FC Barcelona will welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Camp Nou for the third time this season tomorrow evening, hoping to build on last week’s 1-2 win at San Mames and qualify for the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey for the sixth consecutive season. In last week’s win, FC Barcelona overcame the absence of Luis Suarez (suspended) and Lionel Messi (injury) to record a valuable victory in enemy territory, and with two away goals, the chances are that they did enough on that night to qualify for the final four.
Tomorrow’s match is merely about finishing off the job, making sure we don’t throw away our place in the semi-finals from such a commanding position. With Luis Suarez back from suspension, and Lionel Messi back from injury (and amongst the goals), it doesn’t look positive for Athletic Bilbao, especially given their record at the Camp Nou.
In their most recent visit, Athletic were humbled as an early red card set the tone for an awful night in Catalunya as the Blaugrana ran rampant with an emphatic 6-0 win. Now, there’s no suggestion that tomorrow will yield a similar result, but it shows how difficult Athletic find it at the Camp Nou and that’s sure to ease any nerves that Luis Enrique may be feeling ahead of the match.
Renato brought you the latest news earlier; it’s January and as such, there are some wintery illnesses doing the rounds, even in sunnier climes like Barcelona. Sergio Busquets, Arda Turan and Andrés Iniesta have all come down with the flu and are doubtful to feature tomorrow which gives Luis Enrique something of a selection headache, particularly with Atletico Madrid visiting on Saturday. Neymar should have recovered from the slight knock that kept him out of the weekend’s win over Malaga, while Gerard Piqué will return from suspension.
So, all in all we should have a strong squad to select our team from. Marc-André ter Stegen will start in goal after an inspired performance in the first-leg, and he will likely be protected by a backline of Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Marc Bartra and Jeremy Mathieu. With Jordi Alba still recovering and a host of midfield players out, I think we’ll need Sergi Roberto to feature in his natural position, and much the same can be said of Javier Mascherano, who will start at pivote if Busquets is ruled out.
Ivan Rakitić will complete the midfield, and I think we can expect a reunion for the "MSN" trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar up top. Watch out Athletic – they’ll be looking to make a statement ahead of Atletico’s visit this weekend.
In a Basque Country derby, Athletic recovered from a slow start to demolish SD Eibar at San Mames on Sunday. While Borja Baston opened the scoring for the visitors and eventually bagged a brace for his efforts, Athletic cruised to victory courtesy of goals from Aritz Aduriz (2), Aymeric Laporte, Sabin and Mauro dos Santos (own-goal). It was an impressive performance once they got going, but it also showed how vulnerable they can be, especially without Gorka Iraizoz in goal.
Iago Herrerin will continue in goal given his role as Copa del Rey keeper, and Barça will be slightly more confident of their chances with him between the posts as compared to when Iraizoz starts. On a more positive note, Iker Muniain stepped up his return from injury with a good performance at the weekend, playing 72 minutes before being withdrawn for Mikel Rico.
Athletic Club 1-2 FC Barcelona – 20th January 2016 – Copa del Rey
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Mathieu; Mascherano, Rakitić, Roberto; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Athletic (4-2-3-1): Herrerin; De Marcos, Laporte, Etxeita, Lekue; Benat, San Jose; Williams, Susaeta, Muniain; Aduriz
Home advantage will see us through, I think we’ll get a couple of goals and then coast with Atleti on our minds. 2-1 Barça.