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FC Barcelona and Athletic Club are set to do battle once again in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, with the Catalans seeking to overturn the 2-1 deficit from the first leg to make the quarter finals.
Another heated encounter took place last week between the pair, and the second leg is expected to provide the same intensity with the two most successful clubs in the competition going head-to-head.
Jasper Cillessen is back in the squad after recovering from a calf injury that he suffered on 30 December. In what is a must-win game for Barça, Luis Enrique will be delighted that he has all first team players at his disposal for the encounter. This hasn't happened since the fourth fixture of the season against Leganés.
The Asturian coach has decided to leave Masip, Rafinha, Aleix Vidal and Mathieu out of the list of eighteen and recall Rakitic following his rest against Villarreal. The final matchday squad looks like this: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Arda, A.Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto and Umtiti.
The same cannot be said for the visitors: on top of the injuries to Óscar de Marcos, Yeray Álvarez and Ager Aketxe, Athletic will also be without goalkeeper Kepa who suffered a serious muscular problem in their last league game against Alavés.
In addition, Athletic boss Ernesto Valverde is sweating over the fitness of Iñaki Williams who had to pull out of Tuesday’s training due to a fever. Meanwhile, Raúl García and Ander Iturraspe are ruled out after their red cards in the first leg.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Luis Enrique spoke of the importance of the supporters to get behind the team and push them into the next round:
“I consider fan support to be vital. There has to be a certain level of pressure created in the atmosphere and I am convinced we’ll see an attendance in keeping with the level of this tournament. If we score a goal we’ll be ahead on aggregate and Athletic will have to take risks. That will make the game and the tournament all the more attractive.”
Valverde, on his part, expects a fast-paced game and a Barça side ready to give it their all after failing to win their last two games.
“I expect a high voltage match in which we are awaiting a very strong starting Barcelona side because they will be keen to make up for the last two games,” before adding that “we know they are at a disadvantage and that they will go all out”.
Barça breezed into the last-16 of the cup by beating Herculés 8-1 on aggregate but things were not quite so routine against Athletic last week as Valverde’s side picked up a narrow advantage due to goals from Aritz Aduriz and Williams.
The Catalans are looking for their first win of 2017 as they could only manage a 1-1 draw during Sunday’s league game against Villarreal.
Athletic are enjoying a good run of form of late, with just one defeat in their last eight, though their 0-0 draw at home to Alavés on the weekend was not one of their most inspired recent performances.
Last week’s encounter was the 32nd meeting between the pair over the last decade, and though the 2-1 loss at San Mamés was just the third Barça defeat in those matches, only a win will be do this time around for Luis Enrique’s men.
The two sides share plenty of history, especially in the Copa del Rey in recent years, with three Copa del Rey finals that have all gone Barça’s way, as well as winning both legs when the two sides met in last season’s edition of the cup. The last three league meetings have also gone in the Catalans’ favour, so the home faithful have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances.
Wherever you are in the world we have you covered. You can follow live updates on all of our social networks, and you can even listen in to live English language commentary on Radio Barça. The link will appear on the homepage of the official website shortly before kick-off.
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