BARCELONA (Reuters) - A euphoric Alaves who have reached the King’s Cup final for the first time in their 96-year history will demand “a very good version” of Barcelona in their La Liga clash in Vitoria on Saturday, according to Barca coach Luis Enrique.
Alaves, who face holders Barca in the Cup final, have won six, including a 2-1 triumph at the Nou Camp, and drawn nine of their 21 league games since winning promotion to La Liga this season. The Basque side are 12th in the standings and have not lost at home since Nov. 20.
”It’s the surprise team of the season,“ Luis Enrique told a news conference on Friday. ”Not just because of their numbers but also for their consistency.
“They have already beaten us and can beat us again. That is why we need a very good version of us to take the three points.”
Barca will play Alaves in their fourth successive King’s Cup final on May 27.
“It’s an unusual situation,” Luis Enrique said. “I don’t think it’s going to change tomorrow’s game that we will face them in May.”
Barca are one point behind Real Madrid in the La Liga standings and can leapfrog them at least temporarily with a win at Alaves as they have an earlier kickoff than Real’s clash at Osasuna. Real, however, have two games in hand.
“I‘m interested in my team leading in the final round of the competition,” Luis Enrique said. “Our aim is always to improve our performances and we have a better chance to win games if we play better.”
Barca have played five games in the last 13 days and their gruelling schedule continues with a Champions League last-16 first-leg clash at Paris St Germain on Tuesday.
“I‘m tired of giving news conference every two days so you can imagine if I had to play the games,” the coach said. “We just have to get on with it.”
Barca will have Neymar back from suspension but Javier Mascherano is out with a thigh injury.
They will appeal against the two-match ban handed to Luis Suarez following the striker’s sending-off in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico.
The suspension would force Suarez miss the Cup final.
Reporting by Adriana Garcia, editing by Ed Osmond