With one leg of a possible domestic and European treble in the bag, Barcelona go in search of their second trophy of 2014-15 in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.
Barca wrapped up the league title with a 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid a fortnight ago, and Saturday’s clash with Athletic marks the first of two finals in as many weeks as Luis Enrique’s side steel themselves for a huge end to the season.
The following weekend sees them take on Juventus in the UEFA Champions League final, but for now their attentions are focused on completing the domestic double.
For one last time, Xavi will enjoy playing at Camp Nou for Barca, although he and his team-mates will occupy the away dressing room, and around 50,000 Athletic fans are expected to make the journey from the Basque Country as they go in search of a 24th official Copa crown.
Athletic are the second most successful club in the competition, behind Barca’s 26 triumphs, although it is 31 years since their most recent success – a 1-0 win over the Catalan giants in 1984.
The pair have met twice in the final since then, with Barca running out 4-1 winners in 2009 and 3-0 victors three years later.
Barcelona midfielder-turned-centre-half Javier Mascherano was full of praise for Saturday’s opponents, who choose players solely from the Basque region.
“Athletic is an excellent team and will make it very complicated,” he said in quotes reported by AS.
“Maintaining the culture of Athletic in global football makes them a special club. It’s very interesting that, despite the limitations, they continue to be so competitive.
“They deserve all my gratitude for maintaining the philosophy beyond results.”
Barca booked their place in the final with a 6-2 aggregate win over Villarreal, while Athletic saw off Espanyol 3-1 over two legs.
Ernesto Valverde’s side come into the game in fine form, having strung together a seven-match unbeaten run at the end of the league campaign to finish seventh, and midfielder Mikel Rico believes that run stands them in good stead.
“If you have to choose a way to reach a final, you choose to do it with a positive momentum,” he said. “This year we have been a team, with both good and bad long stretches.
“In the second half [of the season] we have achieved 36 points and we finished in Europe, which was our goal in the league. We only need to put the finishing touch with the Copa title.”
Athletic will be without Oscar de Marcos through suspension, while Barca’s Luis Suarez missed the last two games of the league season with a hamstring injury but has trained with the squad this week.
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