Tomorrow night (Friday 10pm kick off) Barça face Bilbao’s Athletic Club at the Vicente Calderon in the final of the 2011/12 Copa del Rey. Both clubs have a fantastic history in the Copa with Barça winning it 25 times while Athletic have been victorious on 23 occasions. Barça had the more complicated route to the final beating L´Hospitalet, Osasuna, Real Madrid and Valencia while Athletic had to get past Oviedo, Albacete, Mallorca and Mirandes.
After four glorious years the game will be Pep Guardiola’s final match in charge of the first team and a chance to win his fourteenth trophy. Guardiola is without David Villa, Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, Andreu Fontas and Dani Alves and will have particular problems to form a defence. Youngsters Martin Montoya, Marc Bartrá, Cristian Tello and Johnathan dos Santos have all been training with the first team this week and there seems a very good chance that Montoya will replace Alves in a back four with Mascherano, Piqué and Adriano.
However, on other occasions this season when Alves has been missing Guardiola has opted for a defence of three. This would give the option of an extra man in midfield, probably Fabregas, and the romantic side of Guardiola might be tempted to go with this option as there is also the possibility of Sergio Busquets dropping back into the back line if needed.
Tomorrow, though, I think Montoya will play. In both league games against Athletic this season we played with a defence of four which is necessary if we want a spare man at the back against Athletic’s attacking 4-3-3 system. Besides that, Fabregas has not been in great form recently and I think he’ll start on the bench. I see us starting with Pinto in goal, a defence of Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano and Adriano; our classis Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta in midfield, with Pedro, Messi and Alexis up front.
There are no prizes for guessing how Athletic will play. Coach Marcelo Bielsa has all his key men available and unless he has an enormous surprise will play with Gorka Iraizoz in goal, Iraola, Javi Martinez, Amorebieta and Aurtentexe in defence, Iturraspe in front of the defence with De Marcos and Ander Herrera as creative midfilders, Susaeta and Muniain will play as wide attackers with Fernando Llorente as the target man.
Anyone who saw Athletic’s thrilling games against Manchester United and Stuttgart in the Europa Cup will know that on their day they can be a fantastic team. However, Bielsa’s demands on his players have taken their toll in a disappointing end to the league season that saw them finish tenth.
With Bielsa and Guardiola in charge we should be sure to see an interesting game. Over 90 minutes anything can happen and Barça are going to have to come out with the correct attitude or Athletic will capable of surprising us with their high pressing game. I’m trusting Guardiola will get it right for one last time and the team will respond with a win. It will be a fitting end to a fantastic period in Barça’s history.
Enjoy the game and don’t forget to stand for the Spanish national anthem!
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Pinto; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
Athletic: Iraizoz; Iraola, Javi Martinez, Amorebieta, Aurtentexe; De Marcos, Iturraspe, Herrera; Susaeta, Llorente, Muniain.
My prediction: Barça 3 Athletic 1