Athletic Bilbao will be out for a measure of revenge against Real Madrid when they welcome Carlo Ancelotti’s side to San Mames for their Copa del Rey quarter-final on Thursday.
Los Blancos overcame their upcoming hosts 2-0 in the Super Cup before the international break, with strikes from Luka Modric and Karim Benzema handing the capital side the crown.
In spite of their Super Cup disappointment in Saudi Arabia, Athletic Bilbao can undoubtedly look back on the first few weeks of 2021 with unbridled fondness, as Marcelino led his side to a thrilling Copa del Rey win over Barcelona just four days after their defeat to Real Madrid.
Victories in La Liga, on the other hand, have been extremely difficult to come by for Marcelino’s men in recent weeks, but they entered the international break on the back of a 1-0 success at Rayo Vallecano courtesy of Nico Serrano’s winner on the half-hour mark.
That narrow success marks just a third win from 13 in La Liga for Athletic, but a new year has seemingly led to a new wave of confidence in the San Mames outfit, who head into the quarter-final on the back of six wins from their last nine in all tournaments.
Athletic eased to an opening 2-0 Copa del Rey win over Mancha Real before seeing off Barcelona in extra time last time out, with Marcelino’s side seeking to make it three final appearances on the bounce after falling at the final hurdle in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 editions.
One could hardly forget the memorable circumstances that Athletic found themselves in last year – losing to Real Sociedad in the 2020 final before defeat to Barca in the 2021 edition just two weeks later – and a first Copa del Rey crown since 1984 is therefore still eluding them.
The worrying sight of prolific poacher Karim Benzema leaving the pitch through injury seemed to rub salt in the wounds for Real Madrid against Elche, as Los Blancos found themselves 2-0 down against Francisco Rodriguez’s side three days after needing extra time to knock them out of the cup.
However, with less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Luka Modric’s penalty preceded an Eder Militao header in second-half injury time to rescue a point for the capital side, whose five-game winning run across all tournaments came to quite the abrupt end at the Bernabeu.
A four-point lead over Sevilla at the top of the La Liga rankings is still a healthy one, but Los Blancos may end up ruing those two dropped points as the Champions League takes centre stage once more, with Paris Saint-Germain lying in wait two weeks from now.
The 2-2 draw with Elche did mark the sixth game in a row that free-scoring Real Madrid have found the back of the net at least twice, and both of their Copa del Rey wins so far this term have come away from home, starting with a simple 3-1 success at Alcoyano.
Athletic were swept aside by Real Madrid in the final of the Spanish Super Cup last month – their fourth successive defeat against the Bernabeu side – but Los Blancos have been sent packing in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey three times since 2016.
Athletic Bilbao Copa del Rey form:
Athletic Bilbao form (all competitions):
Real Madrid Copa del Rey form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):
We say: Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Real Madrid
A wealth of Real Madrid absentees coupled with an Athletic Bilbao side starting to rediscover their stride and out for revenge should lead to a truly intriguing battle at San Mames, one which Ancelotti’s side may not actually head into as favourites.
The result of this quarter-final may very well come down to how many troops Ancelotti is able to recover for Thursday, but we can see the quarter-final curse continuing for Real Madrid as Athletic keep their hopes of a third successive final appearance alive.