After a surprising result in the first leg, can the Red Devils do enough in Spain to march on to the next round? Who knew what Sir Alex Ferguson and his United crew were expecting out of the Spanish side, but they all soon found out.
Bilbao came to play and completely outclassed the Red Devils
at Old Trafford last week, winning 3-2. They got goals from Fernando Llorente,
Oscar and Muniain, with United getting a brace out of Wayne Rooney.
That second from Rooney, a last-minute penalty, could end up
being a life-saver heading into the return match.
The soccer odds have United at +140 on the moneyline to win
this second leg, while sportsbooks dont list the hosts too far behind at +175 themselves to
nab a victory as well as a historic triumph over one of Europe's biggest clubs.
United Top Dogs Again
Ferguson's side has momentum on their side now after beating
West Brom on Sunday to trade places atop the Premier League standings. Yes,
the topsy turvy nature of the competition continued over the weekend as the
two Manchester clubs switched positions once more.
Manchester United won at home comfortably behind another Wayne Rooney
brace, while Manchester City fell victim to Swansea away. The Red Devils are
now a point ahead atop the table, but don't have the goal advantage over the
Citizens should things even up.
Talk about Athletic Bilbao and you think about a team that's
been flying under the radar throughout the season. Hardly a surprise though
when you consider that the Spanish league, La Liga, is dominated wholly by two giants in
Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The Lions, out of Basque Country, finished sixth in La Liga
last season and this year they're at number seven in the standings.
Probably their most impressive league game to date was their
2-2 draw with Barcelona in early November, and in May they get to play the
Catalan giants again in the finals of the Copa del Rey. As you can see, this
Bilbao side is no joke.
There's no ifs, ands or buts about who the Lions revolve
their attack around either. Llorente, who's scored 22 goals across all
competitions for the club this season, is a big and physical forward and he
gave United's defense a lot of problems in the first meeting.
Can Bilbao Hang On?
Susaeta has been a threat in the midfield as well, while
Javi Martinez, whose name has been linked with moves to the top European clubs,
is also have an influential campaign.
The Red Devils will be hoping Rooney can keep his electric
form going as they aim to erase a deficit and move on to the quarter-finals of
the Europa League.
Okay, the competition may not be as glamorous as the
Champions League, but Ferguson has already stated that he wants to win it and
that there are plenty of strong outfits involved. He got a taste of that first
hand back at Old Trafford last week.
And now the Red Devils have a large mountain to climb. They
mainly need a two-goal cushion and in front of what's sure to be an amazing
atmosphere at the San Mames, I don't think they'll be able to achieve that.
Bilbao hasn't lost at home in six European matches so far,
but have yet to face a side as imposing as United. Still, I believe the home
squad will do just enough to book their spot in the final eight.
FREE Pick: Athletic Bilbao 1 Manchester United 2 (4-4
on AGG, Bilbao advances on away goals)