Following their 1-1 draw in their league game at the weekend, those watching in the Santiago Bernabeu (as well as the many millions on television), might have wondered if Saturday’s physical encounter would serve as a benchmark for the remaining three ties. While the two line-ups may stay roughly unchanged, one thing is already certain: Barca will make one change in goal, bringing in Jose Pinto in place of Victor Valdes. Manager Pep Guardiola had already made it clear that should his side reach the final then Pinto would be automatic choice as goalkeeper should he be fit and ready.
At the other end of the field, Guardiola will be hoping that striker David Villa can rediscover his goal scoring touch in the familiar surroundings of the Mestalla stadium where he scored over 100 goals in Valencia colours. After appearing to having settled in nicely since his move to Catalunya in the summer, the 29-year old has found it difficult of late to find the back of the net. While the coach argues that Villa’s contribution is felt in other areas of the pitch, the Spanish striker will no doubt be itching to score on his old stomping ground, particularly after enduring a drought since his last goal against Almeria all the way back in February.
The men in the two dugouts are no strangers to this particular stage either. Guardiola skippered the Catalans to victory over Real Betis in the 1997 final, a 3-2 victory under the stewardship of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson. A year later, la Blaugrana retained the trophy, this time under the guidance of Dutchman Louis van Gaal. The assistant to the manager on both occasions – a certain Jose Mourinho.
History is once again on Barcelona’s side. Of the five meetings between the two sides in Copa del Rey finals, the Catalans have a 3-2 record over their rivals. Their last meeting at this stage of the competition was in 1990 and was also played at the Mestalla. Indeed, Barca’s record in finals at the famous old ground reads played five, won four, so previous form would dictate a Blaugrana win.
After the initial sparring on Saturday, expect the unexpected from tonight’s clash. Pep Guardiola has already proclaimed that Barcelona will faithfully adhere to their fluent, familiar style as they aim to deliver a psychological blow to their former employee and his team by bringing home the first major domestic silverware of the season.