League leaders Barcelona travel to the San Mames to take on Ernesto Valverde’s former side, Athletic Bilbao

It will undoubtedly be an emotional return for the 53-year-old Barcelona boss to a place he once called home. Besides spending 7 seasons at the club (over 2 different spells) as manager of the club, he also spent 6 seasons there as a player after leaving Barcelona.

It will be interesting to see how well he is received by those at the San Mames, but it is widely expected to be a positive one. Despite all that wonderful history however, as soon as the whistle blows at the start of the game, history will be put aside for 90 minutes and the Spaniard will expect his side to come away with nothing other than a resounding victory.

Barcelona are coming off an easy victory against Real Murcia in the Copa del Rey and are currently sitting pretty at the top of the La Liga, 4 points ahead of the second placed Valencia CF. Bilbao on the other hand, are currently placed 11th on the table, 5 points away from the relegation Zone.

Tactics

Athletic Bilbao

Los Leones will undoubtedly see a number of changes to the starting XI, that could only manage a disappointing 1-1- draw against third division side SD Formentera in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday and we expect up to 9 changes to the side that started at the Estadio Municipal de Formentera.

Kepa Arrizabalaga will almost certainly retain his place in goal, while Eneko Boveda, Aymeric Laporte, Unai Nunez and and Mikel Balenziaga are all expected to return to starting XI, while Mikel San Jose will likely be reunited with his namesake, Mikel Vesga in defensive midfield.

Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia and Inigo Cordoba are expected to come in at right wing, attacking midfield and left wing respectively, with Artiz Aduriz leading the line for Bilbao for what will be the 29th time in his career, should he feature.

Probable Starting XI(4-2-3-1): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Eneko Boveda, Aymeric Laporte, Unai Nunez; Mikel Balenziaga; Mikel San Jose, Mikel Vesga; Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia, Inigo Cordoba; Aritz Aduriz

Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona(2)

Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde is expected to make a number of the changes to the side that defeated Real Murcia in the Copa del Rey. They will almost surely stick to their usual 4-3-3 formation this year, and Ter Stegen will likely come back to replace Jasper Cillessen in the starting XI.

Nelson Semedo and Lucas Digne are expected to retain their place in the starting XI in their respective fullback positions, but Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique will likely come back at center-back ahead of Thomas Vermaelen and Javier Mascherano.

The midfield and is expected to see a complete overhaul, with Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta coming back into the starting XI ahead of Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez and Carles Alena. Gerard Deulofeu may retain his place in the front three, but Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will certainly be brought back into the starting XI barring any last minute injury.

Probable Starting XI(4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne; Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta; Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Gerard Deulofeu

Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona(1).jpg

Key Statistics

  • Barcelona have won 15 of their previous 16 La Liga matches.
  • Athletic Bilbao have been unable to beat Barcelona in 32 of their last 35 matches across all competitions.
  • Athletic Bilbao have lost only 2 of their last 22 La Liga matches at the San Mames.
  • In 31 games against Athletic Bilbao, Lionel Messi has been involved in 31 goals. Scoring 22 and assisting 9.
  • 2 of Athletic Bilbao’s 3 La Liga wins this season have come at the San Mames.

Prediction

Athletic Bilbao 0-4 Barcelona

Having rested a number of key players for their 0-3 victory against Real Murcia, the Blaugrana will be able to field a largely fit and full strength side tonight at the San Mames. They’ve been unbeaten this season, dropping points on only one occasion this entire season.

Jose Angel Ziganda’s men aren’t having the best of seasons and it is unlikely that they will be able to end a rampant Barcelona’s undefeated streak. We predict a heavy defeat for Athletic Bilbao tonight, possibly their heaviest of the 2017/18 campaign so far, if Barcelona play to their full potential.

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