Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona: Josep Guardiola Gives La Blaugrana Mental Edge
Barcelona will have a distinct mental edge in coach Josep Guardiola's final game on La Blaugrana's sidelines.
La Blaugrana will face Athletic Bilbao in Friday's Copa del Rey contest. Guardiola will try and add this title to his laundry list of prior accomplishments, including coaching Barcelona to 13 championships since 2008.
Guardiola's departure gives Barcelona something extra to play for. La Blaugrana's talented side will want to send Guardiola out on a high note.
Beating Bilbao would be a nice finish to his illustrious Barcelona career.
La Blaugrana already had more talent than Bilbao. Add in Guardiola's eminent departure and Barcelona will be at the top of their game in Friday's match.
Let's take a look at the advantage Guardiola gives Barcelona, and how it plays into this game.
Guardiola's success on the Barcelona sidelines is astounding.
Will Guardiola take a job elsewhere?
He has won La Liga's Coach of the Year award three years running, leading La Blaugrana to wins in nearly 73 percent of their matches since 2008. Guardiola's Barcelona teams are an unbelievable plus-454 during that time.
Success like this does not greet every 41-year-old coach at the door.
Guardiola was an above-average player for Barcelona from 1990 to 2001 before taking over as manager of Barcelona B in 2007. He worked his way up, honed his strategy and used his youthful energy to grab player's attention.
Barcelona's success is due as much to Guardiola's coaching as it is to current players Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez.
Winning for Your Guy
Every loyal athlete wants to win for the coach that got him there. La Blaugrana will want to win more for Guardiola on Friday than they normally would.
For a team with so much talent, this should make Bilbao nervous.
Granted, Barcelona will not be left hanging by Guardiola. His assistant, Tito Vilanova, will take over coaching duties next season.
But Vilanova is not Guardiola, nor should he try to be.
Barcelona will want to win on Friday because Vilanova is not Guardiola. Guardiola got this squad to where they are today, wants to win and his team will want to win for him.
Athletic Bilbao would be smart not to underestimate this factor.
How Does It Play into Today's Game?
Barcelona finished 42 points ahead of Athletic Bilbao in the La Liga standings this season.
La Blaugrana's talent would have handed them a victory in Copa del Rey without Guardiola's departure swinging the emotional factor so far in their direction.
Barcelona is currently on a five-game winning streak with three victories and two draws. This will only benefit Copa del Rey's most successful team of all time.
La Blaugrana will be without David Villa, Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Daniel Alves on Friday.
Villa's injury will hamper Barcelona's attack. Puyol, Abidal and Alves' injuries deplete Barcelona's defense.
But the gap is still too much to overcome for Bilbao.
Barcelona still boasts the world's best player in Messi, solid goal scorers in Alexis Sanchez and Xavi and playmakers in Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta.
La Blaugrana's cabinet is far from empty.
Guardiola will enjoy coaching his high-powered squad to their 14th title in four years. He has the advantage on the pitch, and gives his squad an advantage himself.
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