International fixtures dominate the midweek schedule, but there is something for followers of club football to get stuck into, thanks to the later rounds of the Copa del Rey. Two matches will be played on Thursday evening, with both games shown live on television to a vast global audience. We begin with a match involving Real Sociedad and Real Betis, which could be a competitive encounter. The game that caught our eye kicks off at 20:30 GMT and features Athletic Bilbao and current La Liga leaders Real Madrid.
Bilbao enjoys the home advantage for this match, and fans will be eager to see their side make that count. A match against Real Madrid is rarely welcome in any competition, but Bilbao know if they want to win this trophy, they must beat the best sides in it, and that’s exactly what they plan to do here. Blancos arrive as favourites and have the players to live up to the billing, but will they perform on the day? The beauty of the Copa del Rey is that any team is cable of beating any other. Madrid may have been better over the La Liga season, but this is winner takes all cup football.
These sides have already met three times in La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup. Real Madrid carries a 100% record into this game, having won the previous three matches. The most recent was a 2-0 Super Cup victory achieved in January with goals from Luca Modric and Karim Benzema enough to ensure the victory despite Eder Militao being sent off near the end. Armchair fans hope for more drama and plenty more goals in this renewal.
Bilbao unbeaten in three
Athletic Bilbao enters this Copa del Rey match on the back of a good run in the league. The home team are unbeaten in their last three La Liga outings, taking seven points from the last nine that have been available to them. They have reason to be confident ahead of this clash, but will the team see this cup game as an added distraction to their league campaign that remains in the balance? It’s possible, but we will know more after seeing the starting line up for the game against Blancos. It’ll be interesting to see if Bilbao searches for a famous win or tries defending, limits the damage, and gives themselves a chance of sneaking through.
That improvement in form has helped lift Bilbao into the top half of the table, and following the weekend results, they were in ninth place in La Liga. Their last five games at that level have returned three wins, a draw and defeat, with 31 points on the board. Bilbao is just five points shy of the top four and one of the division’s Champions League places. They are also a point behind Villarreal, who occupy the lowest European spot, meaning Bilbao still have plenty to fight for in the league. With a busy schedule approaching, that could determine how they approach this cup match.
Bilbao was last seen in Copa del Rey action beating Barcelona 3-2 at home on 20th January. That result was a massive upset with Bilbao written off before the start of the match but dragging their opponents into extra time and beating them. The match finished 2-2 after 90 minutes, thanks to a late leveller for Barca from Gonzalez Lopez. Muniain had scored the game’s opening goal, and he finished things off with a winner on 106 minutes. It was a thrilling end to a dramatic match and one the victors would have taken heart from.
Madrid lack consistency
Real Madrid was the pundits’ pick to win La Liga this season, and they are going great guns on that front at the moment. They are top of the tree with a four-point advantage over the chasing pack. The leaders have lost some ground on the likes of Sevilla in recent games. Still, they remain on course to hold their position and wrestle the league title away from current champions and derby rivals Atletico Madrid. That prize ranks much higher on the team’s wish list for the season than the Copa del Rey, but Madrid has a squad big enough and good enough to fight on all fronts.
Madrid has lacked consistency in their last five league outings, taking just two wins in that time. That sketchy spell consists of those two victories, a pair of draws and a single defeat. They were last seen in league action being held to a 2-2 draw at home on Sunday by Elche, who came close to pulling off a massive upset. A share of the points was more than most experts expected from Elche, but they were unlucky not to win after moving into a 2-0 lead on 76 minutes. Modric pulled one back for Madrid with 82 minutes played before a Militao scored an equaliser in stoppage time.
Madrid beat Elche in the game before on Copa del Rey duty, and that was another close match. The pair ran out a tense 0-0 finish after 90 minutes, forcing the game into extra time. It was Blancos who held their nerve during the added 30 minutes of play with goals from Isco and Hazard wrapping up the win after Elche had taken the lead through Verdu on 103 minutes. Both teams ended with ten men with both red cards shown in extra time as players became tired, more frustrated, and allowed tempers to boil over.
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid prediction
Bilbao was the more impressive team in the previous round of this competition, beating Barcelona and ending the match as deserving victors. Few expected them to eliminate Barca, but this Bilbao side is packed with confidence and will believe they are a match for any opponent on their day. If they knocked out Barcelona, the players will be asking why can’t they do the same to Real Madrid?
Blancos have been blowing hot and cold of late, and everyone involved behind the scenes will be eager to see the players settle into the new year and go on a run of form. Victory here would be a huge result and keep alive their chances of dominating Spanish football this season.
Copa del Rey odds
The pre-match betting odds available at 22bet has Athletic Bilbao at 3.44 to win the game with Real Madrid the 2.088 favourites for success. Fancy the draw here? That can be backed at 3.5.
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