After all the pre-match noise, at last the football takes centre stage. The ball will roll off the spot at 21:30 in the Vicente Calderón to get what will probably be the game of the season in Spain underway. This year’s Copa del Rey final has an all-star cast: league champions Barcelona against a Sevilla side that claimed Europa League glory for a third consecutive year. Over the last 10 years, no Spanish side has won as much or featured in as many finals as both clubs, specialists in decisive matches who go into Sunday’s game having added to their trophy cabinets during the past week.
The game will bring down the curtain on a season that started on August 11 in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Stadium in Tbilisi, when the same sides met in the European Supercup. It was a classic game with all the ingredients: an opening blitz by Sevilla, the reaction from a colossal Barcelona led by an unstoppable Leo Messi who appeared to have sewn up victory only for Sevilla to respond heroically to force extra time where Pedro, who had already decided his future lay away from Camp Nou, provided his last service to the club. If today’s game is half as exciting, a show in the Calderón is guaranteed.
Following the Supercup, Barça and Sevilla met twice in the league. In the Sánchez Pizjuán, Unai Emery finally scored a victory over Barcelona after 20 failed attempts. It was another wonderful game and the best Barça performance against the Andalusians this season, but the visitors lost 2-1 after hitting the post five times in the absence of Messi, who was injured the previous week. Sevilla were more ruthless in front of goal. If today’s game is half as thrilling as that October encounter, a show in the Calderón is guaranteed.
The most recent match between the sides was on February 28 in Camp Nou. Barcelona won 2-1, equalling the record for consecutive unbeaten matches set by Leo Beenhakker’s Real Madrid, but it was not a comfortable victory. Vitolo put Sevilla ahead and only a Maradona-esque free kick from Messi and a Gerard Piqué goal from a corner permitted the home side to stage a comeback. Even so, Sevilla did not surrender lightly and Claudio Bravo ended up as Barça’s hero. If today’s game is half as dramatic as the last one, a show in the Calderón is guaranteed.
For the season’s fourth act, Luis Enrique has his full armoury available and his line-up is clear: the same one he uses on all the big stages (with Marc-André ter Stegen in goal). The same as in Berlin.
Emery does not find himself in the same situation. With Benoît Trémoulinas injured and Steven N´Zonzi and Kolo suspended, the Basque tactician will have to improvise. Unlike other finals, Emery did not tell his players the day before the match who will start and he may spring a surprise by playing Sebastián Cristóforo in place of Vicente Iborra, who seemed nailed on to replace N´Zonzi. Whoever plays, a show in the Calderón is guaranteed.
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