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With the league championship already in the bag, Barça attempt the second leg of an historic treble this Saturday with the Spanish Cup final against Athletic Bilbao (9.30pm CET). The two teams have won the competition more times than anyone else in Spanish football and therefore have long historical links with the domestic Cup. The blaugranes have made it to the final in five of the last seven seasons and the Basque club are playing in their third final since 2009.
Luis Enrique’s side trained for the last time before the Cup final on Friday at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper. On Saturday morning he named his full squad of all 23 available players for the game. These include Luis Suárez, who has been declared fully recovered from his hamstring injury.
The complete list is therefore as follows: Ter Stegen, Bravo, Masip, Montoya, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Bartra, Douglas, Jordi Alba, S. Roberto, Adriano, Alves, Vermaelen and Mathieu.
Rival coach and former Barça player Ernesto Valverde will have to do without the versatile Óscar de Marcos as he is suspended for the game following a third yellow card of the tournament picked up in the semi-final second leg against Espanyol. Also missing is the talented Iker Muniain who has a serious knee injury, In the squad, however, are Andoni Iraola who plays his final game for the club after 21 seasons with los leones and top scorer in both league and Cup for the Basque side Aritz Aduriz.
Barça boss Luis Enrique touched on the magic of the Cup in his pre-game press conference on Friday:“It’s one of the best games you could possibly play in, for the atmosphere, and because there is a trophy at stake.” The man who won three Spanish Cups as a player was clear where the sides priorities lay ahead of Saturday’s encounter with Athletic: “At no point in the season have we made the mistake of getting ahead of ourselves, and we will not start now.”
Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde touched on the difficulty of facing the league champions in the final in their own backyard: “In any other place it would have been difficult against Barça. The feeling of it being a challenge has grown due to playing at Camp Nou.” Nevertheless, the man known as Txingurri (‘ant’ in Basque) claimed that winning the Cup against the blaugranes in their own stadium would be for his team “a unique opportunity.”
Barça have a perfect record in the competition this season having beaten Huesca, Elche, Atlético Madrid and Villarreal both home and away to reach the final at Camp Nou. In those eight matches they have scored 31 goals, six of which came in the brace of 3-1 wins over Villarreal in the semi-finals back at the end of February and beginning of March.
Athletic, in contrast, have only won four matches in this season’s Spanish Cup so far. No other team has won so few games and lifted the trophy since Espanyol in 2005/06 and in that season los periquitos played a round less than the Basques have this season. To get to the final at Camp Nou, Athletic have beaten Alcoyano, Celta Vigo, Málaga and coach Valverde’s former side Espanyol in the semi-finals.
The blaugranes are undefeated in 23 of their last 24 matches against Athletic Club. This season in the league Barça ran out 2-0 winners at Camp Nou back in September thanks to a brace from Neymar. At the new San Mamés in February, Luis Enrique’s side once again emerged victorious in a highly entertaining 5-2 win in Bilbao. That day the famous front three of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez were all amongst the scorers for the blaugranes with an Etxeita own goal and a goal Pedro rounding off the win. Aduriz and Mikel Rico scored for the home side.
The two clubs have dominated this competition throughout its history, Barça lifting the trophy a record 26 times and Athletic not far behind in second place with 23 Spanish Cups in their possession. The Basques, however, have not won the competition since 1984 when they beat Barça 1-0 in a final played in the Santiago Bernabéu. That is one of a record seven finals that have been recorded involving the two teams. The blaugranes have won their last two Spanish Cup titles by beating Athletic in the final. In 2009 Pep Guardiola’s team came out on top with a 4-1 win over the Basques in the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia. Then, three seasons later, Barça again beat los leones in the final, this time 3-0 in the Vicente Calderón.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can enjoy live commentary in English on Radio Barça. The link will appear at fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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