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After facing city rivals Espanyol three times between the league and the Copa del Rey in early January, FC Barcelona find themselves in the midst of another trilogy of matches against Athletic Club Bilbao. The first instalment saw Luis Enrique’s team sweep aside the Basque club at Camp Nou last Sunday in the league, aLuis Suárez hat-trick helping the Catalans to a comprehensive 6-0 win. On Wednesday (9.00pm CET) the action moves to the San Mamés stadium in Bilbao where Barça face Athletic in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie.
Sunday's victory, however, did come at a cost for the blaugranes. Left back Jordi Alba limped off in the second half and will miss the game in Bilbao with a hamstring problem. Furthermore, Leo Messi was replaced at half time by Arda Turan, and although he is not seriously injured he has also been left out of the side, as has Jérémy Mathieu with a calf injury and Luis Suárez through suspension.
The complete squad of 18 announced on Wednesday morning is as follows: Ter Stegen, Masip, Douglas, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Dani Alves, Arda Turan, Iniesta, Neymar Jr, Mascherano, Bartra, Munir, Sandro, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Aleix Vidal, Vermaelen.
The news is better for Athletic. They welcome back top striker Aritz Aduriz who has 18 goals in all competitions this season after a one game ban. Coach Valverde named his squad on Tuesday after training with Raúl García the only notable absentee due to injury.
After his squad’s final training session before the trip north to Bilbao, Luis Enrique faced the press on Tuesday at the Ciutat Esportiva. The Barça coach made it clear that “the game tomorrow is going to be very different than the one Sunday at Camp Nou.” He also highlighted the importance of Aduriz and the famous San Mamés support for Athletic.
Former Barça player Valverde also appeared in front of the press on Tuesday. The man who is known as El Txingurri (the little ant) brushed off worries about his side due to Sunday’s heavy defeat, reasoning: “When you conceded six goals, what you want from your players is the right attitude. There is no better time to show that than now.”
Both sides have been in good shape in the Copa del Rey this season. Barça saw off Segunda B side Villanovense 6-1 on aggregate in their first tie of the competition before despatching Espanyol earlier this month, winning 4-1 at home and 2-0 away. Luis Enrique’s side are unbeaten in 22 matches in all competitions and have won 12 of their last 13 in the Copa del Rey.
Athletic beat lower league Linense 8-0 on aggregate in their first tie before overcoming Villarreal in the next round. Against the ‘Yellow Submarine’ the Basques did well to come from 2-0 down at home in the first leg to win 3-2. A 1-0 win away at El Madrigal secured their spot in the quarter-finals.
The two teams have won this competition a staggering 49 times between them. Barça lead the way with 26 victories, Athletic just behind on 23. The Basques have not won the Copa del Rey since 1984, but they have reached the final three times in the last seven seasons, each time losing out to none other than FC Barcelona.
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