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Barca face tough Villarreal tie

03 March 2015, 15:19

MADRID — Having dented Real Madrid's lead in the Spanish league, Villarreal faces a bigger task of having to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Barcelona to advance past the semifinals in the Copa del Rey.

Three things are in its favor: It's at home, it has an away goal, and it has a fiercely competitive team, as Madrid learned when Gerard Moreno's equalizer silenced the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

The advantage still lies with Barcelona and it's strikeforce of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and an increasingly confident Luis Suarez.

Barcelona's crosstown rival, Espanyol, hosts Athletic Bilbao in the other more evenly matched return leg, although the host enjoys the benefit of an away goal after a 1-1 draw at San Mames.

Here are some things to know about Wednesday's matches:

SUAREZ BEDS IN: Although Barcelona fans never lost hope, it has taken longer than most anticipated for Suarez to adapt to coach Luis Enrique's squad. However, changing teams is never always smooth, and Suarez started late because of his biting ban from the World Cup.

Also read: Suarez makes his mark on familiar territory

But he's warming up well. After scoring just three times last year, Suarez has this year found the back of the net seven times from 18 shots on goal in 13 matches, including both in the 2-1 Champions league win at Manchester City.

Suarez scored his third goal of the week on Saturday, and had a part in both others in a 3-1 league win at Granada on Saturday.

ALL-CATALAN HOPES: Athletic come to its semifinal buoyed by a regionally important 1-0 win in a gruelling Basque derby at Eibar on Sunday.

The copa is Athletic's remaining hope of glory this season, after crashing out of the Europa League 3-2 against Torino last week — the Italian team progressed 5-4 on aggregate — and remaining stubbornly glued to La Liga's mid-table.

Two factors weigh against Ernesto Valverde's team. If the game goes into extra time, Espanyol will be more rested, having played on Friday, and beating Cordoba 1-0.

And Espanyol will guard its away goal, encouraged by the prospect of a lucrative and locally appealing all-Catalan final.

FULL-STRENGTH: Luis Enrique will have a full-strength squad available against Villarreal, as center back Gerard Pique has returned from suspension.

The coach's main concern will be whether to risk key midfielder Javier Mascherano and Suarez, who are both on two yellow cards in the competition, and would miss the final should they pick up another and Barcelona advanced.

Pique and Sergio Busquets, who rested against Granada, could substitute for the in-form Mascherano, and Pedro Rodriguez could go on for Suarez.

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- AP


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