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Valencia may get a much-needed boost for its struggling defense with the return of Spain international José Luis Gayà in the Copa del Rey semifinal against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.
The teams drew 1-1 in the first leg in Bilbao. The other semifinal will be played on Thursday between Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano in Sevilla. Betis won the first leg 2-1.
Valencia has the Spanish league’s third-worst defense with 42 goals conceded in 26 matches. Only second-to-last Alavés (44) and last-placed Levante (51) have fared worse.
Valencia coach José Bordalás said he has “tried almost everything” to put an end to the team's defensive struggles, and was hopeful to have Gayà back to help out.
“He has been doing better and is optimistic,” Bordalás told radio station Onda Cero. “We still have two practice sessions left and we will see how he responds. Luckily we will have him available.”
Gayà had to be substituted with a muscle injury in the second half of a 4-1 league loss to Barcelona on Jan. 20. The left back returned to training with the squad on Tuesday and appeared fully fit.
Valencia is trying to reach the Copa final for the first time since winning its eighth title in 2019.
The triumph came under coach Marcelino García Toral, who now is at Athletic’s helm. The Basque Country club is trying to achieve a third straight Copa final after defeats to Real Sociedad in 2020 and to Barcelona in 2021.
Athletic has been one of the hottest teams in Spain this season, reaching the Spanish Super Cup final and defeating Real Madrid and Barcelona on its way to the Copa semifinal. It is coming off a 4-0 loss at Barcelona in the Spanish league, though.
“It may have seemed like a terrible match, but I don’t think it was that bad,” Marcelino said. “Barcelona played better, but not as much better as what the scoreboard showed.”
REAL BETIS vs RAYO VALLECANO
In the other semifinal, Betis will try to defend its advantage from the first leg and return to the Copa final for the first time since 2005, when it won its last major trophy.
Sevilla has been revamped since the arrival of veteran Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini in 2020. It sits third in the Spanish league and is enjoying one of its best seasons in several years.
Rayo, which has veteran Colombia forward Radamel Falcao, is playing in the Copa semifinals for the first time since 1982 and is trying to reach the final for the first time.
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