The 2021 Copa Del Rey will be on the line when Athletic Bilbao face off against Barcelona in the final at Estadio de la Cartuja on Saturday.
The 2020/21 season is slowly drawing to a close, with the final junctures of every competition approaching. In Spain, a second Copa Del Rey final will be played this month, as Athletic Bilbao take on Barcelona at Estadio de la Cartuja on Saturday night.
Athletic Bilbao have been a part of both the Copa Del Rey finals in April, having clashed with Real Sociedad in a losing effort in the final of last year’s edition, which was postponed. As far as the 2020/21 season is concerned, Los Leones have left it close in each of the previous rounds, beating Ibiza at the Last 32 stage before getting past Alcoyano, Real Betis and Levante to reach the final.
Barcelona, on the other hand, have needed to go till extra time in three of the four previous rounds, including in the semi-finals against Sevilla, a tie that saw them claw their way back from two goals down in the first leg before setting up the date with Athletic Bilbao. In the three stages prior to the semi-finals, the Blaugrana beat Cornella, Rayo Vallecano and Granada.
As for recent form, Athletic Bilbao have failed to win their last five games, with each of the last four match-ups ending all square. Meanwhile, Barcelona have lost just one of their last ten games in all competitions, with that sole defeat coming in their most recent fixture, against Real Madrid in El Clasico, going down by the odd goal last weekend.
Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona have already locked horns with each other thrice this season, with the games coming in a span of a month. Barcelona have won two of the three clashes, with Bilbao taking the other, each of the games being won by a solitary goal. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
🎙️ @Marcelino on what's needed tomorrow night 👇
— Athletic Club (@Athletic_en) April 16, 2021
Marcelino has a few pressing injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona. On Saturday, the Athletic Bilbao manager could be bereft of the services of as many as four first-team players.
Oier Zarraga (knee) and Peru Nolaskoain (ankle) are long-term absentees and stood no chance of making the travelling squad to Seville. Yuri Berchiche and Yeray Alvarez have travelled with the Bilbao squad, but are unlikely to make the starting lineup, seeing as they have been struggling with their respective knocks lately.
The absence of Berchiche and Alvarez could be telling, but Marcelino still has plenty of cover in his squad for the duo. Indeed, at the heart of the Athletic Bilbao defence, Inigo Martinez and Unai Nunez ought to pair up, with Inigo Lekue set to start as the left-back. On the opposite flank, Oscar De Marcos is a certainty, with Unai Simon taking his place in goal.
In front of Simon, Bilbao should be set up in Marcelino’s trademark 4-4-2 formation, with the two wide midfielders remaining compact during the defensive phases, while veering infield when in the final third during transitions. In the centre of the pitch, Unai Vencedor and Dani Garcia will look to keep things tight while containing Pedri’s output.
Alejandro Berenguer and Iker Muniain ought to be the two wide midfielders, who will provide forward thrust and support the two strikers. Speaking of, Raul Garcia and Inaki Williams are likely to form the strike partnership, with the former playing off of Williams.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; De Marcos, Nunez, Martinez, Lekue; Berenguer, Vencedor, Dani Garcia, Muniain; Raul Garcia, Williams
Unlike his counterpart in the Athletic Bilbao dugout, Ronald Koeman does not have many major issues to contend with ahead of the trip to Estadio de la Cartuja. On Saturday, the Barcelona boss will have to make do without just three first-team players, two of whom are a part of the travelling squad, albeit not in a playing capacity.
The aforementioned are Neto and Ansu Fati, who are recovering from an ankle and a knee injury, respectively. In addition, Philippe Coutinho is also a long-term absentee due to a knee issue that has all but ended his campaign and perhaps, his stint with Barcelona.
The absence of the trio, though, has not been hurting Barcelona much, with Koeman now having a well-settled squad at his disposal. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the undisputed choice in goal for the Catalan giants, who will line up in a 3-4-3 formation against Athletic Bilbao.
The three-man central defensive unit ought to be formed by Ronald Araujo, Frenkie de Jong and Clement Lenglet, with Gerard Pique expected to miss out again. The change in formation has brought the best out of the two wing-backs, who will be Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba, with the duo providing the width in the final third while also posing a threat with their deliveries.
As for the midfielders, Sergio Busquets will hold the fort in the middle of the park while looking to set a quick tempo. His partner, Pedri will provide the creative impetus from the central areas. Finally, the attacking trio should comprise of Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele, who will often interchange position, with Messi also dropping deep at times to stitch the moves.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): ter Stegen; Araujo, de Jong, Lenglet; Dest, Busquets, Pedri, Alba; Griezmann, Messi, Dembele
- Barcelona have previously faced Athletic Bilbao in a Copa Del Rey final eight times, winning six of those meetings (L2).
- Athletic Bilbao have failed to win each of their last five games (D4 L1).
- Barcelona have lost just one of their last 10 games in all competitions, winning seven of those fixtures (D2).
- Ronald Koeman has overseen 10 tournament finals during his coaching career, winning just five of those outings (L5).
- Lionel Messi has appeared in 33 different finals with Barcelona, scoring 29 goals in those outings. In three Copa Del Rey finals against Athletic Bilbao, Messi has scored four goals and assisted one more while in 40 overall meetings, he has a tally of 26 goals and 7 assists.
Player to Watch
Who else but that man once again? Lionel Messi is certainly one player who the opposition always have their eyes on ahead of the game, often looking to crowd him out of danger. Athletic Bilbao, for one, have endured one of the greatest goals ever scored in the game from the Argentine wizard, who will once again hold the key for Barcelona.
Not to forget, that with his contract situation still very much up in the air, this could well be his final Copa Del Rey outing in Barcelona colours. And, with the Catalans trailing the two Madrid sides in La Liga, this might be Messi’s final chance to win a trophy for Barcelona. Goes without saying that the entire world will be eager to see how Messi fares in this contest.
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Barcelona
There has been a running theme in the games involving Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao in recent times for the most part. There has often been little to separate the two sides and that should once again be the case. However, with Lionel Messi being in fine touch, Barcelona will have the quality to outclass Bilbao. With that being said, The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Ronald Koeman & co.