Barcelona ready for King’s Cup game with tension over referees

Madrid, Jan 10 (IANS) Catalan football giants Barcelona have to overcome a 1-2 defeat from the first leg of their King’s Cup pre-quarterfinal when they entertain Athletic Club Bilbao in the Camp Nou stadium here on Wednesday night.

Barcelona go into the game on the back of a 1-1 La Liga draw against Villarreal which left chief coach Luis Enrique commenting that they need Real Madrid to slip up in the league in order to have a chance of retaining their title, reports Xinhua.

Both that game and the defeat in Bilbao saw Barcelona players complain about refereeing decisions going against them, with defender Gerard Pique even going as far as gesturing to La Liga President Javier Tebas, who watched Sunday’s draw from the stands, as if to imply there was a conspiracy against Barcelona.

Those perceived injustices are likely to assure a hostile atmosphere for referee Jesus Gil Manzano on Wednesday, although as Athletic midfielder Mikel San Jose has pointed out Athletic had two players sent off in the first leg (Raul Garcia and Ander Iturraspe) and neither will be available on Wednesday.

With La Liga looking increasingly difficult for Barcelona, their key players stayed at home training rather than attending Monday’s FIFA gala and Enrique can be expected to field his strongest possible side.

Meanwhile, Bilbao will remember the 1-1 draw last season which helped them win the Supercup and coach Ernesto Valverde will probably replace Garcia and Iturraspe with Iker Muniain and Benat Etxeberria.

Other ties to be played on Wednesday see Alaves face Deportivo la Coruna, after a 2-2 draw in the first leg. Second division sides Cordoba and Alcorcon will look to break the deadlock after a first leg 0-0 draw, while Villarreal have to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit at home to Real Sociedad.

–IANS

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