The final major trophy in Spain is on the line this Saturday as Barcelona meet Valencia in Seville in the Copa del Rey Final. Barca are favourites to win the trophy for the fifth straight year and seal another domestic double.
However Valencia are expected to be tough opponents for what will be an under-strength Barcelona side with the likes of Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele sidelined. Los Che have already given Barca two very close games this season with the two league meetings between the clubs finishing level.
Here are five key battles that may decide the Copa del Rey Final:
Leo Messi vs Gabriel Paulista
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Leo Messi is going to be key and Barcelona made a bit of a gaff this week by highlighting their own dependence on Leo Messi on social media. With 36 league goals this term, Messi scored 31 more than their next highest scorer who is fit and available to play in this game.
Valencia might be forgiven for thinking that if they stop Messi, they will stop Barcelona. However that is easier said than done and it’s likely to be a team effort although centre-backs Gabriel Paulista and Ezequiel Garay will both need to have good games for Los Che with Messi expected to operate in a false nine role as he did last weekend at Eibar.
Messi scored a brace in that game and with Luis Suarez out, the lack of other strikers has forced Ernesto Valverde into using Messi in a more central role than we are used to seeing him in. Messi has proven time and time again that he is capable of winning games almost single-handedly but there has seldom been a time when Barcelona have gone into a big game quite so dependent on their talisman.
Barcelona will be looking to add to their attacking options this summer. They feature in the betting for Kylian Mbappe’s next club here.
Sergi Roberto vs Goncalo Guedes
Valencia have weapons of their own though. While Barcelona have rarely been brilliant this term, they have been very consistent in domestic competitions and there are few obvious weaknesses. The underdogs will though think there is a potential mismatch, at least in terms of pace and athleticism, with Goncalo Guedes set to attack Sergi Roberto down the Valencia left.
Marcelino tends to opt for a counter-attacking style which really brings Guedes into the game in a match like this where Valencia will be content to sit quite deep at times and let Barca control the ball before hitting them on the break. Guedes had a really impressive second half of the season following an injury lay-off and his explosive pace and genuine goal threat makes him a man to keep an eye on this Saturday.
Gerard Pique vs Rodrigo Moreno
Rodrigo Moreno is another man with pace to burn who suits this Valencia system. Los Che had success in their 2-2 draw at Camp Nou earlier in the season by at times pressing high and much like in the defeat to Liverpool, Barcelona appeared rattled for a good chunk of that game.
Rodrigo hasn’t had his best season in front of goal finishing with just 8 goals in La Liga but he did score a dramatic hat-trick to knock out Getafe in the Copa del Rey with two strikes in Stoppage Time seeing Valencia through to the delight of the Mestalla. He will know Gerard Pique well from their time as international teammates and will certainly back himself in a foot race but the Barca centre-back is a veteran of these occasions with a hugely impressive record when it comes to winning Finals.
Jordi Alba vs Carlos Soler
Another interesting battle will take place on the Barcelona left where Jordi Alba and Carlos Soler will be in direct competition. The Valencia youngster is a very composed footballer but isn’t a natural winger. Alba is still amongst the very best attacking full-backs in the world and he will give Soler one of the toughest tests of his career so far here.
It won’t all be one-way traffic though. If Alba does over commit, Soler will hope to exploit the space and he has proven himself to be a player of genuine technical quality and someone who can certainly pick a pass. It’s big occasions such as this that can be the making of young players and Soler is certainly one to keep an eye on with the 22 year old hoping to breakthrough onto the international fold over the next year.
This Saturday’s game isn’t the final big match in Spain this season. Read our Champions League Final betting tips here.
Arturo Vidal vs Dani Parejo
In the middle of the park, the most impressive performer on either side this season has been Dani Parejo. He has been both Valencia’s most creative player and often biggest goal threat in a season when their forwards have all too often failed to deliver the goods. The midfielder has 11 goals and 7 assists to his name in all competitions and while Valencia will be happy to concede possession to Barca at times, it’s also key that they are able to get their main man on the ball in order to get a real foothold in the game.
The man who may be tasked with stopping Parejo is Arturo Vidal. The Chilean has grown in importance over the course of the season. His battling qualities may not be of the traditional Barcelona midfield mould but he could be very useful in a game like this were Barca won’t have things all their own way and will need to match Valencia’s energy levels. He can lose his discipline at times though and he’s certainly one of the players most likely to be booked this Saturday.