Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona | Saturday 30 May | Camp Nou | 21:30
The Spanish season comes to a close this weekend with the Copa del Rey final. Treble-chasing Barcelona will play host to Athletic Bilbao who are looking for their first trophy since 1984. The two teams have racked up more cup triumphs than any other Spanish team with Barca accumulating three more than Bilbao’s 23 Copa del Rey trophies. Barca’s title triumph means that these two sides will battle it out in the first trophy on offer next season, the Super Cup. The two-legged encounter is always between the league winner and cup winner but because Barcelona already have one entry, the Basque side are assured of their place in the event as the representatives of the cup. Luis Enrique’s charges won both league meetings between the sides this season, 2-0 at home and 5-2 away. If they win the third meeting, the Blaugrana will be one Champions League final victory away from the historic treble.
To Win (90mins)
Athletic Bilbao 10/1
To Qualify (Lift the Trophy)
Athletic Bilbao 11/2
Athletic Bilbao qualified for the Europa League in emphatic fashion by cruising to a 4-0 win at home to Villarreal last Saturday. Aritz Aduriz scored the first and last goal of an emotional evening at San Mames, as veteran defender Andoni Iraola bid farewell to his twelve-year career with Athletic by scoring the second goal, while Benat also got on the scoresheet. Although a total of four teams went into the final game of the season aiming to clinch seventh spot and the European place that comes with it, Bilbao started the day in seventh and knew that all they needed to do was beat Villarreal to get the job done. Bilbao started the season very badly, ruling themselves out of a consecutive Champions league finish early on. Their front line was the reason for their bad results in the first half of the season which saw them drop to thirteenth at the beginning of 2015. However, they bounced back in the second round, climbing consistently up the table, hitting the back of the net frequently while maintaining their respectable defensive record. Aduriz, who spearheads their attack, won the Spanish Pichichi for being the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga with eighteen goals this season. The ex-Valencia striker also netted five goals in this competition as well as three in the Europa League which sees his season total stand at 26 in all competitions.
Barcelona finished off their La Liga campaign with a 2-2 draw against Deportivo La Coruna last Saturday, having already clinched the La Liga title the week before with a win at Atletico Madrid. While the match took on a celebratory tone for the home side as Xavi Hernandez marked his final league match with the club, there was no time to relax. For Enrique and his players, everything is still to play for. Two matches remain in Barcelona's season and both feature the highest of stakes. First up is the Copa del Rey final, a week later, Enrique's side will travel to Berlin to face Juventus in the UEFA Champions League final. Win both, and Barcelona will claim a league-cup-Champions League treble for just the second time in the club's proud history. Doing so would put the current side on comparative footing with the 2009 edition, which was the first to accomplish the feat. The fact that the current side has a chance to equal the achievements of 2009 pays testament to the job Enrique has done in his maiden season. Following a disappointing 2013/14 campaign, the former player inherited a team with an uncertain outlook. A transfer ban was looming. Xavi was past his prime. The squad had regressed under former manager Tata Martino. Then Enrique came in and, despite drawing criticism in the early days of his tenure, led Barca back to the top of La Liga.
Real Madrid might have won 22 straight games at one point, but by the end of the season, there was no questioning which team was Spain's best. Barcelona’s hugely successful campaign to date has been built around the sensational forward trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. The early signs were that Barcelona could find a similar problem to their great rivals Real Madrid - that simply throwing together a collection of star attackers does not ensure success. Suarez struggled to integrate into the team initially upon his return from suspension and it wasn’t until he and Messi switched positions that the trio hit it off to such spectacular effect. According to Suarez, the decision for Messi to move from the centre to the right came of the Argentine’s own suggestion during a match. Enrique was happy to stick with it. Between them, the trio now has an incredible 115 goals this season. The task of stopping them now falls to first Athletic Bilbao and then Juventus. For Athletic the challenge is made even tougher by the fact that this match will take place in Barcelona’s own Camp Nou stadium. Already this season the Basque club have shipped five goals against Barcelona’s star forward line. It is, though, likely to require a super-human effort to stop a front three on course for a historic season and a Barcelona team with their eyes sharpening in on the treble.
VERDICT: Barcelona HT DRAW/FT WIN 11/4
With the match being at Camp Nou, Bilbao’s chances are very slim. They were outplayed in both meetings against Barca this season and have not won at this stadium since 2001. That’s a run of just one win from sixteen away matches, losing twelve times. Bilbao will come out fired up as they attempt glory in what will be their last performance of this season. With no value in the Barca win, I’m tipping the league champions to draw at halftime but to get the win at the end of ninety minutes, available at 11/4.