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There are some significant (and soap opera-like) story lines to follow as Barcelona take on Alaves in the Copa del Rey championship final on Saturday.
Barcelona ended the La Liga season in second place, failing to claim the title, which went to rival Real Madrid. Lionel Messi’s side also fell short in UEFA Champions League, so they’re especially motivated to take their third Copa del Rey title in a row.
Off-the-field distractions abound as Barcelona also bring some drama to the final. Messi’s 21-month jail sentence for tax fraud was upheld by Spain’s Supreme Court and former club president Sandro Rosell was arrested for money laundering.
And Barcelona are expected to announce a new manager to replace Luis Enrique two days after the match. Media reports rumors that the club already has signed Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde to a two-year deal.
Barcelona vs Alavés: preview
Barcelona and Alavés have the honour of being the central characters in this last official game to be played at the Vicente Calderón – Atlético de Madrid’s home for the past 51 years. The Catalans are no strangers to the big occasion; they have won this trophy more than any other club with 28 triumphs from the 38 finals they’ve taken part in. It is a less familiar experience for Alavés, whose only previous acquaintance with a major cup final was the gripping 2001 UEFA Cup final when they gave Liverpool a good run for their money. Coach Mauricio Pellegrino has been through this all before during his playing days at Valencia – as have Gaizka Toqueroand Alexis Ruano, who played in finals with Athletic Club and Valencia respectively.
On a weekend of goodbyes, Luis Enrique will be in charge of his last game with Barcelona and as Gerard Piqué said on the eve of the game, the team wants to give him a decent send-off while Ernesto Valverde appears the man who will be receiving the baton. The 47-year-old coach brings to an end three successful years at Camp Nou in which he has won a clean sweep of domestic and European honours including the past two editions of the Copa del Rey, held at the same venue as today’s.
Barcelona will be keen to make the most of this chance to pick up some silverware after losing the league to Real Madrid but Alavés will be just as determined to make history by winning their first trophy in club history – as long as Pellegrino can help them keep any stage fright under control. History would suggest it will be Barcelonawho will be cracking open the cava in Canaletes later on Saturday night although you never know…
Barcelona team news
Luis Suárez’s season’s over after pulling a thigh muscle in Thursday’s session. He was suspended for the final in any case. Luis Enrique has had all of his available players in this week’s sessions and drafted in B team players Marlon Santos and Àlex Carbonell – the former should be listed when the coach publishes his squad on the morning of the game. Aleix Vidal has also returned to training on Wednesday, his first appearance since he suffered a nasty ankle injury in February, curiously, against Alavés.
Man to watch: Leo Messi. The Argentine will be collecting the ESM Golden Shoe award later this summer for the 37 goals he scored in LaLiga, and he will want to crown a great season, on individual terms, by winning what would be his fifth Copa del Rey winners’ medal. If he gets on the scoresheet on Saturday, Messi will overtake compatriot Alfredo Di Stéfano in the list of all-time scorers in the competition. Both players are currently joint 11th, on 43 goals each. A Barça triumph would also make Messi and Andrés Iniesta the club’s most decorated players, both are eyeing their 30th title with Barça.
Alavés team news
There was heartbreak for centre-back Víctor Laguardia who underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Tuesday. His absence means that Pellegrino will likely field three at the back with Kiko Femenía and Theo Hernández as attacking wing-backs. Carlos Vigaray or Alexis Ruano join Ely and Feddal at the back.
Man to watch: Deyverson. The Brazilian opened his account on his debut against Barcelona in Week 3 in Alavés’ shock 1-2 win at Camp Nou. Deyverson is an archetypal box player, a predator who always seems spring up in the right place when balls are played into the area. He also gave Real Madrid’s defence a tough time in Week 10 so he’s enjoyed success against LaLiga’s big guns already this season.