Copa del Rey: FC Barcelona v. Athletic Bilbao Preview

All your passes are belong to Xavi

FC Barcelona v. Athletic Bilbao – 20:00 CET, 14:00 EST – ESPN3.com

We’re sitting on top of a Copa del Rey goldmine here! Excitement abounds for the kids’ competition, so get ready for hot cup action Barcelona fans! Tuesday at 20:00 CET at the Camp Nou Barcelona takes on Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of the round of 16 matches. The return match is to be January 5, 2011 at San Mames and the winner here takes on the winner of Real Betis and Getafe in the Quarterfinals. This is the round where Barcelona dropped from the competition last year and Guardiola will certainly be looking to improve upon that finish and move toward adding another trophy to his personal mantle. Plus it’s the last game of the 2010 calendar year and the first game since we have been summarily stripped of our title of Club World Champions and the nifty little badge that came along with it, which was the best part, let’s all be honest with ourselves. Let’s go out with a bang then, shall we?

On the whole, I think Copa del Rey games can be instructive and useful for a club like Barcelona. They provide an avenue for youth players and reserves to get some quality first-team experience with the manager and other players against teams usually trotting out one of their strongest line-ups. While training is certainly the most common way to integrate younger or newer players, cup matches afford the staff a better look against different competition. However, I also believe that the Copa del Rey is woefully ill-scheduled and can lead to more problems than it is worth. The fact that teams are still playing two-sided ties until the final with cramped league schedules and continental concerns is a joke. It’s just adding games that could easily be decided by one game and that can result in serious injuries for either team. Hell, let’s play at the lower-ranked side’s grounds, I’ll make concessions, let’s just get this antiquated system over with.

The retort to this is both obvious, and likely somewhat meaningful: “Luke you worthless, elitist twit! Just because Barcelona has such concerns does not mean that Bilbao, Getafe, and the like do. And also, why would you remove another game from the players who need greater development in the system like Thiago and Fontas or those who are having trouble getting first team minutes but need thim like Bojan and Adriano?” Of course, this assumes that after this stage Barcelona is still starting the kids and not playing the likes of Messi and Xavi because a loss, even in the Copa del Rey, still incurs the wrath of fans and the board for the managing staff and the players. So? Double-edged sword? Sure, why not! Have a tough first leg against Bilbao, we’ll play Xavi, Iniesta, and Puyol in the second leg, risking injury and exhaustion, because Cthulhu only knows that losing the Copa del Rey means we are teh worst team in the planets.

Seriously though, I’d love to win this Cup, but not at the expense of La Liga or the Champion’s League. Anyway, enough of my petty squabbles with imaginary you all and on to the matter at hand. Athletic Bilbao are a club I respect a lot and probably one of the clubs I enjoy watching in La Liga the most outside of Barca. They have a lot of talent throughout the roster and don’t seem to go into their shell too often, which is always a plus. They also house two World Champions in the persistently annoying goal scoring threat of Fernando Llorente (more on him later) and DM Javi Martinez, who is dangerous in a lot of places, and I feel, vastly underrated. GK Iraizoz isn’t bad either, a serviceable and useful keeper who tends to keep the Candystripers in matches. They are also one of the 3 clubs never to have been relegated from La Liga, I bet you cannot guess the other two.

Unfortunately, Llorente, Bilbao’s best goalscoring threat with 10 goals on the season in La Liga is definitely out tomorrow, meaning there is a decent chance we might start seeing that shell I was talking about earlier. And they run into the unstoppable killing machine that is FC Barcelona. Granted we likely won’t be playing with a full side tomorrow, or maybe we will because we can’t figure out Pep’s tricks, since only Thiago trained with the first-teamers today. Either way, it doesn’t seem to matter as Rubin Kazan found out and we’ve been spanking teams on the trot recently.

I’m seeing this one as playing out a little slowly at first. Bilbao takes possession and control until Barcelona wrests it away and stops the early chances almost completely in about the 10-15 minute range, at which point a goal comes and the game starts to settle into the familiar morass that we have come to know and love. I am just feeling this side is looking to strong right now and with Bilbao without their best player, it looks so enticing, but then doubt creeps in. We have taken lesser sides for granted and been bitten in the ass because of it. Not now though. Pep aims to win and seems to have overcome the team’s penchant to play down to opponents that should be handily beaten. After beating Almeria 8-0 and Real Sociedad 5-0, it just seems to me the team turned the corner.

So look for the usual Crazy Ass Pep Line-up tomorrow. I am going to guess at Pinto, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Mascherano, Adriano, Keita, Pedro, Bojan, Messi. Because why not right? We don’t need a facilitator right? If it wasn’t for Messi’s insistence on being that annoying kid in little league who wanted to play every second of every game, I would think he’d sit, but no. Incidentally this would be the perfect game to have Afellay because we could slot him up front and rest Pedro or Messi for a while, but we won’t be seing him until 2011 as he won’t be here until December 24. I would also love to see Thiago get some action, maybe even start, which would be good for him.

Prediction: 3-1. Goals by Bojan (x 2) and Messi.

Also, in case I do not post before the 25th, I would like to wish all of you an extremely happy holiday. It’s the time for holiday breaks here in the U.S. and I hope, wherever you are, if you are traveling, you stay safe and enjoy yourself. Enjoy whatever holiday tradition you may be celebrating or have already celebrated, be it Festivus, Eid, Hanukkah, Christmas, super secular winter get together time (my personal favorite), or whatever.

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images Europe

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69 Comments

  1. vicsoc8
    December 20, 2010

    Would love to see Fontas start this one, let’s see what he can do against some more difficult opposition. Messi starting or coming on as a sub seem equally likely. Thiago should make an appearance as well.

  2. ML6
    December 20, 2010

    Nice preview. Bojan for a Hatrick!!!

    Id be prepared to give you guys around $40 to $60, but i cant use paypal. Is there an alternate way to donate? Many thanks in advance.

    • GREECE BARCA
      December 20, 2010

      Hehe if bojan scores a hatrick against bilbao i will donate one month work for the blog!!

    • Eklavya
      December 21, 2010

      You need to contact Tarun through the “Contact” option at the top.

  3. GREECE BARCA
    December 20, 2010

    First happy christmas Luke and to anyone who will going on holidays!Then i must admit that maybe our club could choice a donate like that and not sell the shirt.As for the game i hope for a good perfomance and a clean win!

  4. GREECE BARCA
    December 20, 2010

    Jnice when you can if you want give us your view about JuvenilA game and the players who immpresed you!

    • Jnice
      December 20, 2010

      It was a pretty uneventful match to be honest. I thought it would be a goalfest, but Lleida held up better than I thought.

      Not many players impressed, but Gerard had some threatening runs and passes. Javi Espinosa looked bright at times and was brought down for a penalty, but for the most part he was pretty subdued.

      I liked the look of Luis Gustavo, confident and assured, plus he had a nice goal.

      Other than that, no one really stood out to me.

      • beeeef
        December 20, 2010

        how old is Deulofeu now? like 15 or 16? if he’s still as good as they said he was a couple years ago, maybe he’s ready for the B team next season.

        so many talented players coming through the ranks. where are they all going to fit?

      • poipoi
        December 20, 2010

        espinosa looks fragile but he’s super skilled I like him a lot

  5. blitzen
    December 20, 2010

    Adriano in the midfield? Really? I don’t think so. This is Bilbao we are talking about, not Ceuta. I look for Xavi to start and get subbed for Thiago after the half if we have a comfortable lead:

    Pinto, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Mascherano, Xavi, Keita, Pedro, Bojan, Messi.

    • ML6
      December 20, 2010

      I think Adriano (Alves) and Milito (Abidal) will start this one.

  6. GREECE BARCA
    December 20, 2010

    I think he is 16.I saw him the summer in a game with spain u17.From what i have read is like ronaldo in the way he play.I hope he continue his evolution!He is too young for juvenilA so not ready for barca b.

  7. GREECE BARCA
    December 20, 2010

    By the way i did not like that 7 of our players called by cruyff for a friendly next week.I mean come on man,find other catalans to play,no big deal!

    • beeeef
      December 20, 2010

      hopefully cruyff won’t play all the guys for the whole 90+

      with all due respect though, i don’t think honduras should give the team too much trouble. just crossing my fingers for no injuries.

      • Jose
        December 20, 2010

        We’ll see. On paper they shouldn’t, but this was the Honduras that lost 2-0 to Spain and held out against a resolute Swiss side. All without their three best players; Honduras had the worst (and quite under-reported) injury crisis of any team at the World Cup leading up to the World Cup.

        • beeeef
          December 20, 2010

          noted. something like 3-1, than.

      • Benj
        December 20, 2010

        Yeah but if honduras play W.Palacios, anything is possible, the guy is a complete hack.

        PS: CURSE THIS CAPTCHA THING!

    • blitzen
      December 20, 2010

      They want to play. It’s important to them as Catalans. They only play once a year. I’m sure even Xavi wanted to play but his (or Cruyff’s) more rational self prevailed.

  8. blitzen
    December 20, 2010

    Donated! Happy Solstice, BFB!

    And I really hope all our mods don’t completely disappear over Xmas. Some of us are sad and lonely Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, undecided and have nothing better to do over the holidays than obsessively refresh this blog.

    😀

    • Luke
      December 21, 2010

      Haha, we’ll do what we can. Whether we like it or not, this is when all the holidays in America are scheduled, and I for one know that if I sit with my wife on this website all day, she might beat my ass.

      I plan on having a short Champion’s League thing up later this week, but I can’t promise. Will be on vacation most of the rest of the week.

    • SoccerMom
      December 21, 2010

      SoMa will be overseas at the inlaws but promises to not abandon her BFBabies.

  9. barca96
    December 20, 2010

    I definitely want to see Fontas & Thiago together with Adriano play a big part in this match.
    But I don’t think Pep will rely on fringe players and B players since it’s our last game of the year. Im sure he would want to end it on a high.

    I’m really not good in IT and all but how does CAPTCHA help this blog reduce cost?

    • Luke
      December 21, 2010

      CAPTCHA reduces the amount of back end work we have to do to clean up trash and spam. Unfortunately as the site is getting bigger, it is also getting hit with a lot of unwanted junk that clutters these fields and slows the site down. This is a way to avoid that issue.

      We are working on other avenues to solve these problems as well, so stay tuned for that.

  10. poipoi
    December 20, 2010

    Messi as the hypersub is so nice in la Copa. Why bartra or Nolito not called? Or Fontas, they could also play la copa IMO. Anyway thiago and bojan have to play at least, and keita the babysitter 😉

    Have you seen mourinho’s press conference after sevilla’s game? He comes up with a list of 13 mistakes by the ref that ’caused disadvantage to EE in the game, given to him by someone in the club, with the EE’s logo on it. He did not list the 13 points or said who game them to him but he did say, “I want to defend (EE) and defend my team, and if I go and out here and list these 13 points the next game I’m not sitting in (EE)’s bench”….” we have a club and we have a structure, we have an organigram. If any of you want it the paper is here and besides it is in Microsoft Word which is BUENISIMO (¿?)”… “if no one wants to come up (come up is my translation he says do it) and they want to hide behind a coach that day after day day stands there and a team that day after day stand there like we are doing, perfect.” He also said the he did not want to say who gave the paper to him and that he wanted a meeeting with the “presi” The points have been listed by “deportes cuatro” some of them are true some of them are false some of them don’t matter in the game. Former Ref Mejia Davila works for EE now. Well… I just watched the video of 1-valdano 2-mourinho 3-florentino 4-iker , all sitting in a round table in an act somewhere with the cameras going nuts. Poor iker I don’t know how they’re gonna end up.

    http:*//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ciag_-_qhgE

    the thing is they played horrible without alonso the press is going crazy, things are kinda hot over there

      • mardia
        December 20, 2010

        Re: Alonso, he had too many yellow cards and was suspended for this match, which explains a LOT about EE’s performance. As for Mou-Mou, man, if you’re a soap opera fan (like me) you kind of almost have to appreciate the drama. At least it’s better than tearing your hair out over the next thing the guy says in the press.

        As for the refereeing during the match…eh. If I’m being impartial, I will totally concede that there were some bad, bad calls given (the offsides calls and the second yellow for Carvalho come to mind) although I doubt it’s as high as Mou would like the press to believe. Mind you, schadenfreude had me laughing the whole time.

    • K(legit)
      December 21, 2010

      I don’t know if you guys notice body-language much but you can see Valdano continuously sitting at the table with his hands folded across his chest..That is a classic sign of someone is totally uncomfortable in the situation.
      Even Casillas does that

      Mou’s face shot around 0.17 in the video says it all..the ‘smile’ doesn’t extend upwards and the eyes are like not fully open.. maybe its tiredness but mostly it is pretend

      • Vj
        December 21, 2010

        Someone is watching way too much ‘Lie to me’..

        Spot on though..

  11. Guano
    December 20, 2010

    Surprise!

    The intellectual class of Real Madrid slams Mourinho

    [en espanol]

    *http://www.marca.com/blogs/el-apunte/2010/12/20/la-revuelta-de-un-consentido.html

    • Jnice
      December 21, 2010

      Segurola is one of the few with integrity.

      • Guano
        December 21, 2010

        I like Segurola too. Wouldn’t have found him w/o this blog.

        Marca has quite a bit of Mourinho criticism today:\
        – rift between GM Voldano & Mourinho
        – the Sevilla press conference where he questioned mgmt
        – “let the president preside, let the coach, coach”
        – and what’s this “mini-crisis” between Silvino Louro, goalkeeping coach, and Augustine Herrerín? some ugly forced firing (i think)

        I love to see RM imploding!!!!

        Like Xavi said: “Mourinho es muy necesario para los catalanes, nos estimula la fibra”

    • BA
      December 21, 2010

      whoa, you just used “intellectual class”, and “Real Madrid” in the same sentence.

      let’s not go overboard.

      • Victor
        December 21, 2010

        You should note that marca are the “intellectual class” of Real Madrid. 😉

      • Guano
        December 21, 2010

        It’s just so damn pleasing to see them falling apart. Mourinho’s once mighty momentum has dissipated into negative weight, dragging down his team. Just took a perfect 5-0 defeat!

        Oh what bliss to watch!

  12. jaymin
    December 20, 2010

    i am now a benefactor.

    my team is through to the grand finale, after an ultimately convincing 25 point win. however i was only at the threshold thanks to three games that cumulatively were decided in my favor by ~2 points. Team of destiny. The girl i face in the finale defeated me twice, each by less than a point. Game of inches. AHHHHHHH.

  13. beeeef
    December 20, 2010

    don’t really know how old this is, so if it’s a re-post, apologies.

    *http://www.nike.com/nikefootball/training/home?locale=en_GB

    it’s “Master Control: Train with Barca,” a several video tutorial on how to play the barca way (lol). it looks like you need some kind of Nike insider account to watch all the videos, but you can check out the Intro and Week 1 training videos for free.

    Tito gives the explanations, while Gai performs the demonstrations.

  14. Diego
    December 21, 2010

    I dreamt about FC Barcelona last night. It was more of a nightmare.

    I dreamt that Zlatan finished his loan and returned to us. We were playing against Espanyol. Valdes got red carded and Zlatan became the GK and conceded an easy goal and we lost 3-0. 😀

  15. Diego
    December 21, 2010

    **http://www.sport.es/vivo/recursos/fotos/foto_456/foto_456843_CAS.jpg

    • blitzen
      December 21, 2010

      That’s adorable! I love how Pep is in the middle.

    • soccermomof4
      December 21, 2010

      That is awesome—it’s becoming my gravatar image if I ever have to stop using my manita gravatar.

  16. blitzen
    December 21, 2010

    And since we are getting all Xmas-y up in here, I present to you this fine Catalan tradition:

    *http://twitpic.com/3hvcsa

    (taken from Puyol’s twitter. Ooooooooohhh!)

    • soccermomof4
      December 21, 2010

      That is NOT so awesome and will NEVER become my gravatar. Gotta love ’em, but sometimes I wonder about these Catalans.

  17. Extreme barca fan
    December 21, 2010

    Guys is there a live-blog today or what?

  18. Josep
    December 21, 2010

    DAMNIT CAPTCHA! Just lost my whole post.

    Blah blah blah now I’m just summing up.

    Me like copa. Young talent play. good for youth. show off youth class. me likey youngsters. play well go first team.

    Pinto
    Adriano-Pique/Puyol-Fontas-Maxwell
    sMasch
    Keita-Thiago
    P!-Messi-Bojan

    go score goals.
    win game, go holiday. barca barca barca

      • December 21, 2010

        +1 :))))

        Still, if you wrote your post as a reply to some post, it is still there… you just need to find to whom did you reply to, and click again on th… the hell with it! This is better :))))

    • Victor
      December 21, 2010

      Apparently, Messi won’t be playing this game. Neither does Keita.

      Villa and Iniesta, on other hand, would be on the starting XI.

  19. vicsoc8
    December 21, 2010

    Wouldn’t mind liveblogging if no one else was looking to. I’ll send out some emails and hopefully it won’t be as much of a clusterf*ck this time.

    Games at 2 EST right?

    • Extreme barca fan
      December 21, 2010

      Vic to the rescue again, yes the game is 2 EST

  20. Anonymous_69
    December 21, 2010

    This might be my first comment here, although I do visit this sight regularly… I just wanted to say that this is a great website! I’m a regular commenter on TotalBarca.com. BTW, is there going to be a live chat for the Bilbao match?

  21. Clue(less)
    December 21, 2010

    ok so i am at the parents house for the holidays and they have att uverse with all the channels, anyone know if the copa game is on american tv anywhere

  22. Miguel
    December 21, 2010

    starting eleven courtesy barcabluff:

    Barcelona line-up (official): Pinto – Alves Pique Abidal Maxwell – Xavi Mascherano Keita – Pedro Bojan Iniesta

    • Miguel
      December 21, 2010

      subs:

      Bench Barcelona: Valdes, Adriano, Puyol, Busquets, Thiago, Messi, Villa

    • Josep
      December 21, 2010

      I’m pretty disappointed about this lineup. Its the CDR and its all first team players sans Messi. I thought Pep was done playing Iniesta at LW, but of course he’s not. ugh.

      • Hilal
        December 21, 2010

        Yes it is CDR, but its right before the break so we can play some first teamers in the knowledge that they have some rest coming up. If we can put this tie to bed today then the return leg can be played by a lot of youngsters. I can see the logic in trying to win the tie at home.

      • Miguel
        December 21, 2010

        but you have to remember that the b team played sunday, so this is kind of expected. & it’s more like maxwell gets license to roam all the way up a la dani w/keita in the line-up.

        i wonder how many strikers bilbao will play with…

        • Jnice
          December 21, 2010

          Agree with both Hilal and Miguel’s points, plus the fact that Athletic take the Copa very seriously and this is their main objective to start the season.

          If you look at the next rounds, the teams are a bit easier than Athletic and I could see some youngsters playing in that.

          • Miguel
            December 21, 2010

            yep. the converse of what pep said is true, too. you can’t just win the cup w/kids from the b-team.

      • GREECE BARCA
        December 21, 2010

        No messi,villa,puyol,busi.And bojan start.What else pep must do?I wanted adriano but pep knows best!

  23. December 21, 2010

    If a liveblog post doesn’t go up, here is the link:

    //http://www.coveritlive.com/index.php?option=com_altcaster&task=siteviewaltcast&altcast_code=f48c6fcb5c&height=550&width=470

    It freaking works this time, I swear.

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