Copa del Rey hopefuls Bilbao can kill Barcelona’s treble dream
Athletic Bilbao will face a daunting task in their latest Copa del Rey final quest, as they travel to an intimidating Nou Camp to contest La Liga champions Barcelona, who are vying for an incredible treble triumph this season, but a conjuring of Basque brilliance could see a Spanish upset.
Having wrapped up the Spanish league title ahead of rivals Real Madrid and last season’s victors Atletico Madrid, the Blaugrana will host Bilbao on home soil hoping to secure another piece of the potential treble puzzle, with a Champions League final clash with Juventus soon approaching.
Known as Los Leones, the San Mames outfit will need to show lion-like courage in order to topple Barca at their home gorund, as they aim to overturn an unfortunate Copa run which has seen them been unable to lift the trophy since 1984 (9/1 with Coral to win in 90 minutes).
Although, surprisingly, only their final opponents Barcelona have won this coveted competition more, with Bilbao earning 23 Copa coups to their final foes’ 26. Despite such a huge number of Copa trophies in the club’s cabinet, Bilbao have endured a 31-year wait to lift Spain’s most prestigious cup competition, but it’s a prolonged failure that could possibly come to an end if their star performers come to the fore at the Nou Camp.
It could be said that Bilbao’s rich heritage and unhampered tradition of blooding only Basque-based players into their ranks has somewhat had a negative effect on club ambitions, having faltered in mid-table for many La Liga seasons, but in the Copa del Rey their similar backgrounds have certainly caused a togetherness and understanding.
Bilbao’s form on the way to their first final outing since 2012; when they were interestingly toppled by Barcelona, ironically their opponents’ last Copa coup, has been a complete contrast to that of the Spanish champions.
With Barcelona having blown teams away and rallied to eight consecutive triumphs in the competition since December last year, Bilbao have had a more steadily successful approach, picking their opponents off with intricate and clever play, a contrast to Luis Enrique’s men who have been steamrollering sides at will.
There have been several key performers on the path towards possibly finally reclaiming Copa glory for Ernesto Valverde’s Lions, and they will need to channel memories of their 1984 victory in order to overcome such a dominant domestic force.
Between the sticks, cup goalkeeper Iago Herrerin has been solid and, having recently penned a new long-term deal at the San Mames, the Spaniard is undoubtedly the heir to 34-year-old number one stopper Gorka Iraizoz, with his new renewed deal including a reported release clause of around £30m to fend off potential suitors.
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Ahead of their in-form goal guard, highly-rated French defender Aymeric Laporte has been a class act and the club’s key enforcer in the backline, helping to thwart any incoming danger. The stalwart centre back has gained admirers from all over Europe this season, with Premier League clubs reportedly interested in his defensive services.
In the midfield areas, Bilbao possess plenty of creative and aggressive stars capable of halting Barca’s attacking onslaughts and hitting the champions on the break.
Experienced holding midfielder Mikel Rico has been a constant feature for Bilbao and his supreme presence in the middle, along with versatile Oscar de Marcos making a nuisance of himself in around the centre, can trouble even Barcelona’s talented ranks.
In attack, the Basque’s will hold faith in Aritz Adruiz, who has performed potently so far this season, having struck 26 goals in 47 appearances this term.
It will take a stellar showing to outgun a recently freescoring Barcelona on their rapturous home turf, but the talents within Bilbao’s ranks are more than capable of causing an upset and thwarting the so far unstoppable treble hunting Catalan train (6/1 to lift the trophy).