Following their defeat in Supercopa de Espana, Barcelona will be seeking retribution when they play hosts to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Barcelona will be looking to keep up with league leaders Atletico Madrid and second-placed Real Madrid when they face a tricky task of overcoming Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou on Sunday. It could be a vital game for the Catalans, who can ill-afford a slip-up, especially with Atleti having a ten-point advantage that can be extended to 13 with their game in hand.
Even if all they can do is hope in La Liga, Barcelona will at least look to finish ahead of arch-rivals Real Madrid, who have a three-point lead heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures. The Whites face a relatively easier test against Levante on Saturday, so there is no margin for error for the Blaugrana.
Ronald Koeman’s men are coming on the back of three back-to-back wins in all competitions. But, their most recent defeat came against none other than Athletic Bilbao – a 3-2 loss in the final of the Supercopa de Espana. So, it will be a chance for Barcelona to earn retribution.
Bilbao, however, are currently in an inspired run of form, having won all of their last five matches in all competitions. Their astonishing run is crowned by wins over Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana while the Basque outfit shattered Getafe 5-1 in their most recent La Liga fixture.
Another win against Barcelona could help them overtake eighth-placed Real Betis in the league table. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this crucial match-up in La Liga this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
Ronald Koeman is expected to ring in the changes from the side that faced Rayo Vallecano in the midweek Copa del Rey tie. The Dutchman will be boosted by the return of Sergi Roberto as well.
The Spaniard is back in full training and could be given the green light for Sunday’s clash. He is likely to replace Oscar Mingueza, whose lack of offensive prowess has bottlenecked Barcelona’s overall approach play. Similarly, Jordi Alba is set to replace Junior Firpo on the opposite flank, following a cameo off the bench against Rayo Vallecano.
Ronald Araujo is a guaranteed starter, having become arguably the most impressive performer for Barcelona in recent weeks. His ability to sense danger could come in handy alongside Samuel Umtiti at the heart of the Barcelona defence as the two look to offer protection for returning goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets is suspended, which is why the veteran was given a runout in the midweek game. Miralem Pjanic is the desired replacement in the number six slot. His composure, positioning sense and overall solidity could be crucial in a Barcelona midfield that might sport youngsters like Frenkie de Jong and Pedri.
Both Pedri and de Jong are likely to venture forward and assist the Barcelona attackers, with Pedri, in particular, expected to operate as an out and out number ten. It could see Barcelona shifting into a 4-2-3-1 during defensive phases, although it also has the potential to turn into a 4-4-2, with Pedri joining Lionel Messi in the first line of press.
The Argentine was involved in both the goals in the win over Rayo Vallecano after returning to the pitch. Messi had picked up a red card the last time he faced Athletic, so he will be hoping to make amends with an improved display this weekend, alongside his usual attacking partners in Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Araujo, Umtiti, Alba; de Jong, Pjanic, Pedri; Dembele, Messi, Griezmann
Marcelino rested a host of key players when his team faced Alcoyano in midweek. He is expected to revert all those changes, with Raul Garcia, for one, coming in at the expense of Asier Vilalibre.
The former Atletico Madrid star will spearhead the Athletic attack, with additional support from a reinforced creative unit that should include the likes of Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams. The latter is likely to play alongside Garcia, thus forming the second line of press while Oscar de Marcos could get the nod ahead of Alex Berenguer out wide.
⚔️ Focus turns to @LaLigaEN‼️
— Athletic Club (@Athletic_en) January 29, 2021
Marcelino’s classic 4-4-2 should also see Unai Vencedor and Dani Garcia form the double pivot. The two will play an essential role in preventing the Barcelona players from dictating the game in the middle of the park. And with Barcelona likely to deploy a three-man midfield, it won’t be surprising to see Muniain operating more centrally in an attempt to cancel the numerical superiority the hosts may enjoy.
Defensively, the back four consisting of Ander Capa, Yeray Alvarez, Unai Nunez and Yuri Berchiche should defend in deep blocks, looking to frustrate the opposition. It will be equally important that they receive adequate support from the two central midfielders during defensive phases, though.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; Capa, Alvarez, Nunez, Berchiche; de Marcos, Vencedor, Dani Garcia, Muniain; Williams, Raul Garcia
- Barcelona have won just two of their last seven games against Athletic Bilbao in all competitions, losing their last match against them 2-3 in the Spanish Supercup final on January 17th.
- In La Liga, Athletic have only collected points in one of their last 16 away games at Camp Nou (D1 L15). It was a 1-1 draw in September 2018, while their last win at this ground came back in November 2001.
- Barcelona have avoided defeat in their last 17 home league games against Basque sides, since their 2-1 defeat to Alaves in September 2016.
- Barcelona have only collected 37 points after their first 19 La Liga 2020/21 games, their lowest tally at this stage since 2003/04.
- Athletic are winless in their last seven away league games but have drawn three of their last four; they last went eight such matches without a victory in a single season in December 2018.
Player to Watch
Lionel Messi is definitely the one to keep an eye on this weekend following a starring role in the win over Rayo Vallecano. The Barcelona icon notably provided the lofted through ball to Jordi Alba, leading to Frenkie de Jong’s opener before scoring one himself in the 80th minute.
The Argentine’s ability to pick passes, dribble past players and his quality as a snapshooter could be valuable for Barcelona as they look to break the shackles of an Athletic Club defence that has conceded just 23 goals in 19 matches. In addition to the quality he brings, Messi’s offensive partnership with Griezmann has also flourished, of late.
That connection could be vital as the Catalans hope to extend their winning momentum and keep up the pressure on the likes of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
It won’t be an easy game for Barcelona by any means as the Blaugrana are still without key players like Gerard Pique and Ansu Fati. Nevertheless, they might still clinch a narrow victory thanks to the impressive form of Lionel Messi, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
It is also fair to point out that the Blaugrana have performed well defensively, with Ronald Araujo, in particular, emerging as a rock at the back. Hence, the hosts could be in for yet another 2-0 victory.