Europa League: Bilbao - Marseille
Athletic Bilbao really make all the criteria for going deep and we know they will never want for trying, my notes ahead of the first leg can be read under the "good luck" sign off. They won that 1-0 courtesy of a stunning volley from Aritz Aduriz and will of course progress with a draw, but sitting back is not really in their nature, or playing to their strengths and their hugely passionate supporters will be urging them forward at every opportunity. They will be without suspended midfielder Benat Etxebarria and forward Inaki Williams this evening, but have strength in depth and more than able replacements. Marseille will take comfort from the fact that their road form has been stronger all season, but San Mames is never an easy place to come and play, it is like the cathedral of Basque football and with this match coming on the back of a derby loss to Real Sociedad last Sunday, I suspect we will see a hugely motivated host. Athletic have won next time out at home after their last four losses here (three were to Barce and Real Madrid), they actually include a win over Real and they scored eight in the two most recent (5 v Eibar and 3 v Valencia). They are going to get more space than usual at some stage with the visitors having to look for the win and OM would have no option but to throw caution to the wind, immediately if they fell behind this evening, or late in the game and this will surely get very stretched and play into the hands of the attacked minded and better technically home side, sooner or later.
OM get Benjamin Mendy and Rémy Cabella back, but remain without Lucas Ocampos, Dja Djedje and Lucas Silva (see all five in notes below), they have made the trip with a large squad and I remain to be convinced that they are 100% committed to the Europa League and that we might see some rotation, they play a cup game in six days time (best chance for silverware) and a tough league game at Ajaccio on Sunday, where defeat might well end any remaining top 3 hopes. That will be their eighth February fixture ( inside 26 days) ,French clubs are not really used to that level of competition ( Aug-Dec they played no more than six in any calendar month) and they played more than 30 minutes with ten men on Sunday. Athletic have only played four games so far this month and will surely have an edge in fresher and love for the competition.
Athletic: Iraizoz, Bóveda, Elustondo, Laporte, Eraso, San José, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Iago Herrerín, Susaeta, X.Etxeita, Mikel Rico, Gurpegi, Muniain, Aduriz, Raúl García, Balenziaga, Sabin Merino, I.Lekue.
OM: 16 Yohann Pelé,30 Steve Mandanda,40 Florian Escales,2 Javier Manquillo,3 Nicolas Nkoulou,4 Karim Rekik,6 Rolando,15 Stéphane Sparagna,23 Benjamin Mendy,25 Paolo De Cegile,10 Lassana Diarra,11 Romain Alessandrini,13 Rémy Cabella,17 Bouna Sarr,18 Mauricio Isla,19 Abdelaziz Barrada,20 Alaixys Romao,9 Steven Fletcher,14 GK Nkoudou,22 Michy Batshuayi,24 Florian Thauvin,28 Antoine Rabillard
Athletic Bilbao -1 ball 2.31 asian line/Sportmarket