Madrid, April 6 (IANS) Sevilla striker Fernando Llorente will return to the ground where he began his football career when the defending champions visit Athletic Club Bilbao in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night.
The all-Spanish affair is one that neither side wanted, especially Athletic, after they knocked out another Spanish side, Valencia in the previous round, but it does give the chance for Llorente to return to face the club he left in controversial circumstances three seasons ago, reports Xinhua.
The forward, who was a product of the Athletic youth system, allowed his contract to run out before joining Juventus on a free transfer. That was not a popular decision with Basque fans and Llorente can expect anything other than a homecoming hero’s welcome when he steps onto the pitch at San Mames.
Both sides going into the match after disappointing weekend results with Sevilla losing their 17-game winning record at home with a shock 1-2 defeat to Real Sociedad, while Athletic hit the woodwork three times as they only drew 1-1 with struggling Granada.
Athletic will be without key central defender Aymeric Laporte for this game and the rest of the season after he broke his ankle with the French Under-21 side, while winger Sabin Merino will also miss what is left of the campaign after tearing a hamstring in the first minute of Sunday’s match.
The good news for Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde is that he should have strikers Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams at 100 percent after recent injuries.
Sevilla meanwhile need to improve on an away record in which they have failed to win in the La Liga all season and also failed to win away in their last two European tied.
Unai Emery’s men will be hoping to survive a cup atmosphere in San Mames to get a result to take back to their fortress Pizjuan next week.
Meanwhile Villarreal have a more straightforward tie as they entertain Sparta Prague, one of the weakest sides left in the tournament.