Los Leones and Depot will both aim to start 2011 with a bang...
The year 2010 finished on something of a high for Athletic Bilbao, who had the resilience to hold out for a 0-0 draw against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. Ahead of the second leg of that encounter, los Leones will hope to kick 2011 off with a positive result against Deportivo La Coruna.
Joaquin Caparros’ side have installed themselves on the fringes of the Europa League race. Always capable of winning at San Mames, away from la Catedral the Basques side tend to struggle. Of their 25 Primera Division points won this term, 18 have come in front of their home support, and with Depor struggling on their travels three points will be anticipated on Sunday.
Athletic are currently on a two-match winning streak in La Liga. High flying Espanyol were dispatched comfortably enough at home before an important win was recorded over Levante.
Though the year finished with los Leones drawing a blank against Barca, Caparros has rarely seen his side struggle to find the net this season. Only Real Sociedad have shut the Bilbao side out in Primera Division action this season, though much of their offensive success is thanks to Fernando Llorente, a player likely to be surrounded by a good deal of speculation over the coming month.
Come Sunday, Caparros won’t be looking at the long-term future of the club but instead focussing on their short-term success. Three points against Depor should be attainable, and if a win is achieved, Athletic can look forward to a fight for Europe over the coming months.
This time last season, Deportivo La Coruna were a side threatening the challenge for a continental berth. Things started to fall apart for the Galician outfit in a match that pitted them against Athletic Bilbao in January. Though the fixture was won 3-1, erstwhile left-back Felipe was the recipient of a broken leg, and the season crumbled thereafter.
Now lying in a relatively modest mid-table position, head coach Miguel Angel Lotina will simply be aiming for his side to preserve some momentum through the festive period. Having lost only two of their last eight top flight matches, there can be little doubt that after a disappointing start to the campaign, Depor are moving in the right direction.
Prior to the winter break there was some disappointment in losing away to Atletico Madrid and then failing to overcome Sporting Gijon at home, especially as this was followed up with a 1-1 draw against Segunda Division outfit Cordoba on a water-logged pitch in the Copa del Rey just before Christmas.
Matters on the field appear to be looking up somewhat, despite only nine wins in 39 Primera Division matches throughout 2010, and these have been echoed financially for Depor, whose debt has been reduced significantly over the course of the last 12 months.
The Galicians are by no means out of the woods, and only three points at the weekend will guarantee them a mid-table spot approaching the remainder of January’s fixtures.
A shoulder problem will keep Jon Aurtenetxe out for between four and six months. Fernando Llorente is a serious injury doubt too. Mikel San Jose is a slight doubt due to illness.
Andres Guardado and Riki are both definitely missing due to injuries. Illness threatens the participation of Yves Desmarets, Jonathan Urreta and Antonio Tomas. Laure, Lassad Nouioui and Knut Olav Rindaroy are all doubts too.