Preview: Osasuna vs. Athletic Bilbao
Osasuna welcome Athletic Bilbao to El Sadar for the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday night.
These two clubs from the north of Spain are separated by less than two hours by car and just one point in the league table, adding the undertone of a local rivalry to what is already a high-stakes cup tie.
Osasuna were the only Copa semi-finalists that won on the weekend before the competition’s final four, getting the better of a helter-skelter contest to defeat Sevilla 3-2 at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Sunday night.
That victory was Osasuna’s first since beating Sevilla in the Copa quarter-finals back in January, sending the Pamplona outfit one place above Athletic in La Liga and into the lofty heights of seventh.
During the transformative five-year reign of Jagoba Arrasate – a former manager of Real Sociedad, even fiercer rivals for Athletic – Osasuna have risen out of the second tier to record three consecutive top-11 La Liga finishes for the first time in three decades.
Osasuna have only ever reached the Copa del Rey final once, losing to Real Betis in 2005, and have done well to even make it into the final four after failing to go beyond the round of 16 in each of the last 12 seasons.
Athletic, conversely, have a storied history in Spain’s oldest football competition, winning the famous pot no fewer than 23 times – a tally only Barcelona can beat.
This is the fourth consecutive season in which the Basque behemoths have reached the semi-finals, bowing out at this stage of the competition against Valencia last year.
Ernesto Valverde won the Copa as a Barcelona player and manager but has never steered Athletic to this particular trophy, with the club last claiming the crown in 1984.
Now into his fourth managerial spell at Athletic, Valverde watched on incredulously as his side gifted Girona a 3-2 victory on home turf on the weekend, scoring two first-half own goals to form a mountain they could not climb.
Athletic’s league form has taken a hit while steadily progressing in the cup, with Sunday’s defeat against Girona the club’s fifth loss in their last seven top-flight games, leaving the Lions eighth in the table.
While this is not strictly speaking a Basque derby, over-familiarity and player poaching has fostered enmity between these clubs – although, it has been a one-side rivalry on the pitch in recent years, with Osasuna winning just two of the last 13 editions of this fixture.
Osasuna Copa del Rey form:
Osasuna form (all competitions):
Athletic Bilbao Copa del Rey form:
Athletic Bilbao form (all competitions):
We say: Osasuna 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
Osasuna clung to a goalless draw when these sides met in Bilbao six weeks ago – registering just three shots all match – but go into the semi-final in better form on the pitch and a far emptier treatment room off it.
Athletic are one of the most aggressive teams off the ball in La Liga but may struggle to reproduce their trademark intensity with so many absences, giving Osasuna the edge in the first leg of what promises to be an enthralling tie.