Barça begin the defence of the Copa del Rey title won last season with a visit to Second Division B sideVillanovense in the first leg of their last 32 tie. The club from the town of Villanueva de la Serena face the biggest day in their 23 year history and have increased the capacity of their Romero Cuerda Stadium from 3,000 to 11,000 especially for the visit of the blaugranes for the game which kicks off on Wednesday at 8.30pm CET.
Luis Enrique’s team trained on Tuesday for the last time ahead of their debut in the Cup this season. The blaugrana coach named his squad after the session and there were some notable absentees from the 16 man list. Luis Súarez and Neymar are both rested as are Piqué, Busquets, Mascherano and Claudio Bravo,players who have all figured prominently for the blaugranes in all competitions this season so far. Andrés Iniesta is still not quite fully recovered from his hamstring injury and so misses out as do Leo Messi and Rafinha, also through injury. Luis Enrique has completed his squad with four players from the B squad,Gerard Gumbau, Sergi Samper, Aitor Cantalapiedra and Kaptoum. The full squad is as follows: Ter Stegen, Douglas, Rakitic, Dani Alves, Bartra, Munir, Jordi Alba, Sandro, Adriano, Vermaelen, Mathieu, Jordi Masip, Gumbau, Samper, Aitor and Kaptoum.
For the home side Villanovense, the visit of Barça will be a special day for midfielder Francisco Sánchez Curiel ‘Curro’, who spent part of his teenage years in the U16 and U19 sides at La Masia where he was a team mate of former blaugrana keepers Pepe Reina and Víctor Valdés. Jose Ruiz Cutillas ‘Casi’ is top scorer for Julio Cobos’ side in the competition with three goals, all coming in the win over Peña Sport in the round before last.
In his traditional pre-game press conference on Tuesday at the Ciutat Esportiva, Luis Enrique revealed that he would have liked to have selected more B team players in the squad were it not for Cup regulations regarding eligibility: “We are limited in the number of Barça B players that we can use. I would like more players to rest, but that’s what the rule is and it has to be followed.”
Villanovense boss Julio Cobos made it clear in his appearance before the press that his side were not going to ‘give the tie away’. However, at the same time he admitted that simply being in the competition as this stage was a success in itself: “We have to enjoy it. It’s a unique chance and we have to make the most of it competitively. You have to realise that the champìons of Europe, the league and the Cup are coming to visit. Here, if you want to see top flight football you have to travel for miles, Welcoming Barça is the biggest thing there is for us.”
Luis Enrique’s team have won their last nine matches in the Copa del Rey, culminating in the victory overAthletic Bilbao last season in the final at Camp Nou. The victory over Eibar at the weekend in the league keeps them level on points with leaders Real Madrid and was their third consecutive victory following on from the recent international break.
Villanovense currently sit in 11th place in the regionalised third tier of Spanish Football, the Segunda B, there they compete in Group 4. Julio Cobo’s side have lost just once in their last five matches and to reach the last 32 in the Cup they have disposed of Navarran club Peña Sport and Galicians Racing Club Ferrol.
The two side have never met before with Villanovense never having made it out of the Segunda B in their short history. Last season they reached the play offs after finishing fourth in the league but missed out on a chance to gain promotion to the Segunda A with defeat in the first round. Barça have met teams from the region of Extremadura on two previous occasions in the Copa del Rey, each time coming through without problems: Don Benito in 1930/31 and Mérida in 1997/98.
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