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Copa del Rey: Athletic Bilbao vs FC Barcelona: Team News, Match Preview

Can Barcelona start 2017 with a win?

Athletic Club de Bilbao vs  FC Barcelona: La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

FC Barcelona will be looking to kick off 2017 in style tomorrow when they travel to the Basque Country to take on Athletic Bilbao at San Mames. In recent years this mouth-watering clash has served as a worthy climax for the Copa del Rey, but this season luck has conspired against both teams to pit them in direct competition with one another at this, only the Round of 16 stage. To think that the Blaugrana will have to face another three teams after this stage is daunting to say the least, but no-one ever said that achieving a historic three-peat would be easy.

In the modern era, no team has successfully defended the Copa del Rey on two successive occasions; Barcelona were in fact the last team to achieve this particular honour as they secured a three-peat between 1951 and 1953. However, if we have learned anything in recent years it’s that this FC Barcelona team is capable of making history – so irrespective of our route to the final, you have to believe that winning the competition yet again is Luis Enrique’s only goal.

In some respects, this might be the perfect time for a trip to San Mames. Typically, this would represent one of the toughest challenges of the season, but with the second leg still to play at the Camp Nou, Barcelona enter this match with something of a cushion – a freedom created by the absence of any particular pressure. In a two-legged knockout tie, a score draw away from home is often just as good as securing three points in the league – and this freedom could prove decisive tomorrow.

After all, Barcelona are under immense pressure to deliver result after result in La Liga given the effective / possible six-point gap that Real Madrid could open up at the top of the table, so a chance to just enjoy the game without feeling the need and pressure to “force” a result could be liberating. Couple in the extended holiday break that the players have had over the New Year, and we may be treated to a refreshed, reinvigorated performance from our team.

Whatever lies in wait, I for one am just glad that Barça are back on the schedule; 2017 promises to be an important year for this club, and I can’t wait to see what Enrique, Messi et al have in store for us.

Happy New Year, and Visca el Barca!



Luis Enrique has named his first matchday squad of 2017, and the spoiler is that he will be taking a strong squad to the Basque Country after extensively rotating in the previous round against Hercules. With only 18 players able to be named to the squad, there are a few omissions; Denis Suarez has been left at home for technical reasons, while Aleix Vidal has seemingly been relegated back to purgatory. Jeremy Mathieu has received medical clearance after two months on the shelf, but the Frenchman also missed out on a place in the squad.

With Jasper Cillessen still sidelined through injury, Jordi Masip should start in goal tomorrow. The Copa del Rey has always provided back-up goalkeepers with a chance to shine and this season will be no exception. Fortunately, Masip will have a formidable backline ahead of him; Sergi Roberto remains the only candidate for the right-hand side of defense, and all the other options across the backline are world-class.

Lucas Digne may start ahead of Jordi Alba, while Samuel Umtiti and Javier Mascherano will fight it out to partner Gerard Pique in defense, but in both cases I don’t see an obviously right or wrong answer. In midfield, Sergio Busquets is likely to anchor the midfield, while it would be a surprise if Andres Iniesta didn’t lead the side out tomorrow – but Barcelona are similarly blessed with options in the two interior roles.

Rafinha Alcantara has been teasing this as his breakout season; Andre Gomes has been a personal favourite of Enrique’s; Ivan Rakitic is a tried and tested option and a pivotal member of this squad and well, Iniesta hardly needs an introduction. I suspect that Gomes or Rakitic will get the nod tomorrow, with the “loser” likely to rotate back into the team for the visit to El Madrigal on Sunday.

In attack, it’s highly likely that the first match of 2017 will be headlined by the “MSN” trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, but keep an eye out for Arda Turan who ended 2016 in prolific form.


Ernesto Valverde only really has one injury concern to deal with ahead of tomorrow’s match; Oscar de Marcos remains sidelined with a foot injury and his continued absence could be an issue for Athletic Bilbao. Certainly in his absence, the right-hand side of their defense loses out – and their attack also suffers given de Marcos’ background as a midfielder and as a threat on the overlap. Eneko Boveda will deputise, and it could be interesting to see how he fares if he is pitted against Neymar.

Otherwise, we all know what to expect from Athletic Bilbao tomorrow. Aritz Aduriz is a proven goalscorer and will be a huge threat, assuming he starts, while the pace of Inaki Williams simply cannot be ignored. This promises to be a huge test for the Blaugrana; will they be able to pass with flying colours and get 2017 off to a winning start?


Barcelona: DDWWWW

Athletic Bilbao: WWDLWW


Athletic Bilbao 0-1 FC Barcelona – 28th August 2016 – La Liga

A fine header from Ivan Rakitic proved to be enough to secure a valuable three points for the Blaugrana, who navigated this early season test with relative aplomb.


Barcelona (4-3-3): Masip; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Digne; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Athletic (4-2-3-1): Kepa; Boveda, Laporte, Etxeita, Balenziaga; San Jose, Benat; Williams, Eraso, Susaeta; Aduriz


This is going to be a tough one, but I back us to at least get a goal and set ourselves up nicely for the second leg. 2-1 Barcelona.

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