Athletic Bilbao vs FC Barcelona: Preview, Team News and Prediction

The champions face a stern away test looking to keep their title hopes alive.

Athletic de Bilbao v FC Barcelona - Spanish Copa del Rey
Athletic de Bilbao v FC Barcelona - Spanish Copa del Rey / Soccrates Images/GettyImages
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Following a full rare week of rest and training, Xavi and his troops face a must win scenario in a tough away game in the beautiful Basque Country. Barcelona currently occupy the third spot in La Liga, 8 points adrift of leaders Madrid and 2 points off Girona in second place and will be looking to continue mounting the pressure on their counterparts. At the same time, Barcelona would be desperate for revenge for their Copa Del Rey loss suffered at the hands of their Sunday's opponents at the very same stadium.

Athletic Club away at San Mamés is always a difficult task and the Catalans will have to be at their absolute best if they are to take away 3 points from what would be a very violent home crowd spurring their team on. Barcelona arrive into this game at the back of two very good and morale boosting performance to end February on a high and would be keen to build onto their momentum going into the business end of the campaign.

""We are at a good point. We have the whole week to work in training and prepare for the upcoming games""

Lewandowski

After being serious contenders for the top 4 going into February, Athletic Club lost some of their momentum having amassed only 2 wins in their last 6 games. However, both their victories came at home and they demonstrated their steel and class, hammering Atletico Madrid 3-0 in their cup semis midweek and will be riding high on confidence on the back of that game.

In the reverse fixture at Montjuic earlier this season, Athletic were for much parts of the game, the better team against a depleted Barcelona outfit. However, 17 year old Marc Guiu scored with what was essentially his first touch, within seconds of making his professional debut to hand Barca a 1-0 victory. Barcelona have the second best attack in terms of goals scored this season whilst Athletic have the joint second best defense in the league thus far. Robert Lewandowski comes into this fixture on a good scoring run and after bagging the La Liga player of the month, will be keen to add to his scoring tally as the Pichichi race intensifies.

After suffering a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Real Madrid on the opening weekend, Athletic Club have remained unbeaten at San Mames hammering the likes of Girona and Atletico Madrid in the process. Barcelona on the other hand are the only team in La Liga yet to taste defeat on the road. This is the third meeting between the two teams who have become accustomed to facing each other in high octane clashes and Sunday’s should be no different considering their respective positions in the league table and what depends on the outcome of the game. Both teams are coming off the back of impressive results in their previous games and with a lot on the line, we should be in for a mouth watering, highly energetic and grueling 90minutes of football in a highly electric atmosphere with both teams giving it their everything from the get go.

TEAM NEWS

BARCELONA

Xavi can finally count on his entire squad with almost everyone from the injured list barring Gavi and Balde (both of whom have been ruled out for the entire season) having been deemed fit again to be a part of the squad after what feels like ages. Ferran Torres had been rumored to be fit enough to make the squad for the trip to San Mamés but the manager doesn't want to rush into things with the 2nd leg against Napoli in two weeks' time. Xavi faces a positive selection dilemma regarding who to start on the right flank and whether to go out attacking by starting Felix on the left or to stick with the 4 man midfield which has yielded both good results and performances in the past few weeks.

Whilst Xavi sticking to a four man midfield and starting Pedri on the left feels like an easy and a more viable decision , the selection conundrum between Lamine and Raphinha on the right is a more difficult one to make and Lamine might edge Raphinha into the starting 11 after being rested last weekend and having been in breathtaking form prior to that. Xavi might also prefer to start ex Athletic man Inigo Martinez over the 17 year old Cubarsí to provide a more experienced defensive cover against a lively attack.

Predicted XI(4-3-3)

Marc-André ter Stegen, Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo, Iñigo Martínez, João Cancelo, Andreas Christensen, Frenkie de Jong, İlkay Gündoğan, Pedri, Lamine Yamal, Robert Lewandowski

ATHLETIC CLUB BILBAO

Athletic Bilbao have a selection headache of their own and would be ruing the absence of Dani Vivian(accumulation of five yellow cards) and Nico Williams(red card), both of whom are suspended for this game. That said , former Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has a lot of talented players in his roster, players who give their all especially against the Blaugrana. Moreover, almost the entire 11 as well as the substitute bench is coming off an incredible display in their cup tie midweek vs Atletico. Iñaki Williams who always seems to reserve his best for facing the Catalans has been in brilliant form and would be looking to continue the same against a vocal and at times ferocious home crowd.

Predicted XI(4-2-3-1)

Unai Simón, Óscar de Marcos, Aitor Paredes, Yeray Álvarez, Iñigo Lekue, Íñigo Ruiz de Galarreta, Beñat Prados, Iñaki Williams, Oihan Sancet, Alejandro Berenguer Remiro, Gorka Guruzeta

Prediction

Athletic Club away at San Mamés is never easy and that will in all likelihood be the case on Sunday as well. It will be a high octane clash with both teams playing end to end attacking football having players who can change the game with their individual brilliance. That being said, Barcelona with their recovered attackers and better firepower off the bench might just edge out their rivals in a riveting contest to keep their title aspirations alive.

Athletic Club 2-3 Barcelona