Leo Messi, contra l'Ahtletic Club. FOTO ARXIU FCB.
The Copa del Rey Final between Athletic Bilbao and Barça in May 2009 at Mestalla marked the beginning of the most triumphant period of Barça history. It will always be remembered as the Guardiola era. Three years and 13 titles later, the two teams are set to meet in Atlético Madrid’s stadium in another cup final. It is the last official game of the season for the club, and the last ever for Guardiola as first team manager.
The King Of Cups (with a record titles 25) is seeking to end this glorious period with yet another title to celebrate, after narrowly missing out on both La Liga and the Champions League. And as several of the FCB players have commented this week, they also want to win it for the players that will miss the final and most especially Éric Abidal, and also to set things up as well as possible for the imminent takeover of Tito Vilanova at the helm of the first team. So far, the Catalans have been impeccable in the tournament, eliminating all of L’Hospitalet, Osasuna, Real Madrid and Valencia.
Two in but five out
As expected, Alexis Sánchez and José Manuel Pinto were both declared fit on Thursday and will be able to play in the match, taking the total number of available players to sixteen. But Alves, Puyol, Villa, Abidal and Fontàs all miss out. The Barça squad travelling to the Vicente Calderón is hence completed with the B team’s Tello, Bartra, Dos Santos and Montoya.
Athletic hungry for success
Given so many absentees in defence, possible options for Barça could be to play Montoya at full back or to opt for a three-man defence. Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao should be able to field a full-strength eleven, and having achieved so much with his players and system, Marcelo Bielsa is unlikely to introduce too many changes. The Basques are looking to win their first major title since 1984, and at the same time make up for the disappointment of losing the Europa League final. They have reached the final after eliminating three teams from Division 2B and just one from the top flight, Mallorca.
With 23 titles, the Copa del Rey has always meant a lot to Athletic, but Barça are not a side against which they have too much success of late. In 12 games between the two rivals over the last four seasons, they have lost nine times and only managed three draws.