June 12, 2024

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Barcelona vs. Athletic Club: Decoding Xavi’s Copa del Rey Strategy

3 min read

Barcelona will be hoping to build on their impressive 2-4 win against Real Betis over the weekend as they turn their attention towards the Copa del Rey quarter-finals tonight.

The task at hand is Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club, who have been incredible this season. Currently sitting fifth in La Liga, level on points with Atletico Madrid, they beat Deportivo Alaves 2-0 in the Round of 16 and will be looking to cause an upset against Barça.

The Catalans, meanwhile, have been in far from their best form. While they beat Betis convincingly at the end through Ferran Torres’ perfect hattrick performance, Xavi’s side even struggled against third division side Unionistas in the RO16.

And it is too early to forget their dismal showing against Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final, losing 4-1 as Vinicius Jr scored a first-half hattrick.

Xavi will have most of his team ready for this clash, including the return of Joao Cancelo and Andreas Christensen, both of whom missed the Betis win. The former’s return, especially, is a huge boost to the side with Jules Kounde struggling with form.

Will Cancelo start immediately after returning to the squad fold or will Xavi continue trusting Pau Cubarsi at centre-back and Kounde as a right-back? And will Lamine Yamal retain his spot?

Defence: Cubarsi retained

16-year-old Pau Cubarsi made his senior team debut against Unionistas in the CdR, was awarded a start against Betis. He was eventually substituted off with a cramp but is expected to retain his spot as a centre-back today after a superb display.

Ronald Araujo looked much solid on the weekend, as well, after a run of poor form. The Uruguayan will need to keep it up with Andreas Christensen back in the squad and Inigo Martinez soon back knocking on the door, too.

This pairing will be tasked with screening Inaki Pena, who has come into scrutiny a fair few times lately, including for Isco’s second goal against Barcelona.

As much as he dislikes it, Jules Kounde should continue as the right-back, but will likely get his time back in the heart of the defence with Cancelo now back. Alejandro Balde is expected to start as the left-back.

Oriol Romeu was getting his minutes in the team in the Copa del Rey, but is expected to be relegated to the bench tomorrow, as Ilkay Gundogan continues as the pivot.

Pedri created Ferran Torres’ first goal vs Betis, while Frenkie de Jong put in a tremendous shift, too. Both players, alongside Gundogan, are a treat to sore eyes when on song, and will likely be starting tomorrow in the centre of the park.

Attack: Felix returns

Joao Felix came off the bench against Betis, and eventually scored the winner while the game was hanging at 2-2 with a sensational outside-of-the-boot finish. Xavi is expected to start him as the left-winger, hoping he can keep up his form.

Lamine Yamal was one of the best players on the night, too, but is unlikely to start tomorrow after playing 90 minutes. With Raphinha out, too, his right-wing spot will be taken over by hattrick-hero Ferran Torres.

Robert Lewandowski has seen a fair few minutes on the bench recently, with the team looking very static with him leading the line. It seems unlikely, though, that Xavi will give minutes to Marc Guiu or Vitor Roque against Athletic, giving the Pole a free run as the striker again.

Felix · Lewandowski · Ferran

de Jong · Gundogan · Pedri

Balde · Cubarsi · Araujo · Kounde

Pena

Substitutes

The Barcelona coaching staff has been cautious with Pedri recently, taking him off whenever possible to avoid injuries or fatigue. The trend is likely to continue tomorrow, with Fermin Lopez in contention to get a good 20-30 minutes off-the-bench.

Vitor Roque and/or Marc Guiu will continue to be options for Barcelona, both of whom are incredible pressers off-the-ball, providing a lot more fluidity to the team. One or both of them are expected to get game-time tonight.

Xavi will also likely rely on Oriol Romeu at some point, hoping the Spaniard can turn his form around with a solid display. Sergi Roberto, too, is expected to come on.

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