LAST CHANCE TO SALVAGE SEA­SON

King’s Cup win will re­store some shine to Barca’s bare sea­son

New Straits Times - - Sport -

ONLY vic­tory in to­day’s King’s Cup 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 King’s Cup 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 Nou Camp 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 very 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.

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