Valverde expecting ‘tight’ Espanyol tie

Ernesto Valverde believes the first leg of Athletic Bilbao’s Copa del Rey semi-final with Espanyol on Wednesday will be a ‘tight’ affair.

Both teams head into the last-four curtain raiser on the back of defeats in La Liga, and the Basque Coach is expecting a scrappy encounter for that reason when he takes on his former club at San Mames.

“We’ll have to wait on [Iker] Muniain, [Mikel] Balenziaga and [Oscar] de Marcos. Muniain had a fever [on Tuesday],” he said at a Press conference.

“Balenziaga isn’t too bad and will train, we’ll see how he is but we won’t take any chances, with so many games coming up.

“[Jon Aurtenetxe] will probably play [instead of Mikel]. We’ll make any necessary changes like [Aymeric] Laporte, who can’t play, and some others.

“The game against Barca asked a lot of us, but we played like we did in other parties. Perhaps [the intensity was] somewhat higher, but playing in a semi-final lowers any tiredness.

“We’ve done better in our last few games. The result [on Sunday] was overwhelming, but the team competed.

“We’re reasonably satisfied [with our performance], although we would’ve liked another result. The team are fine from a mental perspective, and that’s important.

“We didn’t start the year with good results and lost a couple of key games. The Elche game went wrong and the fans made themselves heard.

“[The negativity] worsened against Celta, although it was more fate than anything else. The team are on the right track and always try again. You have to pass [these phases].

“We know [Espanyol] is an important game, and it’ll show [on Wednesday]. It’s not a definitive match, but we’re confident of a good result.

“Espanyol also had a tough match against Valencia, so we’re on equal footing. I don’t think that it’ll be a very cheerful, open game.

“They usually let their opponents have the ball [and play on the break]. I expected the game to be a bit tigh, but we’re at home and we’ll try to impose our style [on them].”

Tags Ernesto Valverde