By Natalia Urdangarin (twitter: @arkulari)
The first knockout match went sour for Athletic, the team lost 2-1 in Moscow and now it’s time to comeback or say goodbye to the Europa League.
Seems like the Luzhniki stadium was bad for all teams visiting (Zenit beat Benfica, Real Madrid drew with CSKA, Athletic lost with Lokomotiv), most teams aren’t really used to play in artificial grass or with that cold weather.
The Russians will come out guns blazing, trying to score a goal and seal the tie but Athletic has to play with huge intensity so this will be one of these match where neither team parks the bus, both will go for it.
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Lokomotiv plays with a 4-2-3-1 formation, double pivot and single centre forward (Caicedo, yes, the former Levante player). They can’t use Maicon (no, not the Inter left back ) who was a nightmare last match for Athletic.
Athletic plays a 4-1-4-1, with a single pivot (Iturraspe) and a strong attacking midfield/winger line, Aurtenetxe cannot play due to yellow cards so De Marcos will take his place as left back and Toquero will start in De Marcos’ usual place, just behind Llorente.
Caicedo vs De Marcos: the Ecuadorian will receive the full wrath of San Mamés after he said that the stadium was not special at all. Last match he started in the center but since he couldn’t get past either JM or Amorebieta he started playing on the left, eating Aurtenetxe alive and basically deciding the outcome of the match in that zone. Now he will have to face De Marcos who’s not so adept in defense but he will most likely push Caicedo back since he attacks so well. If the back line manages to neutralize Felipe, Lokomotiv will lose one of their most important pieces to win this tie.
Iturraspe vs Zapater: Itu didn’t do badly last match but it has been increasingly noted that he’s too lonely in the middle, usually between him and the attacking line there’s a huge distance, so Bielsa has been trying this week to get Ander Herrera to play as a hybrid DM/AM much closer to Itu, to help him with both defense and the creation of play.
Llorente vs Costa/Durica: Last match wasn’t Llorente’s best in terms of attack but you have to see that he didn’t really get any balls from his teammates, at one point he played almost like a third CB to defend and had to be in the midfield a lot because neither De Marcos, Muniain nor Susaeta were giving him the feed he needs to score, I hope this match with Toquero around, Fer will get more opportunities, if he gets a couple of decent ones, he’ll score.
San Mamés: #12 player in all Athletic’s matches, this time it’s more special because it is a knock-out stage and the stadium will be filled to the brim and the fans will chant all match long. If Lokomotiv cannot withstand the pressure from the first minute, the hour and a half of match will be too long for them.
Athletic (4-2-3-1): Iraizoz – De Marcos – Amorebieta – Javi Martínez – Iraola – Iturraspe – Herrera – Muniain – Susaeta – Toquero- Llorente
Lokomotiv (4-2-3-1): Amelchenko – Shishkin – Costa – Durica – Yanbaev – Glushakov – Zapater – Ignatyev – Sychev – Torbinsky – Caicedo.
Prediction: If Athletic scores a goal in the first half and finishes the job in the second, we’ll get through, otherwise Lokomotiv will do it, specially in ET. To me, it’s a now or never for the txurigorri, so Athletic wins 2-0.
And wouldn’t we love to see Athletic battle big bad Manchester United (!!!) For tickets, check out TicketBis!!