Cup final last chance to salvage Barca’s season
Only victory in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Alaves will salvage some pride from Barcelona’s season and give coach Luis Enrique a successful send-off, whilst the Basques dream of lifting the trophy for a first time.
On a night of goodbyes as Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon hosts its final competitive fixture, Enrique will take charge of Barca for the last time.
A win would complete a clean sweep of the Copa del Rey in his three seasons in charge.
However, in contrast to the previous two years when Cup success was the icing on a successful season having won the treble in 2015 and a league and Cup double last season, Barca this time head into the end-of-season showpiece without a major trophy.
“Although it can be called the lesser of all the trophies, for us another trophy is at stake,” said Barca captain Andres Iniesta.
“It will allow us to end the season on a high.”
Enrique faces a selection headache with both Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto suspended after being sent-off in a tempestuous semi-final win over Atletico back in February.
Paco Alcacer is expected to be handed a rare big game start in Suarez’s absence up front, whilst the Catalans are hopeful that Javier Mascherano will shrug off a hamstring problem to fill in at right-back.
Even without Suarez, Barca still have plenty of firepower to call upon with Lionel Messi set to start his 700th match for club and country, whilst Neymar has netted in the final in the past two seasons.
Manuel Pellegrino could also be taking charge of Alaves for the final time after a terrific campaign in which they have reached their first Cup final and finished ninth on their first season in a decade back in the top flight.
And the Argentine believes Barca have merely come back down to earth after an “abnormal” run of success over the past decade.
“They have made the abnormal seem normal. For Barca, winning two or three trophies a season is normal.
“They have won so much that now it seems like they haven’t had a good season.”
Alaves have already shown the damage they can cause to Barca this season.
A shock 2-1 win for the visitors at the Camp Nou in September ultimately cost Enrique’s men the three points that separated them from Real Madrid in the title race come the end of the campaign.
However, Alaves also suffered a Barca backlash when the visitors won 6-0 at Mendizorroza in February.
“They have the mentality of wanting to win every game. That is what they are used to,” added Pellegrino.
“We need to play a complete game to stand a chance.”
The presence of Theo Hernandez adds extra intrigue as he too bids farewell after a highly successful loan spell at Alaves and probably to his parent club Atletico too.
Left-back Hernandez looks set to become the first player since 2000 to cross the Madrid divide by signing for Real Madrid and has rebuffed the attentions of Barca to do so.