What a curious cup final this is… Valencia will approach it with the fullest of enthusiasm, the icing on the cake of their 100th anniversary season, which after a shaky start has ended in fine style: Europa League semi-finalists, qualified for the Champions League and in the final of Saturday’s Copa del Rey showpiece. It has been a good season, one worthy of a club with such a rich history, there remains one game to perhaps cap it all: a Copa triumph to revive past glories. To that end, Marcelino’s side have been camped in Jerez since Thursday, poring over every aspect of the match ahead. More than 2,000 fans saw them off when they left, a natural reaction to the singular nature of a cup final.
For Barcelona, the game in Seville is quite another matter. Ernesto Valverde’s side are still traumatized by defeat at Anfield, despite being champions of LaLiga, a European semi-finalist and in the showpiece of the Copa del Rey. But that 4-0 reverse in Liverpool has left a deep scar. Leo Messi said last summer that his desire- and that of Barcelona – was to win that most desired of cups. The Copa del Rey seems a hollow substitute. Barcelona will travel to Andalusia on the day of the final, then return to Catalonia on the same evening, win or lose, and go their separate ways. Even the sheen of a potential domestic double is dimmed by the stain of that defeat in Anfield. Contrast that with the celebrations that will erupt in Valencia if Marcelino’s side are victorious…
The final curtain for the Spanish season
On Friday, Messi and Gerard Piqué attended to the press, but almost all the questions posed were about the Champions League defeat, not the cup final. I am hard-pressed to think of another final like this one, one that has had intrigue behind the scenes up to the 11th hour as to what television channel will broadcast it – a matter that required a judge to intervene. The duel between LaLiga president Javier Tebas and his Spanish Football Federation counterpart, Luis Rubiales, is stamped all over this final. But for the rest of us, it promises to be a spectacular game, with Messi as the star for whom Marcelino, a master tactician, must prepare a cage. Undiano Mallenco will referee, in his final elite level match, and King Felipe will deliver the cup to the eventual victors, which will bring this season to a close in Spain as we do not have a European finalist to cheer on next week.