FC Barcelona will be looking to complete a historic and record-breaking seventh domestic double this Sunday, when they travel to the Spanish capital and the Vicente Calderón to take on Sevilla FC in the 2016 Copa del Rey final. Having claimed the La Liga title last weekend with a victory in Andalusia against Granada, the Blaugrana must now contend with the region’s finest team, who also enter the match fresh off a title victory, as they demolished Liverpool 3-1 in the midweek UEFA Europa League final.
While the inhabitants of the Spanish capital are likely to be far more preoccupied with preparations for next week’s El Derbi Madrileño, tomorrow’s domestic curtain closer promises to be an exciting affair.
For both sides, this represents the end of the road for the 2015-16 season. Both sides will have entered the campaign with lofty expectations; Barcelona were dreaming of a "double-treble", while Sevilla were planning on breaking into the top four and reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. Neither side’s dreams and ambitions quite came to fruition, but throughout it all, both clubs enjoyed the ride and their supporters will no doubt look back fondly at the season.
To think, 61 matches ago, Barcelona started their season playing for a title in a UEFA Super Cup showdown with Sevilla in Tbilisi. The choice of venue was unusual yet even in unfamiliar surroundings, the football on display remained mesmeric. Both Sevilla and Barcelona had their ups and downs during the game, but that only served to add to the spectacle. By the time they were finished, two breathless hours had passed to create a match for the ages.
While they were left despondent by the final result, Sevilla could take pride in their performance as it proved once again that they were capable of going toe-to-toe with the best in the world. Pedro’s extra-time winner was enough on this night to bring the title back to Catalunya, but it demonstrated just how evenly these two sides were matched, a trend that continued into the domestic campaign.
Of course, over the 38 game season, Sevilla stood no chance of keeping pace with the reigning champions but their record against one another was split perfectly down the middle. At the Ramon Sánchez Pizjuan, the hosts Sevilla claimed a 2-1 victory. When the time came for Sevilla to visit the Camp Nou, it was Barcelona who claimed a 2-1 win of their own.
Even within these matches, there was very little to choose between the two teams. The narrow home victory in February was one of the closest and most tense matches that I have witnessed at the Camp Nou. The deciding goal came in quite unorthodox fashion as well, at least by Blaugrana standards, as Gerard Piqué finished a scrappy goal after a cross into the area. Clearly, there’s something about Barcelona that often brings out the best in Sevilla, perhaps tomorrow will see the Andalusians even up this season’s head-to-head record...
Here we are, 61 matches later, about to start our 62nd and final match of the season. There’s no question that most Culés would have preferred to have ended the season having played a rounder number, let’s say 65 matches for instance, with the final encore coming in Milan next weekend, but you can’t always get what you want in life and that same sentiment applies to football as well. Overall, having the chance to win this season’s fourth and final trophy tomorrow must mean that this campaign will ultimately be viewed as a successful one. Irrespective of our elimination from the UEFA Champions League, there can be no denying that this season has provided us with the gift of some of the best football ever seen. That statement isn’t only relevant for the history of our club, but the history of the game as a whole.
We’ve taken a look back at some of the most defining moments of our season in more detail, but at a glance, who can say that the 4-0 drubbing of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu doesn’t rank up there with the greatest single match performances of all-time? Putting six past Athletic Bilbao was a phenomenal achievement, and who can forget the childlike sense of wonderment that was created by our second-half display against Celta Vigo in February?
Neymar’s four-goal haul against Rayo Vallecano, the Messi-Suarez penalty, the same duo hitting seven past Valencia; the list goes on and on; these are all truly special moments that will live on forever – and they’ve all been part of this historic campaign. For the players and the club itself, success is the end game, but for us, the fans, should we not judge based on those special moments? The sense of pride we feel to be associated with the club based on their performances, and for the entertainment they have provided us?
This season, Barcelona have provided all that and more and I wouldn’t trade that feeling for a place in the UEFA Champions League final next weekend. I’m proud of the players, proud of Luis Enrique and win or lose tomorrow, I’m proud to be a Culé.
Sentimental nonsense aside, there’s not an awful lot of team news for us to discuss or project. We’re over 120 games into Luis Enrique’s reign now, and that means we know exactly how he likes to approach the biggest matches. Expect to see the Gala XI take to the field for what could be the last time, at least if transfer rumours are to be believed as at least a few of them have been linked with an exit.
Off the bench, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha Alcântara would be my players to watch; not because I distrust Arda Turan, rather because Rafinha and Sergi Roberto have both performed admirably against Sevilla this campaign. In particular, Rafinha put in a splendid performance in the UEFA Super Cup, and I feel as though Enrique will remember that when it comes to the second half at the Calderón tomorrow.
After a historic night in Basel on Wednesday, it should come as no surprise that the Sevilla squad received a hero’s welcome as they made their arrival at Atocha station this morning. Over 100 Sevilla supporters had made the trip to see their team embark onto their team bus, no doubt following them to their team hotel where they will continue to show their support. Overall, it is expected that at least 10,000 Sevilla supporters will be inside the Vicente Calderón tomorrow evening, with a great deal more making the trip to the capital to watch at the fan zone.
This truly is a club riding a wave of emotions at the moment; the glory of UEFA Europa League success is sure to serve as a confidence booster for the players and for Unai Emery, who is simply thrilled at the prospect of managing his side in the Copa del Rey final. In his pre-match press conference, Emery reiterated the respect that he has for Barcelona, but rightly pointed out that his side also deserve respect, and that they have earned that respect.
Sevilla president, Jose Castro, has also faced the media in the build-up to this final and preached the importance of unity and camaraderie, pointing out that his club has proven they have the tools required to win trophies. While this may be their 63rd game of a long, and successful season, the players, manager and the club as a whole are all convinced that they have what it takes to put in one more great performance and upset the odds.
In terms of team news, Benoit Tremoulinas has not travelled with the side, and neither has Steven N’Zonzi who is missing through suspension. However, Emery has taken 23 players with him, so he has plenty of options to freshen things up if there are a few weary legs after Wednesday.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Sevilla FC – 28th February 2016 – La Liga
Vitolo had given the visitors a surprise early lead, but goals either side of half-time from Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué ensured the Blaugrana claimed the three points by the time the evening was over.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Sevilla (4-2-3-1): Rico; Mariano, Rami, Carrico, Escudero; Iborra, Krychowiak; Coke, Banega, Vitolo; Gameiro
We tend to bring our "A game" to Copa del Rey finals, and end up blowing away the opposition with one of our best performance of the season. Will that trend continue? My 3-1 prediction might suggest as much.