Copa success could prove pivotal for modern-era Barca

MADRID (Reuters) - After a trophyless 2019-2020 season, Barcelona will be hoping Saturday's Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao will finally give them a chance to not only end their barren run but also silence a growing number of critics.

So far this season they their hopes of European glory were wrecked by a rampant Paris St Germain in the last 16, while they lost the Super Cup final to Bilbao in January.

The Catalans, who are third in La Liga, handed Real Madrid the initiative in the title run-in following a 2-1 defeat in last weekend's El Clasico.

With Lionel Messi's future still up in the air, many fans and critics believe that winning the Copa final could be of pivotal importance as Barca look to turn a corner.

They need to regain that feeling of winning trophies, which will help convince Messi his future lies in Catalonia.

Coach Ronald Koeman, whose last triumph as a manager came with AZ Alkmaar in the 2009 Johan Cruyff Shield, also has a point to prove after many near misses.

In their way stands a Bilbao side reeling from losing last season's delayed Copa final to Basque rivals Real Sociedad only two weeks ago.

Bilbao are known for upping their game against the big boys, and coach Marcelino Garcia masterminded Valencia's 2019 Copa del Rey final triumph over the Catalans, as well as January's Super Cup success.

Bilbao, who have not won the Copa title since 1984, will take confidence from the way they outplayed Barca that night at the same Cartuja Stadium in Seville where they will face off this weekend.

Win or lose, Bilbao are moving in the right direction under Marcelino. But if Barca slip up and potentially finish another season trophyless, the bigger question will be where do they go from here?

(Reporting by Joseph Walker, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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