That said, the opponents aren’t here to hand the trophy to the Catalans. Sevilla have just come back from Basel after easing past Liverpool to retain the Europa League and make it their third in a row, and their fifth in history (including the Uefa Cup).
The rojiblancos from Andalucia have also won the Copa del Rey five times, their most recent triumphs coming in 2006/07 and 2009/2010. Their 2007 winning side with names such as Dani Alves, Jesús Navas and Frédéric Kanouté, and their 2010 side including Diego Capel and Alvaro Negredo.
Sevilla are known to be a buy-and-sell kind of club, and the genius of sporting director Monchi Rodríguez makes them one of the best clubs in the world at doing so. Monchi has an incredible skill of picking up players for a few million euros, sometimes even a few hundred thousand euros, seeing them perform on the big stage of La Liga and in Europe, and then flogging them off a couple of season’s later for big money. See the likes of Carlos Bacca, bought in from Club Brugge for around 6.7 million euros, and sold on to AC Milan two years later for 29 million euros. I could go on, but I’m sure I’d get as upset and jealous as you would.
Barcelona go into the game feeling confident after securing the Liga title on the final day, and will have mixed feelings in paying the Vicente Calderón another visit, a stadium with some good times and some bad times for the club. Also, a very interesting stadium. Next to the appropriately named Calderón flows the Rio Manzanares river, but even more interestingly, underneath the Calderón’s tribuna stand, a main road is in full working order, making for the strange gaps in two of the stadium’s corners.
Controversy was surrounding the Catalan independence flag, the estelada, and its banning from the stadium a few days ago, but after a court case, the ban has been overruled and seen as a denial of a human right, freedom of expression. After this outcome, Barça players will walk out onto the pitch, look to their right and see an ocean of red, yellow, a touch of blue and some little white stars.
Since parading the league title a few days back, the Barça squad has been in good health and all 24 first team players are hopping on the plane to Madrid to join in what will hopefully be a celebration into the night.
Claudio Bravo and Sandro Ramírez received the medical green light on Friday and will be available for the match, but will probably take a view from the bench with Marc-André Ter Stegen being the cup ‘keeper, and Sandro being a reserve at best.
Possible starting XI: Ter Stegen – Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba – Rakitić, Busquets, Iniesta – Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Match squad: Ter Stegen, Bravo, Masip, Douglas, Piqué, Rakitic, Busquets, Alves, Arda Turan, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Bartra, Munir, Jordi Alba, Sandro, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Aleix Vidal, Vermaelen, Mathieu
Sevilla could be without up to five players on Sunday night. Michael Krohn-Dehli and Benoît Trémoulinas will miss the final through injury, Steven N’Zonzi and Timothée Kolodziejczak through suspension. The Andalucians had injury doubts over Adil Rami and Jose Antonio Reyes, but both travel with the squad.
Against Liverpool, Unai Emery chose to play two right backs in the side, with Brazilian player Mariano starting in the actual position, and Spaniard Coke adopting the right midfield spot. Anyone who watched the match could see how effective this was against an average Alberto Moreno, and Emery could adopt the tactic again for this final to counter Jordi Alba.
Possible starting XI: Rico – Mariano, Rami, Carriço, Escudero – Iborra, Krychowiak – Vitolo, Banega, Coke – Gameiro
Match squad: Sergio Rico, David Soria, Beto, Mariano, Diogo, Coke, Pareja, Rami, Fazio, Carriço, Escudero, Krychowiak, Cristóforo, Luismi, Iborra, Banega, Vitolo, Curro, Konoplyanka, Reyes, Juan Muñoz, Gameiro, Llorente.
Finals are always difficult to call, anything can happen, virtually unknown players can burst into top form, out of form players can hit their heights at a click of the fingers and substitutes can change the tie, but it’s difficult not to envisage Barça players and staff punching the air with delight at the final whistle. I’ll go with a 3-1 win in favour of Barça, and a double to celebrate!