Written by Patrick Echatah
When Spanish giants Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao in their next La Liga match at San Mames on Sunday night, they will be attempting to make it three straight victories in all competitions.
Real Madrid are currently in second place, nine points behind Xavi’s team, while Athletic are currently in ninth place, four points behind Villarreal in the race for European football.
STYLE OF PLAY
For, Ernesto Valverde, it looks like the 4-2-3-1 formation has come to stay. They will probably employ the passive pressing that becomes active at the halfway line or decide to use the active pressing higher up the pitch like they usually do, which might hurt them, against Barcelona.
Xavi Hernandez will expectedly stick to his 4-3-3 formation but we will probably see a change in the lineup, as we saw in the game against Villarreal and with their game against Barcelona in the UCL coming up too. After experimenting with Marcos Alonso at centre-back, we might see the same defense lining up, but with Sergi Roberto getting the nod at right-back, alongside Kounde, Christensen and Alejandro Balde.
Athletic have not actually won a game since defeating Valencia 2-1 on February 11; amid this terrible run of form, they’ve lost three of their last four games overall. their last three league games, Ernesto Valverde’s team has only earned one point, losing to Atletico Madrid and Girona before playing to a scoreless draw with Rayo Vallecano last weekend.
The Basque team still has work to do in their Copa del Rey semifinal after losing to Osasuna 1-0 in the first leg of their last-four match. The second leg is set for April 4. Athletic’s recent struggles have caused them to tumble to ninth place in the standings, but they are still only four points behind Villarreal in sixth place and undoubtedly still have their sights set on a European finish. The Lions have gained 20 points from their 12 league games played at San Mames this year, but they will be hosting Barcelona, who have the best away record in the division with 30 points from 12 games thanks to a record of 10 victories and two losses under Xavi.
Although Barcelona has won the last two league meetings between the two teams, 4-0, the points were split in a 1-1 draw at San Mames last season. Barcelona last lost to Athletic in La Liga back in August 2019. The Catalan team had a rare free week after being eliminated by Manchester United in the Europa League. Raphinha’s goal in the 16th minute against Valencia in La Liga on March 5 was the deciding factor between the two teams at Camp Nou.
Barcelona has already won the Spanish Super Cup this season, but they are still vying for glory in two other tournaments, including the Copa del Rey, in which they have a 1-0 lead over Real Madrid after the first leg of their semifinal match, with the second leg scheduled for April 5 at Camp Nou. Xavi’s squad is likewise in a great position at the top of the La Liga standings, leading Real Madrid by nine points, though that margin would be reduced to six if Los Blancos defeated Espanyol on Saturday. The league match between Barcelona and Real Madrid will take place at Camp Nou the following Saturday, and a win would be disastrous for the defending champions.
HEAD TO HEAD
Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona have faced each other 64 times, Barcelona seem get the better of Athletic Bilbao when it matters most in recent years. Athletic Bilbao have won 10 times while Barcelona have won 41 times, there are 13 draws between the two Spanish clubs.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ghanaian striker, Inaki Williams is the player to watch for Athletic Bilbao, Inaki will pose a huge threat to the opponent. The Ghanaian striker has 5 goals and 2 assist in 22 La Liga matches.
Polish striker, Robert Lewandowski will be leading the line for the away side, while talismanic midfielder, Sergio Busquets will be pulling the strings in the midfield with Brazilian winger, Raphinha out wide on the right side will be looking to add to his goal tally.
Athletic Bilbao: Oihan Sancet won’t be available for Athletic Bilbao due to his recent straight red card against Rayo. Meanwhile, due to injuries, Unai Simon, Jon Morcillo, and Ander Herrera are still on the sidelines. Inigo Martinez, who is still being linked to a move to Barcelona, appears to have fully recovered from a problematic foot issue, and the Spaniard is expected to keep his position in the defense. Mikel Vesga might be brought in, though, and Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain are also expected to return to the starting lineup for the match at San Mames. There might also be a change in the middle of the field.
Barcelona: When it comes to their hamstring injuries, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona are getting better, but they won’t be eligible for selection here. Due to his red card against Valencia, Ronald Araujo will again be out from this encounter, but two other important players are expected to start. In fact, Gavi is back in the lineup after serving his ban, while Robert Lewandowski, the team’s top scorer, has fully recovered from a hamstring injury. While Franck Kessie is anticipated to start in central midfield, Sergi Roberto might play at right-back, allowing the division leaders to start Gavi more forward.
Athletic Bilbao: Agirrezabala; De Marcos, Vivian, I Martinez, Lekue; Zarraga, Vesga; N Williams, Muniain, I Williams; Guruzeta
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; F de Jong, Busquets, Kessie; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Gavi
Due to the absence of a midweek match, Barcelona should be fresh going into this game, and the return of Gavi and Lewandowski is crucial for the Catalan club. Athletic Bilbao can definitely get a good result, but we really have a gut feeling that the visitors will win this game on Sunday night. Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Barcelona
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