MADRID: Holders Barcelona will be looking to book their place in the Copa del Rey semifinals when they take on Athletic Bilbao in a repeat of last year’s final on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
The Catalan giants edged the first leg of the last eight tie 2-1 in the Basque Country, although a late goal from prolific striker Aritz Aduriz has given Athletic a glimmer of hope ahead of the return match at the Nou Camp.
It has not been an easy week for the European champions, with midfielder Javier Mascherano being sentenced to a year in prison for tax fraud.
Striker Neymar missed the weekend victory at Malaga with a muscle problem and his vagueness when asked about the possibility of leaving Barca has intensified speculation surrounding his future.
Manager Luis Enrique has said that he expects him to stay put though, and the Brazilian will probably return to the starting lineup for the second leg.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both sat out the first leg, but are available to return and resume their deadly attacking triumvirate with Neymar.
Bilbao have their own fearsome forward though in Arduriz, who has taken a real liking to Barcelona this term.
The 34-year-old kicked off his remarkable season by putting four goals past the La Liga champions in the Spanish Super Cup over two games, including a first leg hat-trick. His brace against Eibar on Sunday took his tally for the campaign to 25 goals.
While the game in Catalonia promises goals, Atletico Madrid’s encounter with Celta Vigo could be a different type of affair.
The game at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday follows a 0-0 first leg stalemate.
The capital city side, who last won the cup in 2013, lost top spot in La Liga to Barcelona at the weekend after a goalless draw with Sevilla.
Atletico’s success has been built on a resolute defence as Diego Simeone’s men have only conceded eight times in 21 league outings this season, while Celta Vigo have hit a terrible run of form to drop out of the top four.
On Thursday night Gary Neville’s Valencia will be hoping to put their poor league form behind them when they go to Las Palmas with the tie level at 1-1.
The only remaining team from outside the top flight are Mirandes, but the second-tier side face a tough ask to match their run to the 2012 semi-finals. They host Sevilla with a two-goal deficit to make up.