Barcelona can cap four illustrious years under Pep Guardiola with a 14th trophy when they play Athletic Bilbao in Friday’s Copa del Rey final.
The match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium will be Guardiola’s last in charge of the team, ending an unprecedented period of success for Barcelona since the former player took charge in 2008.
“He’s got that intense look about him”
Barca sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta on Guardiola
The 41-year-old Guardiola will be looking to finish the way he started, as a 4-1 cup victory over Athletic three years ago provided the first prize for his trophy cabinet.
Ready to hand over the coaching duties to his assistant and good friend Tito Vilanova, Guardiola will look at the game as an opportunity to cap a season that started well but finished poorly.
Barcelona haven’t played a meaningful game in one month after they lost to eventual Champions League winner Chelsea in the semifinals, just days after losing to Real Madrid to surrender their three-year hold on the Spanish league.
“He’s got that intense look about him,” Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said of Guardiola.
A record 26th domestic cup will at least send Guardiola out on a high and would deliver a fourth trophy this campaign after winning the Spanish Super Cup, European Super Cup and Club World Cup.
Barcelona remain without injured striker David Villa and their defence is also depleted as Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Daniel Alves are all missing.
“His departure is going to be dramatic for me,” defender Gerard Pique said.
“He’ll leave a void but with Tito will continue on and we’ll do well. It’s normal for eras to end in football.”
Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa could also be seeing his term coming to an end.
Bielsa hasn’t said whether he will continue next season or not, and the Argentine coach has refused to budge on the question until after the cup final.
Like Barcelona, Bilbao risks closing the season on a low, having lost 3-0 to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final.
The Basque club will have welcomed a long layoff following the longest season of any Spanish club playing in Europe.
The pair of teams have combined to win the competition 48 times, and the matchup promises to provide unrelenting, attacking football.
“We know what Barca is, the great team it is,” Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente said.
“They’re better than us, but in a final we can cut that difference down and play equal to them. They are missing important players, great players, but I’m sure they will find others to fill in.”