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Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona, Copa del Rey: Team News, Match Preview

Barça travel to the Basque Country for a monster quarter-final tie looking for a spot in the Final Four

Real Betis v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

Athletic Club Bilbao vs FC Barcelona

Competition/Round: 2023-24 Copa del Rey, Quarter-Finals

Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Marc-André ter Stegen, Gavi, Raphinha, Iñigo Martínez, Marcos Alonso (out)

Athletic Outs & Doubts: Iñaki Williams (out), Dani García, Óscar de Marcos (doubt)

Date/Time: Wednesday, January 24, 2024, 9.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8.30pm GMT (UK), 3.30pm ET, 12.30pm PT (USA), 2am IST (India, Thursday)

Venue: Estadio San Mamés, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

Referee: José María Sánchez Martínez

VAR: Eduardo Prieto Iglesias

How to watch on TV: Startimes World Football (Nigeria), TVE (Spain), others

How to watch online: ESPN+ (USA), FanCode (India), others

Following a thrilling victory away to Real Betis to stay alive in the La Liga title race, Barcelona return to action for yet another game in a brutally busy January as the Blaugrana travel to the Basque Country for a monster Copa del Rey quarter-final tie against Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao at the Cathedral of San Mamés on Wednesday night.

These two old rivals cannot stop meeting each other in the Spanish Cup, with their legacy in this competition a big part of their historical significance in the country’s football landscape. Barça and Athletic love winning the Cup, and they often have to go through each other in order to experience ultimate glory.

Barça’s last Copa triumph came against Bilbao three years ago, and their last meeting in the Cup came the following season with Athletic winning a sensational Round of 16 encounter almost exactly two years ago. San Mamés will once again provide a magnificent background as these two go to war again, and this time there’s a spot in the Final Four at stake in a competition both teams have a very realistic shot at winning.

Despite Barça’s amazing win at Betis on Sunday and Bilbao’s surprising defeat away to Valencia a day before, it is not crazy to say that Athletic arrive at this one as favorites. Maybe they are not as big a favorite as they were when the draw was made a week ago prior to the weekend’s events, but they are still playing at home and having a consistently great season which gives them the edge over Barça’s rollercoaster.

The simple truth is you never quite know what Xavi Hernández and his troops will give you from one game to another. They might put in an attacking performance of near perfection as they did against Betis, or they’ll flirt with embarrasing Cup exits against a fourth tier team and a third tier team in consecutive weeks.

But you know exactly how Valverde’s team will play, especially in front of the San Mamés faithful: Athletic will press high and suffocate you until you give them the ball back, and then their fast, incisive, decisive and brutally efficient forward players will quickly combine to create chances and score goals before you even know what hit you.

The African Cup of Nations has temporarily taken away their biggest star in Iñaki Williams, who always seems to play at his most devastating best against Barça, but his younger brother Nico has more than made up for Iñaki’s absence and has started to add goals and consistent end product to his impressive set of skills.

There are very few weaknesses in Athletic’s team this season, and Valverde is doing his best coaching job yet. His infamous stint at Barça has made him a more well-rounded manager, and he’s gone back to Bilbao ready to create perhaps the scariest version of Los Leones we’ve seen in the last decade.

Athletic will be relentless and physical, and the crowd will be into it from the very first whistle. San Mamés is always hell, but the temperature will be even higher this time. Athletic can smell a Cup title and they could be in the Champions League next season, and they don’t care who they have to go through to finish this season on a high.

Barça must be ready for war or they’ll leave the Basque Country knowing their most realistic path to a trophy is now dead. They showed against Betis that they’re good enough to score and win against the toughest teams in the toughest environments. The challenge now is to do it again, in an even tougher environment, against an even tougher team.

Let’s dance.


Athletic (4-2-3-1): Simón; Lekue, Vivian, Paredes, Yuri; De Galarreta, Vesga; Berenguer, Sancet, Williams; Guruzeta

Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Peña; Kounde, Araujo, Christensen, Balde; Gündogan, De Jong; Yamal, Pedri, Ferran; Lewandowski


Athletic are nearly unstoppable at home, with the type of high pressing system that can be a nightmare for Barça. This will be fast and physical and wide open and full of chances and scares for both sides, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it goes 120 minutes. I have no idea who to pick, but I’ll choose to be optimistic for this one: 3-2 Barça in an epic game.

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