Barcelona on course for treble after crushing Bilbao in Copa del Rey
Barcelona joined Juventus in completing a domestic league and cup double, courtesy of another fearsome attacking display from the Catalan giants’ front three, but only either them or the Turin titans can go on to taste the treble by winning the Champions League.
In the unique position of being designated as visitors in their own stadium, Barca went back into the Nou Camp’s away dressing room as Copa del Rey winners following a comfortable and classy 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.
Coral make Luis Enrique’s men firm odds-on 4/11 favourites to match fellow La Liga outfit Sevilla’s recent achievement of four continental crowns in nine years in Europe’s elite club competition.
While the Bathtubs have been specialists at winning the Europa League/old UEFA Cup, it’s at the highest level there is in club football where Barcelona have excelled. Enrique, a man who crossed the El Clasico divide as a player and started this year having to brush aside rumours of a rift between himself and superstar names, is now out to better and emulate his predecessors.
Johan Cruyff and Frank Rijkaard, Dutch legends from respective generations of the ‘Total Football’ blueprint which still to some extent runs through Barca’s DNA too, could only manage league and European Cup doubles during their spells in charge.
Enrique is already on a par with these names from the Netherlands, but will want to equal what fellow Spaniard and the man his Barcelona side knocked out in the Champions League semis, Pep Guardiola, did in Catalonia. While in charge at the Nou Camp, this former teammate of the current Barca boss rounded off the last decade with ‘el triplete’:
Guardiola, exponent in chief of ‘tiki taka’, made sure his sides passed their opponents into submission. A cynical interpretation of this would be to say never has the ability to shift the ball sideways been so lauded as during that Barcelona vintage.
It worked, though, and you only have to look at the honours won by Barca under Guardiola for compelling evidence of that. Juve, chasing their own treble and looking to match what Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan did in 2010, should not expect a similar style from Enrique’s incarnation, though.
Possession is still nine-tenths of the law, but Barcelona will now seek to stretch the Old Lady in different diemsnions. In their ranks, they possess a strikeforce that has netted a staggering and record combined tally of 120 goals in all competitions.
Facing three players who on average have scored 40 goals apiece is frightening. Given such lethal and predatory instincts displayed by Luis Suarez, Neymar and Copa del Rey final Man of the Match Lionel Messi, there is a clear emphasis on getting the ball to this front three as soon as possible because they have wreaked havoc.
Modern day full backs are valued as supplementary attacking outlets first before defensive capabilities, but if they don’t have the engine to get up and down the flanks, then you are in real trouble against Barca.
Juventus pair Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra are both north of 30, so will need all their exerience and positioning sense to try and contain Neymar and Messi respetively in the channels.
Barcelona’s tactics under Enrique were typified in the Copa del Rey final. Messi magic, beating four Basque players while slaloming infield from the right to net at the near post, resulted in a stunning opener. It was then Suarez’s turn to pop up in that channel and square for an unmarked Neymar who had a tap in.
While Argentina icon Messi is odds-on 1/2 favourite to scoop the Golden Boot, he is up against France veteran Evra – set to play in his fifth Champions League final here, so that stage is unlikely to faze the former Manchester United man.
Lichtsteiner, whose natural instincts are to go forward, looks to have a harder assignment down the other side containing Neymar; well worth a punt at 7/2 to be leading marksman in Europe’s elite competition, as the Brazil boy wonder only needs to strike twice to become top scorer.
Messi is unlikely to see Juve defenders such as Giorgio Chiellini, about to renew hostilities with Suarez after he popped in for a quick bite at last summer’s World Cup, and Leonardo Bonucci lack desire to do the dirty work.
A brow-beaten Bilbao backline was found wanting in this regard when Barca’s attacking inspiration poached his second and his side’s third in the Copa del Rey final.
If one weakness resurfaced from that fixture, though, it was how a still diminutive Barcelona struggle at set-pieces. Juventus both conceded and scored, through Chiellini, from such situations in their extra time Coppa Italia final victory over Lazio, but Barca anchorman Sergio Busquets might also be a weak link.
Coral betting tip: Take a superb 7/2 for Neymar to be Champions League top scorer.