Cup come­back a must to end Barca’s new year blues

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FOOTBALL -

MADRID: Barcelona need a quick turn­around to get their start to 2017 back on track when Ath­letic Bil­bao travel to the Camp Nou Wed­nes­day for the sec­ond leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie de­fend­ing a 2-1 lead.

The Cup hold­ers are yet to taste vic­tory this year af­ter fol­low­ing up de­feat in Bil­bao Thurs­day by be­ing held 1-1 at Vil­lar­real in La Liga Sun­day de­spite a stun­ning last minute Lionel Messi free-kick.

“We have an un­fa­vor­able re­sult, but the fact of hav­ing scored a goal and de­served a dif­fer­ent re­sult gives us the nec­es­sary con­fi­dence to face this chal­lenge,” Barca boss Luis En­rique said Tues­day.

The tie is the sixth time Barca and Ath­letic have been paired to­gether in the Cup in nine sea­sons, in­clud­ing three fi­nals.

Barca have emerged vic­to­ri­ous in all five pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, but Ath­letic took a big step to­ward re­vers­ing that trend as they held on with nine-men for the fi­nal 10 min­utes of the first leg af­ter red cards for Raul Gar­cia and An­der Itur­raspe.

Both will there­fore be sus­pended, while Barca have a fully-fit and sus­pen­sion-free squad to choose from with back-up goal­keeper Jasper Cil­lessen fit again and in line to replace Marc-An­dre ter Ste­gen in goal.

Barca have also had more time to con­cen­trate on their task af­ter none of their play­ers at­tended FIFA’s gala in Zurich Mon­day de­spite four of them – Messi, Luis Suarez, An­dres Ini­esta and Ger­ard Pique – be­ing cho­sen in world foot­ball’s gov­ern­ing body’s team of the year.

“As a coach I back their de­ci­sion be­cause there is a sport­ing sit­u­a­tion that is above any­thing else,” En­rique added.

“The sport has pre­vailed over ev­ery­thing else and any crit­i­cism is part of life.”

By con­trast, Real Madrid were well rep­re­sented as Cristiano Ron­aldo picked up the in­au­gu­ral The Best award for the world’s best player in 2016, while four other Madrid play­ers also made their way into the team of the year.

And a week of cel­e­bra­tion for the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons could con­tinue when they travel to Sevilla Thurs­day boast­ing a healthy 3-0 first leg lead.

Should Zine­dine Zi­dane’s men avoid de­feat for the 40th con­sec­u­tive game they will sur­pass Barca’s Span­ish record of 39 games un­beaten set last sea­son.

With an­other tricky trip to Sevilla to come in La Liga Sun­day, Zi­dane is ex­pected to once again ro­tate his squad with Ron­aldo pos­si­bly sit­ting out to make way for James Ro­driguez – who net­ted twice in the first leg.

Real So­ciedad, Eibar and Celta Vigo are also heavy fa­vorites to reach the last eight, while Cor­doba and Al­cor­con will fight it out to be the sec­ond di­vi­sion’s only rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the quar­ters with their tie finely bal­anced at 0-0. –

Messi and Ney­mar at­tend a train­ing ses­sion at the Sports Cen­ter FC Barcelona Joan Gam­per, Spain.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.