Barcelona coach Luis Enrique is wary of the threat posed by Athletic Bilbao forward Aritz Aduriz before the holders play their King’s Cup quarterfinal, first leg at the Basque club on Wednesday.
A robust striker who is particularly strong in the air, Aduriz was suspended for Sunday’s La Liga game at Barca, which the Spanish and European champions won 6-0 after Bilbao had goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz sent off in the fourth minute.
The 34-year-old, who is in the best form of his career and has scored 11 goals in La Liga this term, returns for the Cup clash, a repeat of last season’s final which Barca won 3-1.
Aduriz scored a hat-trick against Barca at the San Mames in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup in August and Luis Enrique said he was a significant threat to Barca’s hopes of advancing to the semifinals.
“He is crucial to them for what he brings to their game,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“Above all for his goals,” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder.
“He has improved with age. He’s not a lad anymore but he is playing at a really high level and he is a reference point for his team and for us and other opponents.”
Luis Enrique said Barca would decide on Wednesday whether Argentina forward Lionel Messi will play.
Messi had to come off at halftime on Sunday and although tests ruled out a hamstring strain, the Fifa Ballon d’Or holder remains a doubt.
“He is fine, he is not injured just has some discomfort,” Luis Enrique said.
“I never like to risk a player. But that’s not the case with Messi at the moment because there is no injury. It depends on how he himself feels whether he will play or not.”
Barca, the record King’s Cup winners with 27 triumphs, have won Spain’s domestic knockout competition three times in the past seven years and lost to Real Madrid in the final in 2011 and 2014.
Bilbao won the Spanish Super Cup 5-1 on aggregate, the only trophy of six available Barca failed to win in 2015.