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Following a 1-0 victory over Granada in his debut in the FC Barcelona hotseat, Quique Setién’s second test is the team’s opening fixture in the Copa de Rey. The round of 32 is sending the Liga leaders to the island of Ibiza for a fascinating contest between the winners of 30 editions and a side that is appearing in the competition for the very first time: UD Ibiza.
Barça, together with the other three teams that appeared in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, were handed byes to the round of 32 of a Spanish cup that has been revamped for the 2019/20 season.
All ties apart from the semi-finals are now played as a single leg rather than two, with the team from the lower division always getting home advantage. It’s certainly a format that raises the potential for upsets, and everyone will need to be on their guard. And that means Barça too.
Playing fixtures away to lower league teams is never as easy as it looks on paper. When a similar system was used earlier in the century, the Catalan giants crashed out at the early stages against lower league opposition three times in five years, to Figueres in 2001/01, to Novelda in 2002/03 and to Gramenet in 2004/05.
Stetién said at his pre-match press conference that he will be resting players for this match – in fact, Leo Messi and Gerard Piqué won’t even be making the journey, while Sergio Busquets is suspended.
Carles Pérez, Riqui Puig, Abel Ruiz, Ansu Fati and Chumi were all named in the 18-man list, and with the new coach keen to look at all the players he has available, this game would appear to offer an ideal chance to experiment.
Another mystery is whether the new boss will opt to use Neto in cup games like these. “I don’t normally make such differences” he said on Tuesday. “It’s more than likely that there will be changes of goalkeeper both in the league and in the cup.”
Barça will be playing in front of a sell-out crowd at Can Misses, the Ibiza stadium that has had an extra 2,000 temporary seats added to cope with the demand. And there is also the additional factor of playing on artificial grass, something they will not be used to, and Storm Gloria lashing wind and rain across the region is not going to help matters either.
The island club has been making remarkable progress in recent years. They are in strong form in Division 2B under the management of Pablo Alfaro, the former Sevilla star who spent a year at FC Barcelona and played alongside Setién for three years at Racing Santander.
Promotion to the second division for the first time in their history is a very real prospect, and the chance to test themselves against the best in the world has created a huge buzz at the club and all around Ibiza.
What they’re saying
Barça manager Quique Setién: “The conditions won’t be what we are used to, and although Barça is clearly a much better team than Ibiza, we need to show that on the pitch … There will be no room for errors. In the long term, this format is good because it means fewer matches, but these games are potential banana skins. Two legs would be better for us.”
Ibiza manager Pablo Alforo: “The cup is a leveller and there’s room for modest teams. It’s one evening and if you are motivated and get off to the right start. It’s the nicest competition for smaller clubs… Artificial grass doesn’t really suit our style of play, but it will help us against Barça because they’re not as used to it as we are. Our stadium is one of the things that we can get to count in our favour.”
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