, June 23, 2021

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Marcelino has already beaten Barca in a cup final twice before, can he do it again?

  •   3 min reads
Copa del Rey betting odds
Iñaki Williams will be key if Athletic are to beat Barcelona again. Alejandro Garcia/EPA.

Marcelino didn’t waste much time in making a good impression on the Athletic Club fans. The 55-year-old had only been his new job at San Mames for two weeks when he led the club to a trophy, winning the Supercopa de España in January of this year with impressive victories over Barcelona and Real Madrid.

In his last job, Marcelino similarly ended up with silverware in-hand, winning the 2019 Copa del Rey as Valencia manager with a win over Barca in the final. There’s just something about the former midfielder that troubles the Catalans, especially in matches where there is a title or trophy on the line.

There will be a trophy on the line this Saturday when Athletic Club face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Rather unusually, Marcelino’s side come into this match having lost another Copa del Rey final just two weeks previously, with Real Sociedad winning the 2019/20 edition of the competition. Redemption could come quickly for the last year's (and month's) runners-up.

January’s Supercopa final victory over Barcelona gives Athletic Club a template to follow. They have already set a precedent for themselves. Inaki Williams gave Ronald Koeman’s all sorts of problems when played in behind, notching an assist in the 3-2 extra time victory following on from the goal he scored against Barca in a La Liga game at the turn of the year.

Athletic Club have struggled for momentum in recent weeks, drawing four straight league games coming into Saturday’s Copa del Rey final. Marcelino’s team have been difficult to beat, but they have yet to find any real cutting edge in the final third, drawing blanks against Celta Vigo and most recently Alaves at home.

Barcelona, on the other hand, have won 13 of their last 15 league games. Ronald Koeman’s side looked down and out in the Spanish title race not so long ago, but they are now just two points off Atletico Madrid’s pace at the top of the table. Something has clicked at the Camp Nou over the last two or three months. Barcelona look like a team again and not just a group of individuals.

However, Barca will have last week’s defeat to Real Madrid in El Clasico fresh in their memory. Marcelino should look at how Zinedine Zidane cut off the supply line to Jordi Alba down the left and allowed the Catalans to have plenty of the ball before pressing them 30 yards out from goal. This simplistic approach completely disrupted Barcelona.

Renowned for his ability as a defensive organiser, Marcelino could set up Athletic Club in a similar way. They certainly have the threat on the counter attack in the form of Williams to relieve the pressure on themselves through an out-ball. A similar approach produced results for the Basque side against Barcelona in January’s Spanish Supercopa final.

On their day, Yeray Alvarez and Inigo Martinez are among La Liga’s best central defenders. Behind them is Spain’s first choice goalkeeper, Unai Simon. In midfield, Dani Garcia provides structure while Iker Muniain, who has enjoyed something of a career renaissance of late, offers flair in the wide areas and final third.

Barca will be relieved Aritz Aduriz has called time on his career such was the veteran striker’s scoring record against the Catalans. Athletic Club haven’t found a natural number nine to fill the void left by Aduriz, but they have Raul Garcia to provide an aerial threat when required. The former Atletico Madrid man works well with Williams.

The majority of the pressure is on Koeman and his Barca players to deliver. Silverware would strengthen the case for the Dutch coach to be kept on at the Camp Nou beyond the summer. Another defeat in a big game, after recent losses to Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, however, could convince some that the club should look elsewhere at the end of the season.

This should allow Athletic Club to fly under the radar, although the Copa del Rey final defeat to Real Sociedad just two weeks ago has heightened the pressure within their camp. To squander two opportunities for a major piece of silverware in the same month would be a significant disappointment.

In Marcelino, though, Athletic boast a winner in the dugout. Recent results might not reflect that, but the former Villarreal and Valencia man knows how to win the matches that matter and Saturday’s Copa del Rey, Athletic Club’s second in quick succession, certainly matters. Marcelino has already won two cup finals against Barcelona. He can do it for a third.

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