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FC Barcelona have a golden opportunity to win their first silverware of the Ronald Koeman era on Saturday at 9.30pm CEST as they take on Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey Final.
Copa del Rey giants
The two finalists are very much the ‘kings of cups’. Historically, Athletic held the all-time record with 23 wins. But most of these came in the first half of the 20th century, and they have not added to their collection since beating Barça in the 1984 final.
They have reached five finals since then, but lost them all, including three against Barça (2009, 1012 and 2015). Athletic were also the finalists last season, the first ever against their local rivals Real Sociedad. Due to Covid-19, that game didn’t get played until two weeks ago. They lost 1-0, but we now have the bizarre situation that just a fortnight later they are playing in another final!
Barça surpassed Athletic’s record wins in 1998, and have gone on to win the trophy another seven times since then, for a total of 30, including a spectacular four-in-a-row between 2015 and 2018. This last decade has been Barça’s best ever in the competition. Last season was only second time in eleven years that the Catalans did not appear in the final. In fact, it was Athletic who eliminated them, 1-0 at San Mamés in the quarter finals.
Road to the Final
It’s been a real rollercoaster of a ride to the final for Barça. A local derby against third-tier Cornellà proved much harder than expected, and the next three games all involved spectacular comebacks.
Late goals from Messi and De Jong avoided a shock at second division Rayo. They were losing 2-0 in Granada with just two minutes to go when late goals from Griezmann and Jordi Alba sent the game into extra time. And first leg defeat at Sevilla looked to have put an end to the cup run, but a Gerard Piqué goal in the very last second of extra time sent Barça into the final.
Round of 32
Cornellà 0-2 FC Barcelona
UD Ibiza 1-2 Athletic Club
Round of 16
Rayo Vallecano 1-2 FC Barcelona
Alcoyano 1-2 Athletic Club
Granada 3-5 FC Barcelona (after extra time)
Real Betis 1-1 Athletic Club (Athletic won on penalties)
Sevilla 2-0 FC Barcelona / FC Barcelona 3-0 Sevilla
(after extra time, Barça won 3-2 on aggregate)
Athletic Club 1-1 Levante / Levante 1-2 Athletic Club
(after extra time, Athletic won 3-2 on aggregate)
The 60,000 capacity Estadio de La Cartuja is being used for four consecutive Copa del Rey Finals, this being the second – so it is the same place where Athletic have already lost one final this month. It was also the venue for the Spanish Super Cup Final in January, where Athletic beat Barça in extra time to win the trophy.
Opened in 1999 for the World Athletics Championships it was part of two unsuccessful bids by the city to host the Olympic Games and also hosted the 2003 UEFA Cup Final between Celtic and Porto.
Head to head: Last ten meetings
31/01/2 (LIGA) FC Barcelona 2-1 Athletic Club
17/01/21 (SUPER CUP) FC Barcelona 2-3 Athletic Club (played in Seville)
06/01/21 (LIGA) Athletic Club 2-3 FC Barcelona
23/06/20 (LIGA) FC Barcelona 1-0 Athletic Club
06/02/20 (COPA DEL REY) Athletic Club 1-0 FC Barcelona
16/08/19 (LIGA) Athletic Club 1-0 FC Barcelona
10/02/19 (LIGA) Athletic Club 0-0 FC Barcelona
29/09/18 (LIGA) FC Barcelona 1-1 Athletic Club
18/03/18 (LIGA) FC Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Club
28/10/17 (LIGA) Athletic Club 0-2 FC Barcelona
Athletic’s season so far
Athletic were having a curiously irregular season, great wins one week and inexplicable losses the next, with no particular pattern and entering the new year, manager Gaizka Garitano was replaced by Marcelino (whose previous positions have included Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia).
The change of management brought victory in the Spanish Super Cup in January, only the second piece of major silverware that the club has won this century. It also produced a cup run all the way to the final and something of an improvement to Athletic’s league form, but mainly in the form of draws. Eight of Athletic’s last 11 league games have all been tied. They’re now eleventh in the table and hopes of European football next season are fading.
Last five games
LIGA: Athletic Club 0-0 Alavés
LIGA: Real Sociedad 1-1 Athletic Club
COPA DEL REY: Athletic Club 0-1 Real Sociedad
LIGA: Athletic Club 1-1 Eibar
LIGA Celta Vigo 0-0 Athletic Club
Top goalscorers (all competitions)
Raul Garcia 9; Alex Berenguer 8; Iñaki Williams 7; Iker Muniain 5
Ronald Koeman is taking all 26 members of his senior squad to Seville, including Neto and Ansu Fati despite them being injured and unable to play.
Athletic also have relatively few injury concerns considering the point we at this season, with Yeray Álvarez and Yuri Berchiche the only doubts.
Did you know?
-Leo Messi and Sergio Busquets could both play in their tenth Copa del Rey Finals, a competition record.
-Barça are in the final for the 42nd time, a record. They have gone on to win the title 30 times, scoring 92 goals.
-Leo Messi has scored 54 goals in 79 games in the competition, but it’s surprising to note that (for once!) he does not hold the record. He is fifth in the all-time list, with Athletic legend Telmo Zarra’s tally of 81 still some way off.
The coach says
Ronald Koeman made one thing clear in his pre-Copa del Rey final press conference on Friday: "We have to be good with and without the ball. If there is one thing we have lost in recent matches it is our game without the ball." More from the Barça coach:
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