What: Europa League Round of 16
Who: Manchester United vs Athletic Bilbao
When: 8th March, 2012, at 20:05 UK time
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England

Absolute Best

Manchester United eventually overpowered hosts Tottenham Hotspur to remain just two points adrift of neighbours Manchester City at the weekend, in a match which saw the Red Devils take their time to warm up.

Eventually the champions inflicted damage on a Spurs side that kept fighting even after going 3-0 at one point. Against Athletic Bilbao here, Sir Alex Ferguson will undoubtedly be hoping for less resistance – but now the Europa League is getting serious.

The decorated Scotsman was ecstatic with the way his side ultimately won the battle at White Hart Lane, despite a relatively low number of shots on target. “It was a massive result for us here and a massive performance by our defenders.”

While Manchester United easily sent Dutch giants Ajax packing in the last round, Athletic Bilbao, improved vastly by coach Marcelo Bielsa, could prove to be a different prospect indeed.

Job to Do

Athletic Bilbao’s 2-0 Basque derby win over Real Sociedad kept the team well in contention for the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot in La Liga. As things stand, the Lions are just a single shy point away from fourth-placed Levante. For now however, their Europa League dream risks of being blown to bits as they prepare to face English champions Manchester United.

Despite the intensity of the situation, as Athletic Bilbao play Manchester United for the first time in 55 years, club midfielder Ander Herrera explained that his side were making the trip to England to come back as winners, not just make up the numbers.

“Throughout the year we have shown that Athletic cannot do anything but go to win”, said Herrera before highlighting the importance of Ferguson’s “experience in high-level games."

Los Leones know that a strong showing at the Theatre of Dreams could leave the door wide open for them in the return leg at their San Mames bastion. In a tie that few expect the Basques to win, the pressure is most definitely off Bielsa’s men.

Recent form

Manchester United:
Manchester United 1-2 Ajax (23/02; Europa League)
Norwich City 1-2 Manchester United (26/02; Premier League)
Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Manchester United (04/03; Premier League)

Athletic Bilbao:
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Lokomotiv Moscow (23/02; Europa League)
Villarreal 2-2 Athletic Bilbao (26/02; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Real Sociedad (04/03; La Liga)

Key absences

Manchester United: Antonio Valencia (doubt); Tom Cleverley; Anders Lindegaard; Darren Fletcher; Nemanja Vidic; Michael Owen

Athletic Bilbao: Aitor Ocio; Carlos Gurpegui; Xabier Castillo; Fernando Amorebieta (suspended)

Players to watch

Manchester United – Ashley Young: The winger was man-of-the-match against Tottenham with two superbly taken goals. Young’s pace and tricks down the flanks can be a real nuisance for the opposition, who will have to keep him contained on the night.

Athletic Bilbao – Fernando Llorente: The towering target man will be his side’s main threat against Manchester United. Excellent in the air and at holding up the ball, he can bring much faster players such as Iker Muniain into the game to inflict damage on the Red Devils.

Match Prediction

Should Manchester United play with the same conviction they displayed against Tottenham, then they are likely to win this clash. The English giants remain strong favourites to win the Europa League – next to Manchester City – and will want to establish a good first leg lead. Athletic Bilbao will not be easy opponents, and expect the Spaniards to test countryman David de Gea with set-pieces and aerial power. Manchester United 3-1 Athletic Bilbao.

This Manchester United v Athletic Bilbao could be a thriller. Will you bet on it? Make sure you visit OLBG for tips and to compare the current odds and betting markets available at all the important bookmakers.