Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona – 20.30 GMT
Saturday evening’s Copa del Rey final sees Barcelona aiming to complete the second part of a potential treble, while Athletic Bilbao travel to the Camp Nou hoping to pull off what would be a huge shock.
This will be the third time in seven years that these teams meet in the Copa final, with Barca’s superstar Lionel Messi scoring in both games as his side comfortably won both the 2009 and 2012 deciders.
Messi was also on target in a thriller at San Mames last February, when Neymar and Luis Suarez were also on the scoresheet as Barca ran out 5-2 winners. That was one of the first games in which the all-South American trident ‘clicked’ - and the trio have been in amazing form recently, moving to 117 goals between them this term when Messi scored twice in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home to Deportivo La Coruna.
That draw with Depor was not such a big deal for Barca, who played a much-changed side, and then celebrated the La Liga title afterwards on the final whistle.
A bigger concern for blaugrana fans has been the fitness of Luis Suarez, who has not played in almost three weeks due to a hamstring injury, but looks to have recovered and is likely to start on Saturday. Elsewhere coach Luis Enrique has no other selection issues, and is likely to return to his ‘Gala XI’ with Javier Mascherano in defence, and Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic in midfield.
Athletic come into the game under no pressure - their 4-0 win at home to Villarreal last week secured a Europa League spot for next season, meaning they have nothing to lose in the final. Ernesto Valverde’s side have finished the season in excellent form, winning four and drawing three of their last seven games, to climb to seventh in the final La Liga table.
Valverde, a former Barca player, reportedly trialled a 5-3-2 formation in training this week as team look for first Copa since 1983/84. Versatile Oscar de Marcos is suspended, so veteran right-back / right-midfielder Andoni Iraola is likely to start in what will be his last ever game for the club, and both Mikel San Jose and Ander Iturraspe could start as deep midfield holders.
By far Athletic’s most important player is veteran centre-forward Aritz Aduriz, who has 24 goals in 37 games across all competitions so far, and scored against both Barca and Madrid in La Liga this season.
Five of those Aduriz goals have come in the Copa, with Barca back-up forward Pedro Rodriguez having also scored five, and Neymar having netted six times. They will all be looking to overtake Sevilla’s Iago Aspas, who scored seven in the early rounds, and faces a nervous evening in front of the TV to see if he will finish as the competition’s surprise 2014/15 ‘pichichi’. Having sat out some of the early rounds, Messi has just three so far, so it would be asking a lot even for him to catch-up.
Another factor to consider is how Barca react to using the ‘away’ dressing-room, and playing in a Camp Nou which is predicted to be more than half-full of Athletic supporters. Two years ago Atletico Madrid shocked neighbours Real Madrid at their Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in the Copa final, much to the joy of the visiting fans who had taken over much of the stadium.
Athletic troubled Barca during both their La Liga meetings this season, with September’s Camp Nou clash still being scoreless until Neymar scored twice in the last 11 minutes.
A similar nervous evening might be in store on Saturday evening, but Barca should eventually find a way through and be celebrating two down, just the Champions League to go, on Saturday night.
Prediction: Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Barcelona at 7.00
Best bet: Barca to win and keep clean sheet at 1.86