Athletic Bilbao V/S FC Barcelona : Match Preview

Introduction

Barça travels to a historically tough place needing a big win to continue their unbeaten run in the league. Barcelona continues with a busy start to 2021 with a trip to Athletic Bilbao at San Mamés. After a rather unimpressive win against the bottom side Huesca last weekend. This match was supposed to happen at the beginning of the season. It was postponed due to Barça’s trip to the Champions League playoffs in Lisbon back in August. The hosts will be under new management after Gaizka Garitano was sacked. Athletic subsequently confirmed that Marcelino will take over.

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Barca vs Athletic Bilbao
Barca vs Athletic Bilbao

Form

Barcelona head into the match after a narrow win over Huesca. They will surely need to produce an improved display if they are to take home all three points. Barça also comes into this one on a six-game unbeaten streak, their longest of the season. Four wins and two draws aren’t exactly impressive considering the opponents and — most importantly — the quality of the performances.

Barcelona form guide in La Liga: W-D-W-D-W

Athletic Bilbao form guide in La Liga: W-L-D-W-L

While their opponents Athletic Bilbao are currently in ninth place in the La Liga standings They have managed 21 points in their 17 games so far. The Basque outfit secured a 1-0 victory against Elche over the weekend. Surely they will want to pull off an upset in this game.

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Head-to-Head

Barcelona has an excellent record against Athletic Bilbao. They have won 36 games out of a total of 56 matches played between the two sides. Athletic Bilbao has managed only 12 victories against Barcelona. They need to take it up a notch in this game. The previous meeting between these two teams last year ended in a hard-fought 1-0 victory for Barcelona. 

Team News and Tatics

News

Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ansu Fati, Gerard Piqué, Philippe Coutinho, Sergi Roberto, Carles Aleñá, Matheus Fernandes (out)

Philippe Coutinho, Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, and Ansu Fati are recuperating from long-term injuries at the moment and will not be included in the squad

Athletic Outs & Doubts: Peru Nolaskoain, Yeray Álvarez, Unai López (out)

Peru Nolaskoain and Yeray Alvarez are currently injured. Thus they are ruled out of this clash. Unai Lopez is also carrying a knock and has been ruled out of the game against Barcelona.

Mangers
Mangers

Tactics

Barca

Ronald Koeman reverted back to a four-man defense against Huesca after dabbling with three center-backs and may decide to stick with the same backline. Ronald Araujo and Clement Lenglet were pretty solid at the weekend, while Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba could continue on the flanks. The Barca boss does have options if he wants to freshen things up. Oscar Mingueza could come in at center-back or on the right and Junior Firpo is also available.

The Dutchman is likely to simply toss-up between the two Miralem Pjanic, and Sergio Busquets to start along with Frenkie de Jong in midfield. De Jong was on target last time out and now has two goals and an assist from his last five starts. Antoine Griezmann was dropped against Huesca. But he will be hoping to get the nod against Athletic. The Frenchman could certainly do with a goal to boost confidence after a run of seven appearances without finding the back of the net. Lionel Messi and Pedri look guaranteed starters, unless there are any fitness concerns, while Ousmane Dembele could also continue after a bright showing on his return from injury.

Barca Predicted Lineup
Barca Predicted Lineup

Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet, Alba; Pjanic, De Jong; Dembélé, Messi, Pedri; Griezmann

Athletic Bilbao

Marcelino has not had much time to work with the squad at his disposal, but he should utilize his favored 4-4-2 formation versus Barcelona. The onus will be on the full-backs to provide width in the final third, with the two wide midfielders veering infield to create overloads in the central areas. Ander Capa and Yuri Berchiche should be the full-back pairing for Bilbao. Mostly it will be Unai Nunez and Inigo Martinez forming the central defensive partnership. While Unai Simon is the first-choice goalkeeper for the hosts.

In midfield, Mikel Vesga and Dani Garcia ought to be stationed centrally. The duo will be tasked with keeping things tight in the middle of the park. Also keep a check on the output of Pedri, in particular. For those wide positions, Alex Berenguer and captain Iker Muniain should get the nod over the others. With Muniain, in particular, as he will be aiming to engineer openings for the strikers ahead of him. Inaki Williams, who is usually deployed on the right-wing will move into the central position, playing off either Asier Villalibre or Raúl García who will run off the shoulders of the Barcelona defenders.

Athletic Bilbao Predicted lineup
Athletic Bilbao Predicted lineup

Athletic (4-4-2): Simón; Capa, Núñez, Martínez, Yuri; Berenguer, Vesga, D. García, Muniain; Williams, Villalibre/Raúl García

Key Stats

  • Athletic Bilbao has lost just one of their last four games in La Liga against Barcelona (W1 D2), keeping a clean sheet in two of them.
  • At San Mames, Athletic Bilbao has not faced defeat in their last two league games versus Barcelona (W1 D1), keeping a clean sheet in each of the fixtures. They could go unbeaten in three games on the trot against the Blaugrana for the first time since 2013 (W1 D2).
  • Barcelona has been on the wrong end of a result in just one of their last 17 visits to Basque clubs in La Liga (W11 D5), losing the corresponding fixture last season to Athletic Bilbao.
  • Athletic Bilbao has won five of their last seven games in La Liga at San Mames (L2), keeping a clean sheet in four of those fixtures.
Players of both team (Athletic Bilbao and Barca)
Players of both team (Athletic Bilbao and Barca)

Conclusion

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona continues to show zero identity and seems to just find a way to get a result depending on how the game is going, even despite Koeman’s attempts to sabotage the team with his personnel decisions. Facing Athletic is never easy, especially at San Mamés, and there will be an added ingredient of toughness to this one thanks to Bilbao’s coaching change which brings Marcelino García Toral to the club. Marcelino’s last job was a fantastic one at Valencia, which included a Copa del Rey win over Barcelona, and his ability to motivate and organize a team to be nearly impossible to break down and lethal on the counter-attack always creates problems whenever his teams face the Blaugrana

All in all we are up for exciting match. That’s our take on this game ! Do address your opinions and comments regarding this preview.

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