CAN Barcelona continue their bid for a historic treble by getting the better of Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Cup final? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the best bets on offer…
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona | Saturday 20.30 | Sky Sports 5
Calling it a David versus Goliath clash might seem a little harsh on Athletic Bilbao but Les Leones face a huge test in the final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona on Saturday night; not least because the clash will take place at Barca’s Camp Nou home.
Following a stuttering start to the campaign, Athletic steadied themselves and finished their La Liga campaign strongly. The Basques were unbeaten in seven (W4-D3-L0) to conclude their season in seventh, guaranteeing qualification to next season’s Europa League.
Ernesto Valverde’s charges struck seven goals across their final two fixtures and will no doubt be hoping that Barcelona’s eyes are on next weekend’s Champions League final. Can Bilbao derail the Blaugrana’s treble-hopes? They’ll be backed by 45,000 fanatical fans in the Catalan capital so it’s certainly not inconceivable.
It is of course unlikely. Athletic have recorded just one victory in 24 against Barca and were thumped 5-2 by the La Liga champions on home soil back in early February. The Catalans fielded a weakened team against Deportivo in last weekend’s draw but had already secured the title and have been rampant in 2015.
Since opening the calendar year with an away defeat at Real Sociedad, Luis Enrique’s side have returned staggering figures of W29-D2-L2, scoring at least three goals in 20 of those 33 fixtures. Barcelona have been made 2/9 (888 Sport) favourites to win inside 90 minutes and it’s hard to argue – right now, they’re the best team on the planet.
But I wouldn’t be willing to totally write-off Athletic’s chances. So perhaps the best way to attack this game is to back a Barca win with Bilbao getting on the scoresheet. Athletic are stubborn opposition, conceding no more than one goal in 20 of their last 25 fixtures (W12-D9-L4) and their haul of 12 clean sheets across those games shows just how organised Valverde’s troops are defensively.
The Basque’s have proven ability in the final third too – only failing to notch in three of their last 18 matches and in 20 of their past 24. So with an eye on the Champions League final and resolute Bilbao in town, I’m backing the underdogs to make life difficult for the Spanish champions.
Coral are offering 19/10 on the Barcelona win and Both Teams To Score and that’s good enough for me.
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (19/10 Coral)