Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona and Sevilla will know the success of their respective seasons is on the line when they go head to head in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.
The Cup would certainly have been third on Barca’s list of priorities only a month ago, but the shattering Champions League defeat to Roma has altered perceptions of what might have otherwise have been a stellar campaign.
Unbeaten in La Liga and virtually certain to win the title, a domestic double may not be enough to remove the lingering disappointment from Rome, particularly if arch rivals Real Madrid clinch their third consecutive European crown.
“I live with a little anxiety,” Barca midfielder Philippe Coutinho said Thursday. “But it is a very important and very happy moment, playing a final only two or three months after arriving.”
Another surprise loss this weekend would certainly settle the argument, even if it seems strange to declare a team under pressure six days after they marked the longest unbeaten run in La Liga history.
In moulding his team around organisation, hard work and the irrepressible Lionel Messi, Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has steered this team away from the club’s more free-flowing, attacking traditions.
He has proven a master of extraction, drawing the very best from a squad that unexpectedly lost one of its star strikers in Neymar last summer, and owns far less talent than its predecessors.
Sevilla have fewer questions to answer in terms of entertaintment. Since Vincenzo Montella took charge in December, they have beaten Atletico Madrid, twice, Manchester United and drawn with Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
They have also conceded five goals at home to Real Betis and lost to minnows Alaves, Eibar and Leganes. In their draw against Barca, they shipped two goals in the 87th and 89th minutes.
“We know how they play, that they have quality and a fast counter-attack,” Coutinho said. “The most important thing is to think about ourselves, how we have to play and what we should do to win.”
Sitting seventh in the table and 17 points adrift of the top four, a trophy — particularly with a win over Barca — would diminish a disappointing league position and enhance their run to the Champions League quarter-finals. Lose, and there will be little left to cling onto.
“We have a great opportunity to win a title for the club,” Sevilla midfielder Pablo Sarabia said. “We have to think about the good things from this season.