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Unread 05-04-2012, 07:20 PM
fred tissue
 
Default Europa League quarter-finals clockwatch – live! | Gregg Roughley

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Preamble

Hello. It's that time of the week again. When Athletic Bilbao get us hot and bothered with their footballing p*** and leave us to wonder whether their players have it written in their contracts that they only have to perform on Thursday nights. Because anybody with two eyes (or even one – actually even none, as league tables are available in brail aren't they?) can read that they are 11th in La Liga, a position that seems laughable, given their European exploits.

But then we all remember Liverpool's 2005 European Cup-winning team, for whom the Champions League resembled a night out with an exciting latin mistress, while the league was more akin to the tedium and disappointment of a long, tired and loveless marriage with a girl from down the road.

But others would be able to tell you more about Athletic than I. I've enjoyed reading numerous claims from football nerds that they "were on to Athletic before anyone else", as though they had seen them doing keepy-uppy in a dingy club when they were pre-stubble teenagers "and, yes, their talent shined through even then."

Despite his deranged-looking touchline pacing and "loco" nickname, Athletic's manager Marcelo Bielsa, seems a pretty sensible man. When asked what he thought about Rául's declaration that this "might be the best Athletic Bilbao I've ever seen" he simply said that his team haven't won anything yet, so it is not a good season. He's right, they were sixth in La Liga last season. A position I imagine he is still hoping to close in on, despite the distraction of a Copa Del Rey final and the Europa League.

For now, let's enjoy his side's attractive football and hope Bielsa can add to his talented little group and perhaps have a crack at shaking up La Liga next time out without losing any of his players.

For the record, I'll be dipping in and out of all tonight's matches, not just covering Athletic, for whom their 4-2 win at Schalke looks to have made them a pretty safe bet for a semi-final spot. The other matches are finely balanced. With away goals that will probably make my life hell later on when I'm trying to tell you which teams are likely to go through.

Tonight's matches

Valencia (1) v (2) AZ Alkmaar

I fancy Valencia to come through at Mestalla thanks to Mehmet Topal's vital away goal.

Metalist (1) v (2) Sporting

Metalist only need a 1-0 win but I was impressed with Sporting against Manchester City. I can't see them not scoring away from home. So Sporting for me, not that you should put an accumulator on based on my predictions.

Hannover (1) v (2) Atlético Madrid

Difficult to call but I'm going to go with Hannover, perhaps with a 1-0 win.

Athletic Bilbao (4) v (2) Schalke

I've gone on about them enough up there so you know I fancy Athletic. But I reckon Rául will score and Schalke may get a draw on the night.

I'll be back at around 7.30pm with the team news.
Gregg Roughley

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