Athletic Bilbao will surely turn on the heat against Sporting Lisbon when the two sides meet on Thursday, with Bielsa’s side putting most of their end of season emphasis on the Europa League. Athletic have shown an impressive direct passing game that has seen them beat two sides that were in last year’s Champions League Semi finals, Manchester United and Schalke. And it has won them some praise with the likes of Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Oscar De Marcos being chased from the big European clubs. They have failed to emulate their Europa League form in La Liga, only winning 2 of their last five games, sitting currently 8th in the table. Atheltic Bibao will feature in next season’s, Europa League after getting to the Copa Del Rey Final against Barcelona. However only eight points separate them from 4th place Malaga in the Champions League sports and with a game in hand it is all very much to play for.
Atheltic will focus their attention to Thursday night’s game against Sporting Lisbon, a side that has used Europa League to take the blow off their poor league form. However, a 1-0 win against their bitter Lisbon rivals, Benfica has put them within the top four enough for a Europa League spot. Sporting have certainly been less convincing than Athletic in their Round of 16 and Quarter finals games, narrowly beating Manchester City on away goals and then sealing a 3-2 aggregate win against Metalist Kharkiv.
Sporting will be hungry to emulate, Porto’s success of a year ago and become the 2nd Portuguese club to have won the trophy since it’s rebrand. Athletic will hope to make the final for a second time in their history after they lost the 1977 Uefa Cup to Italian club, Juventus on away goals.