San Mames, Bilbao
Sunday, 23rd August 2015
Having won the treble last season, Barcelona begin their La Liga defence in a tough tie away from home against Athletic Bilbao.
Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona face each other for the third time this month in the opening game-week of the Spanish La Liga. Barcelona ruled Europe last season by winning a historical second treble, but have faced a mixed start to their campaign this season. A narrow victory against Sevilla won them the European Super Cup, but the treble-winners were tormented by Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup as the Basque giants registered a massive 5-1 victory over Barcelona over two legs.
After having ended Barcelonaa s dream of capturing the sextuple this year, Bilbao will host them on Sunday with both teams being equally motivated to make a positive start to their campaign.
Team News and Tactics
After finishing seventh last season, Bilbao will be hoping for a better performance this time around. The Basque outfit have enjoyed a dream start to the season as they defeated last seasona s champions Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. Bilbao not only defeated Barcelona but also managed to embarrass them with a 4-0 first leg win at San Mames followed by a 1-1 draw in the second leg. However, it will surely not be that easy for Athletic Bilbao this time around as Barcelona will keen to avoid another defeat at the hands of their domestic rivals.
Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde will look to field a strong line-up for what is likely to be one of the toughest home games for them, this year. However, the manager will miss the services of Kike Sola, who is serving a suspension along with Iker Muniain, who has been sidelined due to a knee injury. There are also doubts regarding both, Inaki Williams and Ander Iturraspea s fitness. However, the manager will look towards players like Aritz Aduriz, Aymeric Laporte and De Marcos, who could prove to be the deciding factor for Athletic Bilbao.
Probable Line-Up (4-3-2-1): Iraizoz (GK); Boveda, Etxeita, Laporte, Balenziaga; San Jose, Etxebarria; De Marcos, Eraso, Susaeta; Aduriz;
After winning the treble last season, Barcelona have had a rather worrying start to their campaign. The Catalan club let a 4-1 lead slip away against Sevilla in the European Super Cup but somehow managed to win the game courtesy an extra-time goal from Pedro. However, the Spanish giants failed to win their 5 . th trophy of the year when they fell to a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup. The defeat was hard to digest and brought to the fore some of their glaring weaknesses, especially in the defence. All being said, the treble-winners have no reason to not be considered as the favourites to win the La Liga second time in a row. But in order to defend their title, Barcelona will have make an emphatic statement at San Mames to dismiss the criticism leveled against the team.
Luis Enrique has a tough task on his hands as the manager is without some of his most important players ahead of the game. Enrique will miss the services of Pique and Mathieu as both are serving a suspension. Apart from these two defenders, Jordi Alba and Adriano are not likely to feature on Sunday due to fitness concerns. Neymar too, will remain unavailable for selection. Having sold Pedro to Chelsea, Barcelona will have to field Rafinha alongside Messi and Suarez with Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic operating in the midfield.
Probable Line-Up (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Vermaelen; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Rafinha;
Players to watch out for
Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)
After scoring a hat-trick in the 4-0 rout against Barcelona, the home fans will be expecting a similar showingfrom the striker. The Spaniard was amongst the most prolific strikers in the league last season, scoring 18 goals. Expectations are high from the 34-year old as Bilbao look for a dream start to their campaign.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Lionel Messi is probably the strongest contestant to win the Balon da Or this season. However, the Argentine will be under pressure to continue from where he left off last season. Barcelona will be hoping to avenge the 4-0 loss suffered earlier and will bank on the Argentine along with Luis Suarez to earn three crucial points.
Athletic Bilbao 2-2 FC Barcelona
With Barcelona looking to avenge their earlier defeat, expect the game to be high-scoring one. Barcelona lack a steady defence ahead of the start of their La Liga campaign.