Barcelona meet familiar foe Athletic Bilbao in Copa del Rey quarterfinal

Barcelona will look to progress to the next round of the Copa del Rey but a tough opponent in Athletic Bilbao stands in their way.

Real Betis v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports
Real Betis v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports / David Ramos/GettyImages
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No rest for the weary as Barcelona is forced to quickly turn the page on their 4-2 win over Real Betis to focus on the Copa del Rey.

A Copa del Rey quarterfinal that will see the Catalan side face a familiar foe in the shape of Athletic Bilbao. What makes this one-legged affair even more difficult is the match will be played at San Mamés.

"Athletic [Bilbao] are an aggressive side and they will pressure us a lot," Xavi Hernandez said in his pre-match press conference. "They have a great coach and international players who are in excellent form such as Nico Williams, Sancet and De Galarreta. Also they have a stadium and fans that make a lot of noise and gets behind them. It will be a tough game and we will have to compete."

In a lot of ways, this is an anticipated final as these two sides have consistently met in the final of the Copa del Rey in recent history. The last time was in the 2021 edition with the Catalan side winning 4-0.

When it comes to playing in the final, Barcelona have the advantage. Any other round of the competition, the balance tips to the Basques' favor.

Athletic Bilbao beat Barcelona 1-0 in the 2020 quarterfinals and beat them again 3-2 two seasons later in extra time.

Barcelona do catch a bit of a break as Athletic Bilbao won't be able to count on Iñaki Williams who is currently on international duty with Ghana in the African Cup of Nations.

Barcelona also recover two of their players as Andreas Christensen and João Cancelo made the squad list. Christensen was subbed off during halftime in their win over Unionistas de Salamanca. Cancelo picked up an injury early in the month in their league match against Las Palmas.

For Xavi and his team, the Copa del Rey takes on added significance as it's the one competition they realistically have a chance at winning.

In LaLiga, they're 7 points back of Real Madrid and 8 points behind Girona. While they got, on paper, a favorable draw in the Champions League in Napoli, even if they do get past the Italian side, they're hardly anyone's pick to win it.

Given their humiliating defeat against Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final, the Copa del Rey may be what ultimately saves Xavi's job. It could also be the beginning of the end should they not get past Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona don't enter the match as favorites despite their win over Betis. The 4-2 scoreline is a little deceiving as Betis managed to draw level two goals down. Barcelona played well but they also had a 10-minute lapse where they switched off and allowed those two goals.

The side managed by Ernesto Valverde are a tougher opponent and will take advantage of any lapses in concentration. Their most recent encounter was earlier this season where it took an 80th minute goal from Marc Guiu to give Barcelona the victory.

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It remains to be seen whether Xavi starts off with one or both of Christensen and Cancelo in the starting line-up. What is certain is Xavi will be hoping they can carry the momentum from the win over the weekend to San Mamés. With Real Madrid out of the competition, Barcelona cannot afford to let their most feasible path to silverware slip away.