Athletic Bilbao head coach Marcelino acknowledged his players suffered from nerves during their Copa del Rey semi-final against Levante.

Marcelino's side needed an Inigo Martinez equaliser at San Mames after Gonzalo Melero had given Levante the lead as the first leg of the tie finished 1-1 on Thursday.

Athletic were the stronger of the two sides after the break following a timid first-half showing but were unable to find a winner.

The second leg will be played at Levante's Estadio Ciudad de Valencia on March 4, with the winners set to face either Sevilla or Barcelona in the final on April 17.

Athletic still have last season's delayed Copa final against rivals Real Sociedad to play on April 4 and their chance to complete the unprecedented feat of winning the trophy twice in the same month remains a possibility.

They have progressed in nine consecutive knockout rounds in the Copa del Rey - their best run since 11 in a row between 1983 and 1985 (including finals) - but Marcelino said his players must be better in the second leg.

"It may have been anxiety," Marcelino told a post-match press conference.

"We were not comfortable in any facet of the game. We missed simple passes and we were not mobile. 

"In the first half, most of the players were below their level. Then the idea of the game changed and we found ourselves again with what we like.

"It is clear that to be in a final we have to play as in the second half. We must demand more of ourselves.

"Approaching that level of play we can be in the final, but it is clear that we will not be able to drop a level even a minute in Valencia."

Levante boss Paco Lopez insisted his players must forget the second leg, and the prospect of reaching the Copa del Rey final for the first time in their history, and instead focus on LaLiga for the time being.

"We understand that people are waiting for this game but not for us now. There are three weeks in between," he added.

"What we have in the league is the most important thing now and we must put the focus there.

"On March 4 it will come and before we have several games and we are going to have to demand it from ourselves."

Inaki Williams was proud of his match-winning strike against Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana final, labelling it the best goal of his career.

Williams was the hero for Athletic, who upstaged Barca 3-2 after extra time thanks to his 93rd-minute goal in Seville on Sunday.

Barca star Antoine Griezmann had opened the scoring in the 40th minute, but Williams teed up Oscar de Marcos for the equaliser two minutes later at Estadio de La Cartuja.

Griezmann struck again with 13 minutes remaining before Athletic substitute Asier Villalibre forced extra time at the death, and Williams completed the shock result in the 93rd minute as Barca captain Lionel Messi saw red.

It secured a third Supercopa crown for Athletic – who shocked Real Madrid in the semi-final – and their first since routing Barca 5-1 across two legs in 2015, and Williams basked in his decisive goal after curling a shot away from Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the top-right corner.

"For what it means, it's the best [goal of my career]," Williams told Movistar after becoming the only player this season to score and assist in a game against Barca across all competitions.

"We played good football, [a symptom of what] the coach wants from us.

"We fought, with passion, that's what Athletic is. I think we're fair winners. It's everyone's doing, including the previous technical team.

"We can dream of achieving big things."

Williams added: "No words needed. We all know how hard is to compete versus Barcelona because of their potential and the signing market they have whilst we have a limitation on it.

"In the previous days I have kept reading this Bible quote: David can beat Goliath. Today it was just like that. When you play with heart and faith, impossible is nothing. Today we worked and fought like animals and our effort was rewarded. Sometimes you don't get a reward but thank God it was all good today and we fully deserve this Supercopa."

Marcelino also lifted the trophy, having replaced Gaizka Garitano as Athletic head coach earlier this month.

Per Opta, Marcelino is the first head coach in history to win two one-legged finals in a row against Barcelona in all competitions, triumphing with two different teams after Valencia's 2019 Copa del Rey success.

"I've been in Bilbao for only a short time, but the truth is that it's been productive," Marcelino said via Marca.

"The credit goes to the players who, with the work they put in last year, deserve to be here. And they won two games to be champions against Real Madrid and Barcelona.

"I'd also like to remember Aritz Aduriz, Mikel San Jose and Benat Etxebarria, players here last season, as well as the coaching staff, of course.

"We came with all the humility in the world to work – taking advantage of what was done before while trying to install concepts that we want to add.

"[The players] are like sponges, and it's incredible how they fight and work. [Us as a coaching staff] are very proud and enjoy working with them because they make it so easy for us."

Athletic Bilbao have reached an agreement in principle to appoint Marcelino as coach until 2022 after sacking Gaizka Garitano.

The LaLiga club sacked Garitano, who took charge in December 2018, just hours after recording a 1-0 win over Elche on Sunday.

That result sees Athletic sitting ninth in the table, seven points adrift of fifth-placed Barcelona.

Former Valencia boss Marcelino was announced as Garitano's replacement later on Sunday.

Athletic announced they had reached an agreement in principle with Marcelino until 2022.

After more than two years in charge, Marcelino was sacked by Valencia in September 2019.

He helped the LaLiga club win the Copa del Rey in 2018-19.

Mikel Arteta officially started work at Arsenal on Sunday and appears set to get busy in the transfer market.

The Gunners reportedly have two targets in their sights, including a Serie A star.

Arsenal could do with an injection of excitement after slipping to 11th in the Premier League following their lacklustre goalless draw at Everton.

 

TOP STORY – GUNNERS EYE MERTENS AND VOLLAND

Among the players Arsenal admire is Napoli mainstay Dries Mertens, according to CalcioMercato.

Mertens, on target five times in the Champions League this term, will be available on a free at the end of the season.

Borussia Dortmund are also said to be interested in the 32-year-old, potentially forcing Arsenal to look elsewhere for reinforcements.

That could result in them launching a bid for Kevin Volland. Sky Sports News says the Gunners have sent scouts to watch the Bayer Leverkusen forward and will put his name to new boss Arteta for consideration.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paolo Maldini's position as Milan technical director is "in the balance" following the embarrassing 5-0 loss to Atalanta, claims CalcioMercato. The Rossoneri are languishing in 11th.

- Manchester United and multiple Bundesliga clubs are tracking teenage Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham, reports The Telegraph.

- German newspaper Bild believes goalkeeper Alexander Nubel will join Bayern Munich at the end of the season after announcing his decision to leave Schalke on a free. According to Sport1, his arrival at Allianz Arena could lead to Sven Ulreich's exit.

- Ligue 1 side Monaco have identified Marcelo Gallardo, Laurent Blanc and Marcelino as potential replacements for the under-pressure Leonardo Jardim, according to L'Equipe.

- Juventus outcast Mario Mandzukic is set to seal a switch from the Serie A champions to Qatari side Al-Duhail, reports Sky Sport Italia.

Real Madrid have made Fabian Ruiz their top transfer target.

According to reports, "negotiations have accelerated" as the Spanish heavyweights aim to take advantage of the disarray at Napoli.

But the midfielder also has high-profile admirers in England and France.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STEP UP FABIAN INTEREST

Napoli midfielder Fabian is a man in demand.

Madrid appear to be in pole position, with Cadena SER claiming the Spanish giants are "very serious" about taking the 23-year-old to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Negotiations over a contract extension at Napoli are said to have stopped and the Spain international is reportedly warm to the idea of joining up with Zinedine Zidane's side.

However, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain could look to force a three-way bidding war for the Spain international, who has previously been linked to Barcelona.

ROUND-UP

- Ex-Valencia head coach Marcelino has emerged as a left-field managerial candidate for Arsenal and Everton, according to the Daily Mail. The 54-year-old lost his job at the Mestalla in September following a reported falling out with owner Peter Lim.

- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fears he will be sacked if Manchester United lose their next two games against Tottenham and bitter rivals City, says The Sun.

- Former Premier League striker-turned-reporter Jan Aage Fjortoft claims Liverpool are favourites to land Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho – but the winger will cost the Premier League leaders €130million.

- Chelsea have offered little-used striker Olivier Giroud to Serie A sides Milan and Inter, according to CalcioMercato.

Barcelona are keeping tabs on 16-year-old PSG midfielder Edouard Michut, reports Le Parisien.

Valencia have confirmed general director Mateu Alemany is to leave the club following a meeting with club owner Peter Lim in Singapore.

Alemany and the club agreed to terminate his contract last week and he has now said goodbye to Lim ahead of his formal departure.

"Valencia wish to publicly express gratitude to Mateu Alemany for his enormous dedication, effort and achievements throughout his time at the entity, and wish him all the best in his professional career," the club said in a statement.

While the news has not come as a surprise, it raises further questions of Lim's management of Valencia after a turbulent few months.

Marcelino's two-year reign as head coach was controversially ended by Lim in September, with the tactician claiming he was sacked for winning the Copa del Rey last season instead of focusing on securing a top-four finish, which they also achieved.

Several Valencia players were outraged at the decision and the squad refused to take part in post-match media duties after the 5-2 defeat by Barcelona in new coach Albert Celades' first game in charge.

Alemany was reported to have been Marcelino's main backer among the club's hierarchy, having hired him in 2017 and then supported him when under pressure last season.

The decision to dismiss Marcelino appeared to leave Alemany's position looking untenable, particularly given suggestions in local media that he was not consulted about the hiring of Celades.

Valencia, who have won only four of 12 LaLiga matches this season, sit 13th in the table.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.