Copa del Rey Final Preview: Athletic de Bilbao vs FC BarcelonaBy: Ade C. | May 24th, 2012
This is a strange one. Coming so late after the Liga and Champions League season ended, surrounded by political murmurs (”A Basque and a Catalan walk into a bar in Madrid…”), overshadowed by the friendlies and preparations for the 2012 Euros… the only redeeming quality this final has is that it will be both Pep’s last match with Barça and the last chance both teams have to get a trophy, in spite of very good seasons for both.
It also brings bittersweet memories of the 2009 final (triplete year, how can we forget?), of Abidal’s biggest goal for us, and of the truly ridiculous amount of Copas del Rey these teams have (25 for Barça, 23 for Athletic).
And Barça arrives into it, like it traditionally arrives into tournament finals, with no defenders.
At this point, having no defenders available for important matches is Barça’s thing, to the point where I’m beginning to suspect that someone from the technical staff broke Dani Alves‘ collarbone in training on purpose so the tradition would be upheld.
But don’t panic. We still do have players. In fact, after checking under the cushions and behind the sofa, Pep managed to put together four (4!) people who’ll pass as defenders at a quick glance in a dark alley: Adriano, Masche, Piqué and Martín Montoya. Alright, Piqué doesn’t really count, but we somehow have to get seven first-team players on the pitch not to be disqualified, so he’ll probably get a start (and then promptly start bleeding from the head and have to be subbed out).
Things look better if we move further up the pitch: we have plenty of midfielders and most of them are good; we also have Cesc Fàbregas, who at the moment seem to have fallen behind Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago, Afellay, Keita, Busquets, Messi-when-he-gets-tired-of-scoring and Pep-with-a-funny-wig-on as candidate for a place in the starting XI. If you can make it through that minefield of talent, you can then get to decide who should help distract the defenders while Messi scores: Alexis, Pedrito, Cuenca, Tello?
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed I’ve made no comment on the goalkeeper situation. That’s because there’s only one thing you can say about it: Pintocalypse! And then you run for cover and hope that it all won’t end in tears.
So, we’re alright as long as Athletic don’t try to score. Unfortunately, it seems that they will try. With the disappointment of their loss to Atlético de Madrid in the Europa League final fresh in their minds, players like Llorente or Muniaín, and a coach like ‘El Loco’ Bielsa, they can hardly do anything else.
Though for the first time ever Bielsa declined sharing the starting XI in his pre-match press conference, if he thinks he’s going to out-weird Pep when it comes to team selection, he’s got another thing coming; he’ll probably go for the same old Iraizoz, Iraola, Javi Martínez, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe, Iturraspe, Ander Herrera, De Marcos, Susaeta, Muniain and Llorente while Pep comes up with an innovative 1-7-1 formation that sees Xavi reconverted into a right-back or something. I’ll spare you my line-up prediction because I’m no Kagestradamus and always get them wrong. The only two things I’m sure of is that Pinto and Piqué will start and, really, isn’t that sad enough?
The good news is that this promises to be an excellent match, if we can get past the whole survive-the-right-wing-parade, boo-the-anthem and play-on-a-pitch-that-saw-a-Coldplay-concert-four-days-ago part first. Athletic’s engaging, direct style versus Barça’s tiki-taka, spiced with shaky defenders and at least one crazy goalkeeper… neutrals will enjoy it, fans from both teams will have new and exciting opportunities to have heart-attacks, everyone wins.
As for the fact that this will be Pep’s last match coaching Barça… (for now! We must believe in his return, foretold in cave paintings thousands of years old! Erm, where was I?)… yes, don’t make me talk about this being Pep’s last match. I already got my weepy goodbye letter posted, so I’ll just focus on studying Tito Vilanova’s body-language to try and guess if his line-ups will be as mind-boggling and entertaining (other people exercise their brains by doing sudokus, we try to make sense of Pep’s line-ups instead).
So, are you excited for this match? Have your retinas healed enough from seeing next season’s kits that you’ll be able to watch it comfortably? What is your prediction, score- and line-up-wise?