Barcelona seek revenge for early-season defeat as they travel to Alaves
Celta Vigo or Alaves? That was the question put to Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen after an impressive individual performance against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday ensured the Catalan side reached their fourth consecutive Copa del Rey final.
"I want Alaves so that we can get revenge for the first game I played with Barca," he replied without hesitation.
Cillessen's first game for his new club following a summer move from Ajax came against Alaves in La Liga. On paper, it looked like a nice starter for him -- a newly promoted club at Camp Nou. On the pitch, it was a disaster. The second-half introduction of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez couldn't prevent a heavily rotated Barca team losing 2-1 to the Basque side.
In May, then, just as he requested, Cillessen will have his shot at revenge after Alaves deservedly downed Celta on Wednesday and set up a meeting with the Blaugrana. The Dutch international's teammates, though, won't have to wait so long. They will get that shot on Saturday.
That's because Cillessen will almost certainly be on the bench -- he normally only plays Copa del Rey games -- when Barca step out on to the pitch at Mendizorroza this weekend and bid to avenge September's shock loss.
But if that defeat to a side who last season were in Spain's second tier was a surprise then, it seems like less of a surprise now. Or at least that's what Luis Enrique claimed on Friday as he lauded an Alaves team who have not just reached their first ever Copa del Rey final, but are also on a run that has seen them suffer just one defeat in 17 games in all competitions.
"They're the revelation of the season," he said in his pregame news conference. "They surprised us here at Camp Nou, but they're no longer a surprise -- look at their form."
Luis Enrique singled out the attacking threat offered by Deyverson, Ibai Gomez and Kiko Femenia, before praising the consistency of midfield duo Manu Garcia and Marcos Llorente. They also have La Liga's fifth-meanest defence, so he was quite clear: This is a red-tape game for Barca.
But while this Copa del Rey final dress rehearsal represents a chance of revenge -- as well as containing some clear warning signs that Alaves should not be underestimated -- the Barca coach will once again shuffle his pack.
Already without injured duo Javier Mascherano and Rafinha, Gerard Pique and Arda Turan became last-minute dropouts for the trip to Vitoria on Friday. In addition to those four absentees, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets only returned from injuries with midweek cameos against Atletico.
To make up the numbers, teenage midfielder Carles Alena has been added to the 18-man traveling party.
And on top of that, as much as the game-by-game motto has become a particular favourite of modern-day managers, Luis Enrique will no doubt have one eye on Tuesday's Valentine's Day date in Paris; Barca play Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie.
There is better news, though, in the form of the recovery of some of the club's squad players.
Aleix Vidal was singled out after the September loss to Alaves and didn't play again in the league until January. The former Sevilla man is right back in the thick of Luis Enrique's squad now, though, and has even scored two goals in his past five appearances.
Elsewhere, Denis Suarez recently broke his duck, netting in back-to-back games last month, and Andre Gomes' performance against Atletico showed moments of encouragement. There are signs that Barcelona can rely on their depth more than they could when they were punished when they rotated against Alaves and Malaga earlier in the season.
Given the dangers, though, it's probable that Messi, Neymar and Suarez all start.
But to go back to the original question, it's not actually that easy. Celta and Alaves are the only teams to have beaten Barcelona in the league this season -- and wanting revenge is not as easy as getting it.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.