FC Barcelona (-125) at Athletic Bilbao (+350), Draw (+275)
Despite playing on the road, Barcelona are heavy favorites in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey quarterfinal against Athletic Bilbao today at San Mamés Stadium (3:00 PM Eastern).
The clubs’ most recent meeting – which came just last weekend in La Liga action – is part of the reason Barca are such big favorites. Luis Suarez potted a hat-trick and Barcelona embarrassed Bilbao, 6-0. This match could play out very differently, though. Last week’s battle came at the Nou Camp and Bilbao were down to ten men just three minutes into the game (after Gorka Iraizoz Moreno was ejected for a foul in the penalty area).
Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde certainly felt his team deserved a better fate.
“Before the penalty [to Moreno] we had a great chance to score which we didn’t take and then we were up against it. Our only option, with a man down and 90 minutes left, was to try and keep the score tight and see if we could get to the end of the game still with a chance,” Valverde explained to Diario AS.
Bilbao may also have the benefit of facing a shorthanded Barca side today; Lionel Messi had to exit the team’s weekend match with a hamstring strain. If the Little Wizard is in any discomfort, he’s likely to get the day off.
“We have to wait and see what the tests say, but it was a slight strain, and we preferred not to risk it,” manager Luis Enrique said during a press conference. “I don’t like taking risks with any player, so imagine what it’s like with Messi.”
Today’s match will actually be a repeat of last year’s Copa final. Barcelona cruised to an easy 3-1 victory at San Mames in that one, just one of their seven wins in their last eight meetings with Bilbao.
Whether Messi plays or not, the Catalans have too much firepower for the middling Bilbao squad.
Pick: Barcelona (-125).
(Photo credit: Lluís from Sabadell (Barcelona), España (LFS_13398) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)