Copa del Rey: Messi, others eye end to 2017 poor startShare:
Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team-mates are looking to make the Copa del Rey quarter finals while also bringing to an end their unimpressive start to the new year when they host Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday in a return leg fixture at Camp Nou.
Following last week's heated encounter at San Mamés Barria between the pair, the second leg is expected to provide the same intensity with the two most successful clubs in the competition going head-to-head.
Jasper Cillessen is back in contention after recovering from a calf injury that he suffered on 30 December, as the Dutch keeper returned to training on Tuesday. In what is a must-win game for Barça, Luis Enrique will be delighted that he has all first team players at his disposal for the encounter.
The same cannot be said for the visitors: on top of the injuries to Óscar de Marcos, Yeray Álvarez and Ager Aketxe, Athletic will also be without goalkeeper Kepa who suffered a serious muscular problem in their last league game against Alavés.
In addition, Athletic boss Ernesto Valverde is sweating over the fitness of Iñaki Williams who had to pull out of Tuesday’s training due to a fever. Meanwhile, Raúl García and Ander Iturraspe are ruled out after their red cards in the first leg.
Barça breezed into the last-16 of the cup by beating Herculés 8-1 on aggregate but things were not quite so routine against Athletic last week as Valverde’s side picked up a narrow advantage due to goals from Aritz Aduriz and Williams.
The Catalans are looking for their first win of 2017 as they could only manage a 1-1 draw during Sunday’s league game against Villarreal.
Athletic are enjoying a good run of form of late, with just one defeat in their last eight, though their 0-0 draw at home to Alavés on the weekend will not have been
Last week’s encounter was the 32nd meeting between the pair over the last decade, and though the 2-1 loss at San Mamés was just the third Barça defeat in those matches, only a win will be do this time around for Luis Enrique’s men.
The two sides share plenty of history, especially in the Copa del Rey in recent years, with three Copa del Rey finals that have all gone Barça’s way, as well as winning both legs when the two sides met in last season’s edition of the cup.
The last three league meetings have also gone in the Catalans’ favour, so the home faithful have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances.
Luis Enrique - Barcelona manager
"I consider fan support to be vital. There has to be a certain level of pressure created in the atmosphere and I am convinced we’ll see an attendance in keeping with the level of this tournament.
"If we score a goal we’ll be ahead on aggregate and Athletic will have to take risks. That will make the game and the tournament all the more attractive."
Valverde - Bilbao manager
"I expect a high voltage match in which we are awaiting a very strong starting Barcelona side because they will be keen to make up for the last two games. We know they are at a disadvantage and that they will go all out."
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