matías Fernández, and his forays behind Athletic’s midfield could provide a key creative spark. He’ll also be reunited with Bielsa, his former coach at National Team level.
So, Sporting have the task of preventing an all-Spanish final despite their patchy away form. Athletic meanwhile, will look to cap an extraordinary first season under Bielsa with a prestigious final place.
BEST BET: Athletic to score in both halves, is 2.25.
PREDICTION: Athletic to win comfortably.