This is the Primera Liga encounter in Andalusia between Sevilla CF and Athletic Club de Bilbao of the Basque country. Sevilla fired Antonio Alvarez lately and replaced him with Mallorca's hero of last season - Gregorio Manzano - who takes charge of his first home game, which is somewhat ironic if we consider that Bilbao's boss is Joaquin Caparros, who had five excellent years with Sevilla CF between 2000 and 2005!
So - thoughts on Sevilla CF thus far under Manzano's reign? They've played two away games, surprisingly losing 2-0 at Sporting Gijon but somewhat impressively winning at Karpaty Lviv in Ukraine in the UEFA Europa League so I'm a bit undecided so far. A defeat in Gijon isn't something I normally view as poorly as I do but Gijon had been poor this season before that game and Sevilla had the opportune moment to take three points and they failed miserably. However, as we saw on numerous occasions last season, Manzano's tactics on the road are always questionable but his tactics at home are usually spot-on, as I expect to see tonight. The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan get their first chance to see what wily Manzano can bring to the table and we may see a little of "new manager syndrome", as I call it, whereby sides play very well in their new manager's first home game, which would certainly assist this bet.
Unfortunately for Sevilla CF, rumours continue to surface about Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano's happiness at the club after five games without a goal and that is an issue that Manzano is going to have to address rapidly. Nonetheless, with the likes of Negredo and Kanoute available to them, Sevilla CF can cope in this game without Fabiano, should he be ousted - it's the big games where they may miss his clinical finishing. Sevilla's midfield has long been their strength with the right balance of strength, experience, pace, and passing ability throughout. However, the loss of Jesus Navas due to injury has really hindered Sevilla and it's a real blow for them in this game as left-back is Bilbao's weakest area - it has been ever since Del Horno left some years ago. Nonetheless, Sevilla should still have enough to do damage, even if his wing partner Diego Capel has also been struggling with injuries. The likes of Acosta, Renato, and Perotti in midfield should have enough to compensate for their absent midfielders in a game like this so I expect a strong enough Sevilla display tonight to cause substantial problems to their opponents.
Athletic Bilbao are my team in Spain. However, looking at the squad that they're sending south, I'm really rather concerned here:
Goalkeepers - Gorka, Raul
Defenders - Balenziaga, Koikili, San Jose, Ustaritz, Iraola
Midfieders - Susaeta, Gurpegi, Orbaiz, Javi Martinez, Iturraspe, de Marcos, Gabilondo
Attackers - Llorente, Muniain, Velez, Toquero
Caparros is taking so few defenders for this trip that it's unreal! Amorebieta and former Sevilla CF defender Aitor Ocio miss this game through injury, which means that Ustaritz will partner San Jose in central defence, which is not a good enough defence to stop Sevilla today. If anything happens to Iraola then only Iturraspe can cover and if anything happens to either centre-back then only Gurpegi can cover - it's just not enough! Sevilla are surely going to target their defence for this reason and who can blame them? If Bilbao fall behind away from home then their heads drop and they tend to concede more than ever!
Bilbao also miss David Lopez and Ibai Gomez through injury, neither of which are essential to the team but they leave the side looking very thin indeed, in my opinion. Gomez suffered a horror break in Bilbao's convincing win at home to Real Zaragoza last weekend in an accident and the promising winger will be out for 4-5 months as a result, sadly - always bad to see things like that. So who are Bilbao going to field for this one? They're going to have to go 4-5-1 and I expect them to line-up with Gorka, Iraola, San Jose, Ustaritz, Koikili, Orbaiz, Javi Martinez, Gurpegi, Susaeta, Toquero, and Llorente. Toquero will support Llorente in attack with his relentless energy but drop back on the flanks to form the 4-5-1 when under pressure. The pressure is immense on Javi Martinez to pull the strings and we may see little Muniain enter the game a little earlier to show some more of his dazzling potential and to be honest, Bilbao are going to need it to take a win from this game as I don't see their defence being good enough to keep Sevilla out here although they managed that last season in their trip south. Bilbao have actually lost four out of their last five trips here and usually quite convincingly too and with Bilbao struggling for players at the moment, especially in defence, I anticipate a long night beckoning for Los Leones against their feisty hosts.
However, I wouldn't go mad with the handicap here because Bilbao are still attacking well and I think they've got a good chance of scoring here if they attack properly. Caparros knows his old side's weaknesses so Sevilla shouldn't have it all their own way. However, under Manzano in his first home game and with Bilbao's defensive problems, I really think Sevilla should be 1.50 to win this game, not 1.70, so my call is the home win here as the odds seem a little generous.
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