The first piece of silverware of the 2020/21 season in Spain will be up for grabs when Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao lock horns in the Supercopa de Espana final.
Barcelona will be hoping to lift their first trophy of the Ronald Koeman era when they face off against Athletic Bilbao at Estadio La Cartuja de Sevilla in the final of the Supercopa de Espana on Sunday night.
Barcelona, after a topsy-turvy start to the season, are finally starting to find their feet under their new manager. The Catalans are unbeaten in their last nine games in all competitions, although they had to rely on penalty shootouts to get past Real Sociedad in the semi-finals of the Spanish Super Cup after playing out a 1-1 draw (AET).
Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, are just two games into the new era under Marcelino but are already looking a formidable unit. Having narrowly lost to Barcelona in La Liga in the manager’s first game in charge, Los Leones defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in the Super Cup semi-finals earlier this week to book a date in the finals.
As mentioned above, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao have already met in the league this season, with the Catalans eking out a narrow 3-2 win in an exciting clash. Ahead of their latest game on Sunday night, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Barcelona will be sweating over the availability of star man and club captain Lionel Messi. The Argentine missed the semi-final due to an injury but has been training in the lead-up to the final. However, Ronald Koeman has hinted that a call on his involvement will be taken on the morning of the game.
Apart from Messi, the Catalans will be without the injured quartet of Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Philippe Coutinho. No major personnel changes are expected to be made to the team that got past Sociedad in the semi-final. In goal, there is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who put in a colossal performance last time out.
Ronald Araujo and Clement Lenglet ought to be the two centre-backs, who will have to deal with the physical threat posed by the Athletic forwards. Sergino Dest should replace Oscar Mingueza at right-back after missing the last game with a knock, while Jordi Alba is a certain starter out on the left side. The duo will provide constant outlets down their respective flanks.
Sergio Busquets should once again get the nod over Miralem Pjanic at the base of the three-man midfield once again. He will look to sit deep, shield the backline and recycle possession effectively. The remaining two slots in the centre will be occupied by Frenkie de Jong and Pedri, who will be in charge of providing the forward thrust and creativity.
Ousmane Dembele ought to line up on the right-wing and look to cause problems with his pace and directness while Antoine Griezmann should be stationed on the left. Messi, even if he is not 100% fit, should start on Sunday, given what is at stake. The Argentine will operate as a false nine, often dropping into the hole to get on the ball, allowing Griezmann to drift in centrally.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, de Jong; Dembele, Messi, Griezmann
Marcelino will once again have to contend with the absences of Unai Lopez and Peru Nolaskoain. However, Yuri Berchiche is close to returning to action and may make himself available for the final in Seville. Given how impressive his team was in the last game, the manager will refrain from making many changes to tactics or personnel.
Unai Simon will man the goal for Athletic Bilbao and could once again be in for a busy night like the last time he faced Barcelona in La Liga. Ander Capa and Mikel Balenziaga ought to be the two full-backs, who, unlike their Barcelona counterparts, will look to stay tight and compact at the back without pushing forward a great deal. Unai Nunez and Inigo Martinez will be two centre-backs.
Oscar de Marcos will line up on the right side of the midfield four and look to provide additional defensive support against the dangerous Alba. On the opposite wing, captain Iker Muniain should start and look to act as the supply line of chances for the strikers.
Unai Vencedor and Dani Garcia are likely to be the two central midfielders for Los Leones, with Mikel Vesga staying on the bench once again. The duo will have the responsibility of cutting out the creative influence of their opposite numbers while also trying to launch quick counters after turnover of possession.
Upfront, Raul Garcia, who scored twice in the semi-final against Real Madrid, is a certain starter. He will be partnered by the dangerous Inaki Williams, with Asier Villalibre an option from the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; Capa, Nunez, Martinez, Balenziaga; de Marcos, Vencedor, Dani Garcia, Muniain; Williams, Raul Garcia
- This will be the 230th official match between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. The former have won 76 of the previous 229 while the latter have come out on top on 116 occasions (D38).
- The last six games between the two teams in all competitions have seen both Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao pick up two wins each, with the remaining two ending in draws.
- Barcelona are the most successful team in the history of Supercopa de Espana. The Blaugrana have lifted the trophy on 13 occasions previously, with their last success coming in 2018. Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, have won the trophy twice, last lifting it in 2015.
- Marcelino has gone up against Barcelona 22 times in his managerial career so far. However, he has led his team to just one win (D6 L15).
- Barcelona are unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions. They have kept a clean sheet in four games during this run.
Player to Watch
Who else but the Barcelona skipper. The big occasion calls for the Catalans’ biggest player to step up and deliver. And even though he might not be fully fit on Sunday, there is a very strong chance that Messi will start and look to lead his team to their first trophy under Ronald Koeman.
Before missing the semi-final clash against Real Sociedad, Messi had been in fine nick, delivering a starring performance against Athletic Bilbao, which was followed by another top-notch display against Granada. The Argentine’s quality on the ball and his new-found partnership with Pedri could be the key to unlocking the Bilbao defence on Sunday.
Barcelona 2-1 Athletic Bilbao
Much like their league meeting recently, Sunday’s clash is also likely to be a closely-fought encounter. Barcelona have momentum on their side, having not lost in their last nine games, but Athletic Bilbao will be in high spirits after ousting Real Madrid in the semi-final.
The Catalans’, despite their solid run of results, are yet to reach their best as of yet, meaning they will not be the favourites going into the game as would be the case usually. However, Lionel Messi’s potential return can sway things in the favour of Ronald Koeman’s men.
The Argentine talisman made the difference against Athletic last time out in La Liga and can do so once again on Sunday, which is why The Hard Tackle is predicting Barcelona to pick up a narrow win and lift the Supercopa de Espana.