Yunus Musah is one game away from winning a major piece of silverware, as Valencia will clash with Real Betis in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday night in Sevilla’s Estadio de La Cartuja.
Valencia had perhaps a somewhat fortunate run from the first round back in December through Saturday’s final, having faced no other La Liga teams until their quarterfinal matchup against Cadiz. Even then, their only opponent throughout the first six rounds that could be considered “La Liga quality” was their semifinal opponent Athletic Bilbao, who they beat by a 2-1 margin over two legs.
Still, a berth in a cup final and chance to lift the trophy is nothing to scoff at, and would come with the valuable bonus of giving Valencia an automatic place in next season’s Europa League group stage.
The American international Musah has been an important contributor in Valencia’s cup run, and was in fact one of their standout players throughout the earlier rounds, with two goals and an assist through the first four games.
His participation did fall off starting with the quarterfinal – which he missed due to injury – but he did appear in both of the semifinal legs against Athletic as a substitute.
Looking back to the history of the competition, Valencia have lifted the trophy on eight occasions so far, compared to nine losses in the final, so a victory on Saturday will pull their record even.
They are actually one of the few teams other than Barcelona or Real Madrid to win the competition during the last decade; since the 2010-11 edition, only three teams outside of the big two have come out victorious, with Valencia having beaten the Catalonians by a 2-1 margin in the 2019 final.
Their opponents Real Betis have won twice, with their most recent success being in the 2005 final over Osasuna. They do sport the joint-top scorer in the competition this season, Borja Iglesias, who has netted four times in their seven games, and are considered slight favorites in the game due to their overall better positioning in the league.
They had a harder test on their run to the final than Valencia, already forced to knock off one of the favorites Sevilla in the Round of 16, before subsequently taking out Real Sociedad in the quarterfinal and Rayo Vallecano over two legs in the semifinal.
They are coached by legendary Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini, who despite coaching both Villarreal and Real Madrid for the better part of six seasons, has never won a domestic trophy of any sort in Spain.
Both teams are coming off of losses in their last league warmups before Saturday’s spectacle, Valencia dropping a 2-0 road decision at Villarreal, and Betis narrowly losing at home to Elche by a 1-0 margin.
They have met once so far in league play this season, a forgettable night for Valencia that ended with a 4-1 victory for the hosts. They will face off again in mid-May, with one of the two teams sure to have a chip on their shoulder from a disappointing loss on Saturday.
For Valencia, Saturday’s game likely represents their only path to European play next season, as their inconsistent league form has left them all but mathematically eliminated from contention for even the consolation prize of the Europa Conference League. This side-door entry into Europe would be a welcome relief for a club that has missed out on the financial windfall the last two seasons, despite spending much of their recent past beforehand as regular participants.
They will be missing forward Maxi Gómez to a toe injury, but otherwise are fairly healthy, with defenders Thierry Correia and Gabriel Paulista expected to be back in the starting lineup after minor knocks.
Betis have the same luxury of good health, with Martín Montoya, who has not played since 2021 due to an Achilles injury, being the only noteworthy absence.
The game kicks off at Sevilla’s la Cartuja at 4pm east-coast time in the US, 10pm local time, and will be the first Copa final with a live audience after the last two editions in the same venue were played behind close doors due to the ongoing pandemic.