8th March, 2012
Athletic Bilbao midfielder, Ander Herrera, insists his side will go out looking to beat Manchester United and are not going to Old Trafford just to make up the numbers.
United are among the favourites to win the Europa League after suffering a surprise early exit from the Champions League, but Herrera is determined not to give the Red Devils a comfortable passage through to the quarter-finals.
He said: “We’ve shown throughout the season that Athletic don’t know anything else but to go out to win, and then, there are many different circumstances and many things can happen during a game.
“It’s a dream that we are going to live a unique situation that maybe throughout your career you only experience once but, clearly, we are going to win, not just turn up.”
Athletic defender, Jon Aurtenetxe, is also hoping to return to San Mames for the last-16 second leg with a good result, but knows it will not be easy.
He said: “At best, we’ll win, but we know that it’s going to be difficult. Manchester United are a great team, one of the best in the world and they never let up. They are going to make things difficult for us, but we’re going to give it our all and we’ll see if we can give them a scare.”
Meanwhile, Manchester United’s rare foray into European football’s second tier will give it a chance to renew another old acquaintance when it hosts the Spanish side.
Having reached the round of 16 by winning their first encounter with Ajax since 1976, United are up against a Spanish side they have not played since 1957.
Back then, Bilbao beat United 5-3 in the quarterfinals of the old European Cup before the so-called “Busby Babes” advanced to a semifinal against defending champion and eventual winner, Real Madrid with a 3-0 second-leg win.
With a record of one win from four matches contributing to its demotion from the Champions League to the Europa League, United’s home form in Europe is less impressive this season, but Bilbao’s players are still excited.
“It’s a dream for us to play at Manchester just like it’s a dream for our fans to see us play at Old Trafford,” defender Jon Aurtenetxe said. “The best result would be a victory. But we’re aware of how difficult that will be, so we’ll try to produce the best possible result.
“We’ll give it our all. Let’s see if we can give them a scare.”
Bilbao center back Fernando Amorebieta is suspended but Spain forwards Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain are available, as are dangerous midfielders Markel Susaeta and Ander Herrera.
Llorente has 12 goals in 18 appearances since returning from injury in January, helping the Basque club get this far and to reach the Copa del Rey final.
Bilbao have never won in seven trips to England — losing six times — but can take heart from the 2-1 win by Ajax last month that nearly took the Dutch club through against United. Ajax were eliminated 3-2 on aggregate but came close to scoring the third goal that would have carried it through on away goals.
Defender Chris Smalling should return to United’s line-up after recovering from a head injury sustained playing for England, while Anderson could make his first appearance since 8. January.