MX23RW : Saturday, September 25 01:42:10| >> :120:9295:9295:
May 27, 2017 at 8.30pm UK at Vicente Calderon
Barcelona
3-1
AlavesAlaves
Messi (30'), Neymar (45'), Alcacer (45')
FT(HT: 3-1)
Hernandez (33')

Preview: Barcelona vs. Alaves

Sports Mole previews Saturday evening's Copa del Rey final meeting between Barcelona and Alaves at the Vicente Calderon.

Luis Enrique takes charge of Barcelona for one final time on Saturday evening, as his side face rank outsiders Alaves in the Copa del Rey final at the Vicente Calderon.

The 47-year-old enjoyed much success in his first two campaigns at the helm but is now relying on this weekend's showpiece to salvage his final term, having failed in both the Champions League and La Liga.


Barcelona

FC Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and FC Barcelona at Stadio Olimpico on September 16, 2015© Getty Images

Less than a week on from seeing their title hopes finally put to an end by Real Madrid, concluding what felt like a season-long pursuit of their great rivals, this Spanish Cup final has arguably come at the wrong time for Barcelona.

Throw into the mix the arrest of former club president Sandro Rosell for money laundering, combined with the Spanish Supreme Court's decision to uphold Lionel Messi's 21-month jail sentence for tax fraud, and there is a risk of Barca taking their eye off the ball.

If losing out to Madrid at the top of La Liga had a sense of inevitability about it, even after a dramatic 3-2 win at the Bernabeu to extend the title race by an extra month, the resounding Champions League exit to Juventus at the quarter-final stage hammered home that the Catalan club are no longer the force of yesteryear.

This is very much a time of uncertainty at Camp Nou, with recently-departed Athletic Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde widely expected to take over from Enrique as soon as next Monday, and the ex-Barca player will have to get straight into strengthening the squad.

At key times this season Enrique has often been let down when rotating his squad, in contrast to Madrid who seemed to thrive when fringe players were brought in over the closing weeks, while the troublesome right-back slot desperately needs some attention.

Yet all this requires some context. Enrique did win a treble in his first season in charge, after all, and soon followed that up with a domestic league and cup double last time around, meaning that he can still bow out with eight major honours when factoring in the Super Cup and Club World Cup.

While the league season was ultimately a disappointment for Enrique and his charges, they did end it on a high by winning seven games in a row - including that Lionel Messi-inspired Bernabeu triumph that will live long in the memory - and scoring 28 goals in the process.

The nine goals shipped during that time says a lot about their shaky nature at the back, particularly in recent games with Gerard Pique absent, but the bookies are right to mark the record 28-time winners down as strong favourites as they seek a third-successive triumph in the competition.

Recent form in Copa del Rey: LWWWWD
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW


Alaves

General view of Vicente Calderon Stadium pitch and grandstands prior to start of the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Betis Balompie on October 27, 2013© Getty Images

Standing in Enrique's way for a winning send-off is an Alaves side on a real high, coming off the back of an impressive first campaign back in the Spanish top flight following a near decade-long absence.

During their time away from La Liga, the Babazorros dropped down as far as the third tier before beginning their ascent back up, marking their return by accruing 55 points from their 38 league fixtures - just one fewer than Espanyol in eighth.

It has been a memorable campaign right from the off, when holding Atletico Madrid to a dramatic late draw at this very ground and then beating a rotated Barcelona side at Camp Nou in their third outing, only seeing their unbeaten start come to an end in their fifth match.

It has not been plain sailing throughout but a seven-match unbeaten run to see out the campaign saw them finish comfortably inside the top half which, when factoring in the fact Barca have lost to the likes of Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna, Malaga and indeed Alaves this term, means that they should not be completely written off.

The best bet for Mauricio Pellegrino is to keep things tight, like in the most recent encounter at Mendizorroza which Barca eventually ran away with, and with one of the best defensive records in the division - 43 conceded all term, just two more than Madrid - they certainly have the ability to frustrate their more superior opponents.

The beaten 2001 UEFA Cup finalists have had far less luck at the other end of the field, however, scoring at a rate of just over a goal per game on average, so Barca's potentially makeshift defence should have a quieter evening than they have become accustomed to in recent weeks.

It would be fair to say that Alaves do not boast the same pedigree as Barcelona, with this their first ever appearance in the domestic cup final after previously reaching the semis twice before, most recently in 2004 when losing to eventual winners Real Zaragoza.

As ever, though, anything can happen in an end-of-season final, and having already beaten Barca once this term there will be no fear among those Alaves players as they enter the field for the final match to ever be staged at the Vicente Calderon.

Recent form in Copa del Rey DDWDDW
Recent form (all competitions): DDWWWD


Team News

Luis Suarez celebrates scoring during the La Liga game between Barcelona and Real Madrid on December 3, 2016© SilverHub

Barcelona, who set a new club record for goals scored in La Liga this season, will be without one member of their star forward trio as Luis Suarez saw his appeal against a suspension rejected.

Paco Alcacer, with seven goals in 27 outings this term, could be the man to step in alongside Messi and Neymar, but it is in that troublesome right-back spot where Enrique is given a selection headache.

With Sergi Roberto also absent due to a ban, Javier Mascherano is likely to fill in, while Pique should be back after a couple of games out through illness - Marlon Santos the player to make way if that is the case.

Pellegrino is without the injured Victor Laguardia, meanwhile, as he recently underwent a knee operation that will keep him out for up to eight months, so Rodrigo Ely and Zouhair Feddal are expected to continue their partnership in the heart of defence.

Edgar Mendez remains an option out on the right of a three-man attacking midfield, having been introduced from the bench for the last couple of matches, with top-scorer Deyverson - seven goals in 32 league outings in 2016-17 - leading the line.

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Mascherano, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Iniesta, Busquets, Rakitic; Messi, Alcacer, Neymar

Alaves possible starting lineup:
Pacheco; Femenia, Ely, Feddal, Hernandez; Garcia, Llorente; Mendez, Camarasa, Gomez; Deyverson


Head To Head

Barcelona have won 12 and drawn two of the previous 18 meetings between these two sides, coming out on top 6-0 in the most recent encounter at Mendizorroza just over three months ago.

Suarez, Neymar and Messi were all on target for Barca that day, but only after finally breaking down their opponents in the 36th minute after a tight start to the game.

The Catalan club lost 2-1 in that aforementioned league clash at Camp Nou early in the season, however, with that their first loss to the Babazorros since the 2001-02 campaign.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Barcelona 2-0 Alaves

Barcelona have the chance to end their season on a relative high with victory in the Spanish capital, giving Enrique the send-off he deserves after his three years at the club. Alaves are no pushovers, though, as seen in their impressive defensive stats this term, and the Catalan giants may therefore be made to work hard for their only piece of silverware this campaign.



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