MADRID: The Spanish football season comes to an end on Friday as Athletic Club Bilbao and FC Barcelona clash in the final of Copa del Rey in Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium.
The game marks the end of an era for Barca as Pep Guardiola features in his last game as coach of the Catalan giants. The final is a repeat of the 2009 final, which Barca won 4-1 and their players look to give their coach the perfect send off by lifting the 14th trophy of his four year reign.
Guardiola has problems with his side’s defence. Eric Abidal is still recovering from his liver transplant, while Carles Puyol misses with a knee injury and Dani Alves is out after fracturing his collarbone in training. That means Javier Mascherano will partner Gerard Pique in central defense, which could see Barca struggle against the height of Athletic’s tall striker Fernando Llorente.
Athletic travel to Madrid with the future of their coach Marcelo Bielsa still uncertain, as the Argentine has not yet said whether or not he will extend his contract into next season. The Basques also want to forget the disappointment of losing the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid two weeks ago and will be looking to produce a better performance than their display in Bucharest.
Bielsa has had two weeks to put some life back into his players’ legs and raise their spirits and Athletic will be in full strength. They should also have the majority of the support in the Spanish capital as once again their fans have mobilised to travel en-mass to Madrid, where around 10,000 are expected to arrive despite not having a ticket.
The fact that so many supporters are missing out on the chance of seeing such an important game, serves to highlight that fact that Real Madrid refused to host the final in their Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. The Bernabeu has capacity for 25,000 more fans than the Calderon, but the club alleged that they could not host the final due to renovation work in the ground. Interestingly, the work will be finished in time to allow for a veterans game to be played on June 3.