Barcelona can take a big step toward a fifth trophy in 2015 when they face Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup Friday, just three days after sealing the UEFA Super Cup with a remarkable 5-4 extra time win over Sevilla.
Pedro Rodriguez proved to be the unlikely hero for the Catalans as the wantaway winger, who had been controversially left out of the starting lineup, came off the bench to smash home the winner with five minutes left in extra time after Barca had conspired to throw away a 4-1 second-half lead.
“When you know that you could leave, it is a complicated situation. I was very angry to have not played [from the start] because I have always tried to be professional and go out to help the team,” Pedro said.
“It is a complicated situation for many reasons. Not for money as has been said, which is another lack of respect. It is a question of continuity, of minutes on the pitch and I am an ambitious player.” And he also hit back at Barca technical secretary Robert Fernandez for claiming that he asked to leave the club, citing that statement as “unfortunate.”
Pedro’s opportunities have been limited since the arrival of Luis Suarez last season to join Lionel Messi and Neymar in attack. However, even without Neymar due to a bout of the mumps, coach Luis Enrique opted for Rafinha ahead of Pedro and was rewarded as he scored after Messi had fired in two brilliant free kicks to cancel out Ever Banega’s opener for Sevilla.
Suarez then made it 4-1 early in the second half, but remarkably Sevilla produced a stunning fight back as goals from Jose Antonio Reyes, Kevin Gameiro and Yevhen Konoplyanka took the game into extra time.
And Javier Mascherano admitted the European champions have plenty to work on ahead of the upcoming two legs against Athletic if they are to add the Spanish Super Cup to their trophy haul. “For the fans it was the kind of spectacle you rarely see. We are happy to have won, but we have a lot to improve,” the Argentine said.
“We committed a lot of errors that made life difficult for us. We allowed Sevilla to get back in the game, when you’re 4-1 up and all of a sudden the result is in danger.”
Barca travel to the San Mames Friday before hosting the Basques at the Camp Nou next Monday.
Neymar misses out once more but Athletic are even more affected by injuries with four first-team regulars almost certain to miss out.
Inaki Williams, who scored Athletic’s goal when the two sides met in the Copa del Rey final in May, Ander Iturraspe, Mikel Rico and Iker Muniain are all sidelined and striker Aritz Aduriz believes that is more of a blow to his side than Barcelona missing Neymar.
“Their absences are very important for them, but so are ours very important for us,” he said.
“It is crucial that we have our best team available. At the moment we don’t and that damages us.”