Copa del Rey 2018 Final Preview: FC Barcelona vs Sevilla
Atletico Madrid's shiny new home ground, the Wanda Metropolitano, hosts its first Copa del Rey Final this evening. Barcelona and Sevilla will lock horns. The teams have played twice this season in La Liga. Barcelona won the first. The second was the draw after the recent international break when Lionel Messi had to come on in the second half to rescue a point. This will be the season's first trophy for the winner. If that is Barca, it will be their fourth in a row. No club has accomplished that in eight decades.
Last time Sevilla won against Barcelona was in 2014-15 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan by a 2-1 margin. The teams have last met in the Copa final in 2016. Neymar and Jordi Alba's goals in extra time claimed the honours for Barcelona.
In the season's first half, Barcelona were near perfect. Valverde pulled all the right strings. But Barca have declined in the new year. The defeat to Roma was the lowest point in the season but the dip had been evident in other matches. The Catalans have drawn too many games recently.
The Cules are like a blue and red striped chicken. They cannot play when Messi is not at the head. Neither Ousmane Dembele nor Philippe Coutinho have taken over a match in the manner both can. All that amounts to nitpicking, however. The Blaugrana are just a win and a draw from claiming the league title.
Barcelona are heavily favoured but Sevilla are hardly minnows. Manchester United took the Rojoblancos lightly. It cost them the Champions League. Since their victory at Old Trafford, Vincenzo Montella's troops have struggled. They haven't won in their last seven matches. It will be a tough test for the underdogs to level top-notch Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde is certainly focused on the match.
To win the Copa del Rey would be a good way to put the Champions League slip up behind us. Valverde told a news conference.
Both teams rested important players midweek. Valverde made eight changes from last Saturday's fixture, Montella seven. Ten-men Barcelona drew 2-2 against Celta Vigo, maintaining their unbeaten La Liga record. Iago Aspas equalised late to keep the Cules two results from the title. Sevilla came away from the Estadio Riazor with a goalless draw against relegation-threatened Deportivo de la Coruna.
Lionel Messi has scored 47 goals in this competition, one less than Barcelona legend Kubala, and two less than Real Madrid's Ferenc Puskas. A hattrick gives him a half-century.
Phillippe Coutinho hasn't been as influential as he was at Anfield but shown he can be the next midfield dynamo at the Camp Nou. The Brazilian has assisted four times in his last four appearances.
Valverde has no injury concerns. Sergi Roberto is suspended from La Liga but can feature in the final. Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are back, fit, and will patrol the middle of the park. Ousmane Dembele will probably start from the bench, having played midweek. Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, and Samuel Umtiti are also available.
Montella must dig deeper into his roster. Simon Kjaer is suffering a hamstring injury. Gabriel Mercado and Clement Lenglet will be the centre-back pair. Joaquin Correa remains a doubt over Nolito. He featured against Deportivo and is not fresh. Steven N'Zonzi, Ever Banega, and Jesus Navas will bring their experience to the table.
Barcelona are the favourites and among the deadliest teams in Europe's top five leagues. Thier league form is matchless and commendable. But considering recent weeks where the impossible became possible, Sevilla has every chance to win. That sad, insufficient depth and congestion fixture suggest they will not trouble the soon-to-be-crowned La Liga champions.
Barcelona: Ter-Stegen; Alba, Pique, Umtiti, Roberto; Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitic, Coutinho; Messi, Suarez.
Sevilla: Soria; Escudero, Lenglet, Mercado, Navas; Banega, N’Zonzi; Correa, Vazquez, Sarabia; Ben Yedder.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Sevilla.