copa del rey
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Brilliant Barcelona back on track and ready to vie with Villarreal

The Copa del Rey returns to provide big-guns Barcelona with respite from their La Liga battle with Real Madrid, and the Catalan club will clash with Villarreal in this semi-final first leg.

Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao welcome Espanyol to the Basque country, and will be aiming to secure a home win to take the pressure off in the reverse fixture.

Barcelona v Villarreal
Barca have been in bullish form of late, closing bitter rivals Los Blancos’ lead at the top of La Liga to just one point, and now prepare for this cup clash having romped to nine wins in a row across all competitions.

This formidable form makes it hard to look past the Nou Camp club, strong odds-on favourites with Coral at 1/5 for victory over 90 minutes, recording yet another triumph.

An upcoming Champions League tussle with Manchester City may be on coach Luis Enrique’s mind, so an emphatic result here on home turf will surely be the aim, to spare legs in the reverse fixture.

Barcelona have grabbed an unbelievable 34 goals in their last nine wins in a row, and put five past Athletic Bilbao last time out, so Villarreal must beware.

A tempting 12/5 to score four or more, Barca boast a trio of talents up top that can terrorise Marcelino Garcia Toral’s team.

Lionel Messi has regained his magic and is back to his best, with 10 goals in Barca’s rampant run of nine victories. He is working well in tandem with attacking partners Luis Suarez and Neymar.

The big money move for Suarez seems to have finally paid off, with the fab three now gelling superbly and creating goals and assists galore. So back majestic Messi at 5/2 to bag a brace or better and help sink the Yellow Submarine.

Supporting stars Neymar and Suarez, who were both on target last time out, may have to be content with second billing, but can be just as lethal, and are 10/3 and 7/2 to open and close the scoring respectively.

It is difficult to see how plucky and vivacious Villarreal, who have not beaten their hosts since 2008, can find a way to counter the goal gluttony of Barcelona, but the Yellow Submarine are also on a fine run of their own.

Outside chances at 11/1 to win in 90 minutes, or a more favourable 6/1 to split the spoils, Villarreal have been somewhat of a surprise package this season.

Just one defeat in their last 20 outings across all competitions mean the Yellow Submarine will not take kindly to being looked upon as cannon fodder.

Top scorer Luciano Vietto (4/1 to net anytime) and promising Spanish starlet Gerard Moreno (5/1) can certainly test the hosts’ backline.

Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol
Four-time Copa del Rey champions Espanyol travel to San Mames as underdogs at 7/2 to win, having lost three games on the trot, and have taken no points from their past four away fixtures.

The Parakeets will no doubt be keen to grab a result on the road and increase their chances of featuring in a potential all-Catalan final. However, Espanyol will likely rely heavily on top scorer Christian Stuani (8/1 to fire home first) and fellow forward Sergio Garcia, who is 11/4 in the anytime market.

Basque boys Bilbao may be three points below their visitors in the league, but have already beaten their visitors emphatically on home turf this term, making them evens to triumph over 90 minutes.

Top Artiz Aduriz opened the scoring against Espanyol earlier this campaign, so is 7/2 to draw first blood again for the Lions, while attacking talent Iker Munian is 15/8 to provide a moment of inspiration anytime.