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29 February 2024

Confident Barca target King's Cup final berth

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (left) celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Villarreal CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on February 1, 2015. (AFP)

By Reuters

Barcelona are playing with a swagger that suggests they may be peaking at just the right time and will look to transfer that form into a berth in the King's Cup final starting on Wednesday.

The record winners with 26 domestic Cup triumphs, Barca go into their semi-final, first leg at home to Villarreal on the back of Sunday's 5-2 La Liga romp at Athletic Bilbao which lifted them to within a point of leaders Real Madrid.

With a Champions League last 16 clash at Manchester City looming at the end of the month, Luis Enrique's side have a confidence about them that has largely been missing since a golden era under Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2012.

The club have been beset by off-field woes in recent months, including a tax evasion probe into the signing of Neymar, but the Brazil forward and his team mates do not appear to have lost their focus.

Argentina captain Lionel Messi has been in spectacular form, scoring one goal and having a hand in the other four at the San Mames, despite reports of a bust-up with Luis Enrique, who is in his first term in charge at the Nou Camp.

Luis Enrique warned after the Bilbao success that Barca were bound to suffer more blips between now and the end of the season as they seek to return to winning ways after failure to win major silverware in 2013-14.

"It was a very good night for us but there will be surprises for all the teams across the rest of the season," the former Barca and Spain midfielder told a news conference.

"It would be wrong to start beating our chests now," he added.

"What we need to do now is be prepared so we can improve our performances, which will be key for the remainder of the campaign."

Villarreal, who lost 3-2 at Barca in La Liga this month, have already achieved their best Cup result by reaching the semi-finals.

They are sixth in La Liga and play Austria's Salzburg in the last 32 of the Europa League this month.

The winners of the Cup semi-final will play Athletic Bilbao, who claimed their 23rd and most recent success in 1984, or 2006 winners Espanyol in the final at the end of May.