MADRID • Valencia coach Marcelino knows that if his team were to have any chance of beating Barcelona, they must first stop Lionel Messi.
Ahead of today's King Cup's final in Seville, the Spaniard did not reveal his exact game plan but warned his players that they will have to nullify the threat of the Argentinian superstar forward at all costs.
"The key is giving Messi little to do in the game," Marcelino said, as reported by Spanish daily Marca.
"The problem is that although he appears sparingly, his actions have a decisive influence."
Striker Kevin Gameiro, who scored 11 goals in all competitions this season (Messi has 50), added: "With Messi, Barcelona are never easy to beat. But we can't afford to play with fear of what's in front of us. Do that and you lose."
Valencia, owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, last won the King's Cup 11 years ago when Fernando Morientes scored in a 3-1 victory over Getafe in a stadium that no longer exists. That was the last trophy the club hoisted in any competition.
After 15 games this season, they sat 15th in the Spanish LaLiga, a battle against relegation more likely than a late push for the top four.
The last time Valencia won the King's Cup.
"I can't explain it," said Marcelino, who was the club's 12th coach in five years. But, this time, the club persevered and his team's form returned.
They made the Europa League semi-finals, where they were beaten by Arsenal, and then saw off Valladolid last Saturday to reach next season's Champions League.
The result may not be remarkable - they made it last year, too - but it was the way they did it. Unlike Barcelona, the adversity enhanced the achievement.
"It has been an outstanding season," added Marcelino. "We have had a lot of problems, but we stayed calm. To get back into the Champions League again is a great achievement."
For LaLiga champions Barcelona, a fifth consecutive King's Cup will amount to just damage limitation if they beat Valencia.
Victory for Barca would only slightly alleviate the disappointment of failing in the Champions League. But, should they lose, less than three weeks after the collapse at Liverpool, it would plunge the club back into crisis.
The numbers, however, favour Barcelona. Twenty-six points separate the two sides in the LaLiga table, with Barca scoring more goals than Valencia have scored and let in put together.
Valencia captain Dani Parejo finished as their top scorer with nine league goals, the same number Messi had hit before the middle of November. And Valencia have beaten Barcelona only once in 14 attempts, without a victory in any of their last eight meetings.
But, while Barca look like a side still hurting and eager to end the season, Valencia are flying high after the late surge that saw them snatch fourth place last Saturday.
"We weren't playing for anything and it showed," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde after the 2-2 draw away at Eibar on Sunday.
"In Seville, we will be completely different."