Barcelona will hope to conclude Josep Guardiola’s time at the club with some silverware when they play host to Marcelo Bielsa’s impressive Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on Friday evening.
Road to the Final
Barca; def L’Hospitalet 10-0 on agg Round of 32, def Osasuna 6-1 on agg in Round of 16, def Real Madrid 4-3 on agg in Quarter-finals, def Valencia 3-1 on agg in Semi-finals
Bilbao; def Oviedo 2-0 on agg in Round of 32, def Albacete 4-0 on agg in Round of 16, def Mallorca 3-0 on agg in Quarter-finals, def Mirandes 8-3 on agg in Semi-finals
Barcelona clearly have had a tougher run to the final having had to overcome La Liga champions Real Madrid as well as third-place getters Valencia, while Bilbao have only taken on one top flight club.
Barcelona haven’t won a major piece of silverware this term, falling short in the race for La Liga to rivals Real Madrid. They were also bundled out of the Uefa Champions League recently in the semi-finals to eventual winners Chelsea. Barca did lift the Club World Cup in Japan in December but finishing the season with the Copa del Rey would give them something to genuinely enjoy this term.
Bilbao have impressed many observers with their style of footbal this term under Bielsa, and they claimed a 10th-place finish in La Liga, however they failed to win one of their final four league games to conclude the season. The Basque club did go all the way to the final of the Europa League before recently losing 3-0 to Atletico Madrid. It’s fair to say their recent form isn’t good, having not won a game in almost a month.
Barcelona have plenty of defensive headaches with Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano likely to form the central partnership due to the injury-enforced absence of key man Carles Puyol as well as Dani Alves, Eric Abidal and Andreu Fontas. Striker David Villa, who was ruled out of Euro 2012 this week, is also unavailable.
Bilbao have no major concerns meaning Bielsa has a full squad to choose from. Look out for the exciting Iker Muniain in attack.
Guardiola said: “Athletic are a team that always create chances; they don’t get down. This is a final we’re going to have to endure right until the end. Both teams will play to attack and I expect the best team to win. Their players have guts and they will show that in the game.
“When they cried as Muniain and Toquero did in the [Europa League final], it was because the loss affected them. With two weeks of rest, I believe we’ll meet the rival that we saw in their games against Manchester United.”
Bielsa said: “Barca continue to be the best team in the world. So, to win this final, our players must play at their full potential and be accurate and precise as a team. This, in turn, will help to decrease the usual level of Barcelona.”
He added: “Lionel Messi has solutions for almost all problems. But we will try to ensure that he does not find a way to beat us tomorrow [Friday].”
Sports Pundit predicts; Barcelona 4-0 Athletic Bilbao