Athletic Bilbao v Sporting Lisbon, Thursday 20:05
After Barcelona were eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday night, Athletic Bilbao will be striving to ensure that the Spanish representation in Europe doesn’t diminish even further on Thursday as Ladbrokes offer free bets and punters mark visitors Sporting Lisbon as firm odds against underdogs for the second-leg encounter.
As things stand, the Portuguese outfit hold a 2-1 aggregate advantage over their opponents, having staged a surprise comeback in the sying stages of last week’s match.
Youngster Jon Aurtenetxe managed to put Bilbao ahead as the likes of Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente, usual hitmen for Los Leones, were stopped in their tracks.
This then left the opportunity for the opposition Lions to pounce through Diego Capel and Emiliano Insua.
That being said, Marcelo Bielsa’s side have looked an altogether more refined team when playing in front of their home crowd this season.
The Basque club have failed to score in just 12% of home fixtures this season, netting an average of 1.71 goals per game at San Mamés.
Bilbao appear to be building a decent run in La Liga and are unbeaten in their last four outings, hoping to translate that form into Europa League matters.
One particular boost for this week’s hosts is the return of Javi Martinez who was suspended for the first-leg fixture.
Iker Muniain is also expected to return after sitting out the weekend match against Racing Santander with an eye issue while Oscar de Marcos will be absent through suspension.
Ricardo Sa Pinto has few more problems to contend with, after it emerged that Fito Rinaudo and Alberto Rodriguez would both be out of contention to play through injury.
However, Matias Fernandez is ready to make his way back into the Sporting line-up after missing the club’s last two games.
The Lisbon club are enjoying a seven-match unbeaten run at the moment but nevertheless, fate would seem against them as the Sportinguistas have never won a European game on Spanish soil.
TO make matters all the worse for Pinto’s men, Athletic Bilbao have never lost to Portuguese opposition when performing in their home nation and will be looking to maintain that record and overcome a one-goal deficit on Thursday.