Athletic Bilbao will be hoping to put the distraction of a Copa del Rey final to one side on Thursday when they face off against Lokomotiv Moscow in sub zero temperatures at Luzhniki Stadium in the Europa League.
The Spaniards booked their place in the Europa League Round of 32 when they ran out as clear winners of Group F earlier in the season, beating off competition from Red Bull Salzburg and Paris Saint-Germain.
On the other hand, Lokomotiv only managed to place second in Group L as they finished behind Anderlecht who kept a pristine record of six wins in the group stage. The Parovozy however will be difficult opponents to crack as the winter draws in Moscow.
However, the Russian outfit are still expected to cause Bilbao some problems on Thursday and have just about edged it as favourites for the match as the sides are set to meet in sub zero temperatures in Moscow. The match has already been moved to the plastic pitch of Luzhniki Stadium, however weather conditions are sure to play a vital role.
One thing that will play a massive factor in who comes out of this match victorious will be the fact that Lokomtiv Moscow are currently in the Russian Premier League’s off-season.
What this means is that the capital club have only played one game – a friendly draw against FC Zurich – since breaking up for the break in mid-December.
José Couceiro’s side will undoubtedly have their minds looking toward the beginning of the Russian campaign, but the side will also be hoping to earn a decent lead over Athletic Bilbao that they can bring to Spain in the fixture’s second leg. Of course, the arrival of Roman Pavlyuchenko from Spurs in January will have boosted the squad, although the frontman is not eligble to play.
Bilbao may not have had the most impressive season domestically, currently sitting ninth in the Premier Liga, but Marcelo Bielsa will be keen to bag an away goal or two at the Lokomotiv Stadium and will be looking at stars like Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Javi Martinez to shine in particular.