Copa del Rey semis promise entertainment despite absence of the Madrid clubs
Barcelona, February 10 (IANS)
FC Barcelona entertain Villarreal, while Athletic Club Bilbao are at home to Espanyol in the first leg of the two semifinals of the King's Cup on Wednesday.
Barcelona are currently Spain's in-form club as they showed at the weekend with a stunning 5-2 win in Bilbao where they played some of their best football of the entire season, reports Xinhua.
The Catalans go into their semifinal knowing they recently defeated Villarreal 3-2 in the Camp Nou, but also aware that a repeat of that score in the Cup would not be such a good result as it would leave Villarreal with options intact in the return leg, to be played at the start of March.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique will stick with his attacking trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, while Javier Mascherano will replace Jeremy Mathieu in central defence and Andres Iniesta will step in for Xavi Hernandez in midfield.
Villarreal will visit the Camp Nou again, buoyed by the fact that they were unlucky to have lost in the league and in excellent form themselves. Marcelino Garcia's side is currently sixth in the La Liga and playing some of the best passing football in Spain.
In the other semifinal, Athletic aim to reach their third final in six years. Despite the defeat to Barcelona Sunday, the Basque outfit also played reasonably well and are showing signs of recovery following a poor run at the start of the year.
Athletic will put their confidence in striker, Aritz Aduriz, who netted his 100th La Liga goal at the weekend, while Mikel San Jose, who has scored important goals this season will continue in central midfield as Ander Iturraspe recovers from a knee injury.
Espanyol have improved since their 1-3 league defeat in Bilbao earlier this season, although they are without midfielder Canas for the trip to the San Mames Stadium, which will be packed with 53,000 fans despite an unfavorable 10pm kick off time.