Copa del Rey Final: 5 Things We Learned from Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona
As expected, Barcelona sent off manager Pep Guardiola in style with a 3-0 win in the Copa del Rey final. The trophy brings Barcelona's season to a solid close after the club missed out on the La Liga and Champions League titles this season.
For Athletic Bilbao, this brings the Basque club's season to a disappointing end, as Bilbao have now lost two cup finals in close succession and finished far out from the Champions League places in 10th place.
Though the main story playing in the background of this game was Guardiola's departure from Barcelona, there were still many observations to be made regarding the action actually taking place on the field.
Here are the top five lessons we learned.
Pedro Is Back
Angel Martinez/Getty Images
The 2011-12 season has not been a kind one for Pedro. Poor form, injuries and greater competition on the wings have prevented the Pedro from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons to play this season.
But with two well-taken goals in the Copa del Rey final, scored by typically good position, reaction-time and finishing, Pedro may finally be poised to overcome his struggles and return to the Pedro of old.
Pedro could really give the Spanish national team a major boost on the wings if he is able to show the same level of play he boasted a year ago.
From there, if he plays well with his national team, his form should translate over to Barcelona and help him keep his place in the team ahead of guys like David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Ibrahim Afellay, Cesc Fabregas, etc.
Barca Will Be Okay Without Guardiola
Angel Martinez/Getty Images
Barcelona's first goal may have been a case of opportunistic finishing from Pedro, but the second and third goals from Barcelona were typical Barca.
Iniesta threaded a world-class pass to Lionel Messi which he expertly finished for the second, and Xavi set up Pedro perfectly to slot home the third goal.
The style that Pep Guardiola brought to Barcelona was clearly evident in Barcelona's play, and it produce exquisite pieces of skill crucial to the build-up to Barca's second and third goals.
But that same style isn't leaving with Guardiola. Tito Villanova will likely know how to continue teaching it in a manner similar to the way Guardiola did, and even if he doesn't, the style is embedded in the play of legends like Iniesta, Xavi and Messi.
Those three won't change their playing style too much no matter who coaches; they've been playing the "Barca way" for so long and will likely continue to do so.
So never fear Barca fans. As long as Barca has experienced players like Iniesta and Xavi to call upon, the Barca style will never be gone from Barcelona.
Is Javi Martinez Worth the Hype?
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
This was the second consecutive cup final in which Javi Martinez looked weak and was unable to prevent his team from conceding a big number of goals.
Against Barcelona, Martinez was moved from centre-back to centre-midfield, but he was once again unable to impose himself. He did little to lock down Barca's big players, and did little going forward too as he spent much of his time back-tracking.
All of this poses the question...is the Spanish midfielder-cum-centre-back worth it? Sources have teams like Manchester City bidding as much as £25 million for the player, but on the back of the displays I've seen from him recently, I doubt he's worth it.
It also looks increasingly likely that either Sergio Ramos or Raul Albiol will partner Gerard Pique in the center of defense. That means Martinez likely won't get big-time game experience, and thus his price won't shoot up nearly as much as earlier anticipated.
Marcelo Bielsa to Blame?
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
After the game, Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa said:
I accept that the approach we presented was not successful. I realise that. I'm the decision-maker.
I represent and am responsible for a team that today did not carry through the plan I had established.
According to Sam Tighe's tactical analysis of the final, the loss to Barcelona may very well have been Bielsa's fault. Strict man-marking and "dogged tracking" meant Bilbao were frequently stretched and exposed to attacks by Gerard Pique, who was largely undefended in Bielsa's system.
Bielsa is often heralded as a genius by many, but Bilbao's results haven't exactly reflected that genius throughout this year's campaign. Two cup finals is great, but the two losses represent two separate occasions in which Bielsa has been out-smarted.
In addition, Bilbao's 10th-place La Liga finish is the function of a number of slip-ups by Bielsa. As underfunded/under-spending as Bilbao are, their squad this season was good enough for a top-six or even top-four finish.
Bilbao will likely be happy to keep Bielsa for as long as he's willing to stay, but Bielsa will want to improve results if he wants to say on the good side of the Bilbao fans.
Clash of Cultures
Angel Martinez/Getty Images
Barcelona and Bilbao are two of the most unique teams in the world. Both represent how prosperous a club can become with a productive youth system.
But at the same time, the pair are like two sides of a coin. Bilbao observe a rather strict Basque-only player policy, although the policy is usually loosened to allow for the transfer in of players with Basque ancestry.
Nevertheless, the club's tight criteria for player transfers, as well as a limited transfer budget, means that the club is often unable to purchase players in the squad's weaker positions and must often settle for whatever is available at the club.
That is why 20-year-old Jon Aurtenetxe, a centre-back, has played as a left-back for Bilbao for much of the season.
On the other hand, Barcelona in recent years have spent big to compliment a core of Barcelona-bred (and often Catalan) players with the best players from around the world.
Clearly, the strategy of Barcelona has paid greater dividends in terms of trophies and revenue. But of course, Barcelona is the bigger club, and Bilbao's accomplishments are greater than many clubs of the same stature and size as Bilbao.
Next season will be big in determining what direction Bilbao go for the next couple of seasons. The club has historically been quite content with mid-table finishes, but Bielsa is unlikely to be content with a lack of progress from his players.
Either he'll push Bilbao higher or he'll leave and Bilbao will stay where they are. It's not exactly a life-or-death situation for Bilbao, but it will determine the course of Bilbao's next few seasons.