Athletic – Barcelona: Copa del Rey final previewBy: Jack | May 23rd, 2012
Friday 25th May 2012 20:00 local time.
Athletic once again look to end their long trophy drought, this time in a repeat of the final three years ago.
We all remember what happened last time. Despite an early Toquero goal Barcelona fought back to win 4-1 and clinch their 25th Copa in Guardiola’s impressive debut season.
But things are very different now. Barça claimed the treble that year which signalled the start of a highly successful era; this season they’ve missed out on both the Liga and Champions League and the Pep’s time is coming to a end.
Athletic too have changed since then. While our league position is roughly the same as three seasons ago (sacrificed both times for cup runs) expectations are higher. Whereas back then a cup final appearance was unexpected (it was the first in 24 years) this time round it is our second in two weeks and I even predicted we could make it all the way at the start. Bielsa has transformed the team and we have our best chance in a long time of finally winning silverware again.
It wont be easy though as of course Barcelona are still a great team. Also a wounded Barça, one desperate not to end the season trophyless and one wanting to end Pep’s reign on a high will make it even more difficult. But we can win.
As we all know under Bielsa there have been some big performances. Manchester United, Schalke, Sporting CP and PSG all fell in Europe and in the league we arguably gave Barça their toughest game. I believe if we play to our absolute best the trophy is ours.
But there are some doubts. While the team will benefit from the two week rest, you fear all those games this season will have caught up with them. Also the occasion seemed too much in Bucharest and while the performance improved in the second half by then it was too late.
Tactically though it could prove an easier match than against Atléti. As soon as they scored they sat back and waited to hit us on the counter, but Barça will be more adventurous. Both sides will attack and we should see an open and high scoring game.
Barça are missing a few key players with both Carles Puyol and Dani Alves out and David Villa a major doubt. Also of course, they’ll be without Eric Abidal who has retired this week due to his ongoing cancer treatment. The lack of defenders will be an issue and may see Pep play Mascherano and Busquets there and/or use a three man defence.
Pinto has been Barça’s keeper throughout the competition and Thiago Alcántara and Isaac Cuenca started both semi-final legs but it is otherwise expected to be their strongest available lineup.
Bielsa has no suspensions/injuries and will no doubt name the usual side.
Players called: Iraizoz, Toquero, Aurtenetxe, Amorebieta, San José, David López, Iturraspe, Llorente, De Marcos, Gabilondo, Koikili, Raúl, Susaeta, Iraola, Zubiaurre, Iñigo Pérez, Gurpegi, Muniain, Aitor Ocio, Ander Herrera, Castillo, Ekiza, Javi Martínez, Igor Martínez, Ibai Gómez y Ruiz de Galarreta.
Iraola – Javi Martínez – Amorebieta – Aurtenetxe
Susaeta – Ander – De Marcos – Muniain
If you’re looking for omens they are in Athletic’s favour. Our last cup triumph was not only against Barcelona but also in the city of Madrid – furthermore our last seven Copas triumphs have been in Madrid.