Wednesday night sees the completion of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals for 2018/19, and there’s little doubt that the fare on offer at Camp Nou will be required viewing.
Barcelona are 2-0 behind to Sevilla, and though they managed to turnaround a deficit in the last 16 tie against Levante, the Andalusian side is a different proposition entirely.
They’re also about as far removed from the team that were hammered 5-0 by the Catalans in last year’s final as it’s possible to be.Ernesto Valverde took the chance to rest some of his major stars in the first leg, as he did against Levante, and that’s surely as a direct result of the tiredness that those same players felt in the latter part of the last campaign, which came back to haunt Barca in Rome.
It begs the question as to just how important the Copa del Rey is to Barcelona this season.
The Blaugrana have appeared in seven of the last eight finals, winning five of them, including the last four consecutively.
Whilst it’s folly to suggest the club would deliberately lose a match, it occurs to many that it is the lowest priority on their list for the current campaign.
Lionel Messi was just one player who stated at the outset of the season that the Champions League was Barcelona’s priority, even above winning the league.
Having won their UCL ‘group of death’ comfortably, they’ve been rewarded with a winnable tie in the last 16 against Lyon, though Valverde and his backroom team will take nothing for granted.
Five points ahead in La Liga, the rest of the Spanish top flight and Real Madrid, Atleti and Sevilla in particular, have it all to do to stop Barca winning their eighth title in the last 11 seasons.
Keeping their best players fresh for the business end of the campaign has to be playing a part in Valverde’s thought process for the Sevilla game, and who is selected by the Basque coach on Wednesday will give everyone a firm idea of the club’s intentions for the rest of 2018/19.
A 2-0 reverse isn’t insurmountable by any means, particularly if Messi plays in the second leg. Sevilla remain his favourite victims and alongside Suarez and Coutinho et al, one of those special nights could be forthcoming.
However, should Valverde go with a weakened XI, with respect, or even if he doesn’t and Barca are just poorer on the night, being knocked out of the cup might not be the disaster many are expecting.
The associated benefits may not be felt until March/April time, and it does mean the club are putting all of their eggs in the Champions League basket, but if the squad isn’t strong enough to challenge on all three fronts, then elimination from one isn’t the end of the world.
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