King’s Cup final 2012: Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao Preview
Here we are, at the end of the Liga season, and the final opportunity for FC Barcelona to secure itself a title.
It’s been a tough year for the Blaugrana. They let the league title slip away to Real Madrid, then got caught in midfield in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea FC.
On top of that, they’ve lost forward David Villa and defenders Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal to injury. For manager Pep Guardiola, it’s all been too much, as he announced following the final El Clasico of the season that he would be leaving the team and taking a year-long sabbatical.
So what’s at stake in this game? Pride, essentially, whatever can be extracted from a disappointing 2011-12 season. To grab that they’ll have to face Basque side Athletic Bilbao, who made a sweetheart run through the UEFA Europa League, defeating Manchester United on route to the final, where they lost to Radamel Falcao and Atletico Madrid.
Bilbao gave Barcelona one of their exciting league games of the season in March, when the Catalonians prevailed 2-0 on goals by Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, the latter a penalty kick. Barcelona played hard out of the gate, firing shot after shot at Bilbao but they didn’t manage to score until the 40th minute. Bilbao were helped by some outstanding defence from Javi Martinez and excellent goaltending by Gorka Iraizoz.
So what will it take to win? Simple: goals. Fans of both teams can expect an offensive matchup, as neither got caught up in a defensive battle the last time out. Barcelona will again have to depend on Messi to carry the bulk of the offensive load, just as they have all season. Alexis Sanchez and Xavi have been of some assistance to the Argentinian this season but none have come close to his 50 goals… just one factor you could blame for a subpar season.
Bilbao is similarly loaded with talent, though not at the same level. Their top scorer this season was Fernando Llorente with 17 goals in 32 games, while Iker Muniain, though he only potted two goals this season, looks to have the potential to be a young gun for the Basque squad.
Barcelona has, however, been stymied all season by defensive teams. Bilbao could just rely on their back end and do everything they can to stop an offensive push. They could work to keep Barcelona out of the box, away from the goal, and force them to spend the whole game making horizontal passes.
What’s important to remember is that Bilbao have as much pride on the line as Barcelona does. They impressed with some strong play later in the season and had nothing to show for it at the end. Tomorrow they could take the Copa del Rey and do the double duty of shaming Barcelona and recovering a very big prize as reward for a great push. It’s enough to have pride on the line; but when there’s just one title left to grab, it’s life-and-death for any team.
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