BARCELONA — Goals are guaranteed when a resurgent Barcelona hosts a fearless Villarreal in the opening leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal on Wednesday.
Lionel Messi has exploded for 10 goals in a nine-game winning streak for Barcelona, and will face a talented and attack-minded Villarreal side that twice led Barcelona before falling 3-2 at Camp Nou two weeks ago.
Crosstown rival Espanyol will visit Athletic Bilbao in the other semifinal.
Here are some things to know about the Copa del Rey's final four:
MAJESTIC MESSI: Messi is playing at his very best: Torturing defenses with his on-ball speed, scoring with both legs, and continually improving his passing to get all his team involved in Barcelona's overpowering attack.
He has 33 goals in 31 games this season. He scored one goal and took part in four more on Sunday in a 5-2 thrashing of Bilbao to ensure Barcelona pulled to within one point of Real Madrid in the Spanish league.
Also read: Messi hands Barca Cup lead
Barcelona's win streak has silenced talk of a team crisis, and rumors that coach Luis Enrique's job was in danger.
"In football you can't live off what you did in the past, nor what will come in the future, there is only the present, and now we are focused on Villarreal," Enrique said. "They have players who can do us damage when we accumulate many of our players in their territory."
NO PUSHOVER: Villarreal has more than enough weapons to challenge for a good result at Camp Nou in its first appearance in the cup semifinals.
The team was on a club record 18-game winning streak before losing to Barcelona on Feb. 1., and it is still in the fight for a fourth-place finish in the league that will earn a Champions League berth.
Coach Marcelino Garcia has forged one of the most exciting teams in La Liga based on a quick transition from defense to attack. Skilled forwards Luciano Vietto and Denis Cheryshev are having breakout seasons.
"We won't settle for a draw and are going there with high ambitions," Cheryshev said. "We have nothing to lose and we are aware that this could be historic for the club. There won't be any lack of effort from us."
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