Athletic Bilbao vs Man Utd – Match preview and prediction

For those who do not follow Spanish football, Athletic Bilbao’s 3-2 victory over Premier League champions Manchester United at Old Trafford would come as a monumental surprise. Marcelo Bielsa’s side won the first leg of their Europa League second round tie through hard work, determination and a quality attacking threat that worried the Red Devils backline. Those three qualities have been connected with Bilbao all season and the Basque side are now in pole position for victory in the San Mames.

What makes their outstanding progress more astonishing is how they only use players from the Basque region of Spain and have produced players that are now on the wishlist of several top European sides. At Old Trafford, Javi Martinez, Ander Iturraspe, Ander Herrera, Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Fernando Llorente all shone, particularly the last three who provide Bilbao’s triple-pronged forward threat. Llorente and Muniain scored at Old Trafford and will be the big threat towards Man United again in what promises to be a raucous San Mames.

Bielsa has one doubt from the team that played at Old Trafford, which comes from another goalscorer in Oscar de Marcos who is suffering with flu. Bilbao are confident of their abilities against the Premier League champions, but their fatigue was shown last weekend when they lost 3-2 to Osasuna in the league. The Basque side have plenty of passionate fans who will cheer on the side and a carbon-copy replica of last Thursday’s Manchester heroics is what the Spanish side require.

Man United need to score at least twice to progress and hope that they can stop the Bilbao attack. Wayne Rooney’s late penalty in the first leg helped Sir Alex Ferguson’s side massively, as they would have needed three goals in the San Mames to go through on away girls. Selection dilemmas await the Man United manager, who has left Nani, Anderson, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling back at home as they recover from injury problems.

Ferguson revealed this week that Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov will leave Old Trafford in the summer, which means it is a straight choice between Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck for the second striker role alongside Wayne Rooney. Ecuadorian international Antonio Valencia has boosted the squad with his return after a four-week absence with a hamstring injury. Valencia could be thrust straight into the attacking line-up to offer a great option out wide, as the former Wigan man has had an excellent season.

Red Devils fans will not be concerned with exiting from the competition, as it directly focuses attention on the club’s chase for their 20th Premier League title at the expense of Manchester City. Man United players will want the opposite and to go all the way in the Europa League, but face difficult competition in Bilbao. Bielsa’s side will show the same heart and desire and although Man United can win the game on the night, it remains to be seen whether they can stop the likes of Muniain, Susaeta and Llorente from scoring past David De Gea, who was impressive at Old Trafford.

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