Atheltic Bilbao squandered a one-goal lead in Russia to record a 2-1 defeat, but los Leones remain the favourites to go through. Lokomotiv Moscow did well to win the game in Russia, but they are set to face a difficult task of holding on to the advantage in front of the packed San Mames.
Athletic now 4th in La Liga
Athletic have been showing a lot of potential last season, when the excellent league campaign helped them achieve European qualification, but the arrival of world-class coach Marcelo Bielsa is proving to be the final piece of the puzzle. Even before the Argentine took over the reigns at San Mames everybody knew that Athletic boasted a very talented squad, but it was Bielsa who managed to get the maximum out of every single player and he is the main reason behind team’s amazing results this term. Los Leones have already qualified for the Copa del Rey final, whereas the impressive 3-0 victory over Malaga saw them climb to 4th place in La Liga standings, which is a great feat considering the stiff competition for the Champions League places. Athletic did miss the opportunity to put this tie beyond doubt in Moscow, but after winning 7 of last 8 games at San Mames, los Leones look like hot favourites to beat Lokomotiv Moscow as well.
Fernando Amorebieta and Fernando Llorente return to the side after being rested against Malaga, whereas Inigo Perez is expected to deputize for suspended Jon Aurtenetxe.
Good comeback for Lokomotiv
Lokomotiv Moscow are doing pretty well this season, seeing they are still in the race for European places in domestic championship, while fighting to continue their Europa League campaign. The Russian side managed to win the second place in the group that also contained Anderlecht, Sturm Graz and AEK Athens, but they were very unlucky to be pitted against high-flying Athletic Bilbao. Lokomotiv, nevertheless, came from a goal behind to win the first leg 2-1, but I seriously doubt they can avoid defeat in the return leg. Jose Couceiro’s side are still not at their best, considering that their domestic championship doesn’t start for another couple of weeks, and the lack of competitive games could prove to be a problem when facing a side that have been playing two games a week for quite a while now. The Russians will try everything to escape defeat in Bilbao, but it is hard to believe they can fare better than some of the strongest La Liga sides that have already taken the fall at the Cathedral.
Striker Maicon Marques is suspended after picking up his third yellow card, but Manuel Da Costa returns from suspension. Roman Pavlyuchenko is ineligible, whereas Dmitri Loskov is sidelined with injury.
Athletic Bilbao are a real force to be reckoned with at their San Mames and after the 3-0 win over star-studded Malaga side, they should be able to beat Lokomotiv as well. The Russians are still far from the desired form and they were lucky to win the first leg, so I would be really surprised if they manage to qualify for the next round.
Our prediction: Athletic to qualify
Odds: 1.57 (4/7)