Good evening and welcome to Sports Mole
's live commentary of the La Liga clash between Athletic Bilbao
and Barcelona from San Mames. Bilbao will enter this match in 14th position in the table, just three points clear of the bottom three. Barcelona, meanwhile, are five points clear of second-placed Real Madrid with a game in hand. Ernesto Valverde
's side have drawn their last two against Valencia and Real Madrid in the league and Copa del Rey respectively, but will be confident of putting three points on the board tonight. Stay tuned for what should be a very interesting match!
BILBAO: Herrerin; De Marcos, Yeray, Martinez, Balenziaga; D Garcia, Benat; Yuri, R Garcia, Susaeta; Williams
BARCELONA: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Roberto; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Coutinho, L Suarez, Messi
The big news for Barcelona is that Lionel Messi starts. A thigh problem meant that the Argentine could only play a small part of Wednesday's Copa del Rey clash with Real Madrid and he has hardly trained in the build-up to this match. Messi makes the XI, though, joining Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez in attack. Jordi Alba is suspended, meaning that Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto start in the full-back positions. Arthur also misses out with a hamstring problem.
As for Bilbao, Iker Muniain is somewhat surprisingly left on the bench. Head coach Gaizka Garitano has rung the changes from the defeat at Real Sociedad left time out, with Benat, Raul Garcia, Markel Susaeta and Mikel Balenziaga all returning. There is also a spot in the XI for Oscar de Marcos, who missed the loss at Sociedad through suspension. Inaki Williams is Bilbao's leading La Liga scorer this season with seven goals and he starts through the middle.
Barcelona's last visit to Bilbao in the league brought a 2-0 victory in October 2017, while Bilbao have not actually beaten them in a home league match since December 2013. That said, the points were shared in a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou in the league earlier this season.
KICKOFF: Bilbao kick things off on home soil...
... it must be said that there is a brilliant atmosphere inside the stadium tonight. Bilbao are enjoying some early pressure, but De Marcos eventually concedes a free kick out wide.
This has been a fixture dominated by Barcelona, who have incredibly lost just one of the last 25 league meetings between the two teams. Bilbao will certainly be the fresher of the two teams, however, and it remains to be seen just how fit Lionel Messi is for this match.
Barcelona dropped points in La Liga for the first time since the end of November last weekend when Valencia claimed a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou. There is no question that Los Che deserved something to show for their efforts and Barcelona just need to be careful that they do not take their eye off the ball over the next few weeks. Bilbao are on the front foot early on here.
CLOSE! Half-chance for Bilbao as Williams looks to meet a long ball from Raul Garcia, but the attacker cannot gather it under his spell and Barcelona can resume the play through Ter Stegen.
Fifteen wins, five draws and two defeats - that is how Barcelona have performed in the league this season. A total of 50 points have been collected, while they are the leading scorers in the division with 60. To put their goal record into context, Real Madrid are second in the charts but have scored 20 fewer having played one match more. Messi has been just a bit good.
Bilbao's 16th-place finish in La Liga last season proved to be their poorest position for 11 years. Indeed, having finished fourth, seventh, fifth and seventh in their four campaigns between 2013 and 2017, there is no getting away from the fact that the 2017-18 season was a huge disappointment. They have not been much better this term, but are a team packed full of talent.
CLOSE! Best chance of the match. Yuri breaks down the left for Bilbao before firing a low strike towards the far corner and the ball just misses the post!
Bilbao have actually only lost six of their 22 league matches this season but have drawn 11. Only Valencia have shared the points on more occasions than Bilbao this term, but they have won three of their last five in the league. Still goalless with 14 minutes on the clock here.
Bilbao's 2-1 victory at Celta Vigo on January 7 was followed by an impressive 2-0 win at home to Sevilla. Bilbao then drew away to Villarreal before overcoming Real Betis on home soil. Gaizka Garitano's team will enter this match off the back of a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Basque rivals Real Sociedad last time out, though. The hosts have made a really positive start to this match.
Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain have 13 La Liga goals between them this season, but not too many others have contributed. Bilbao are still a team packed full of talent, although their restrictions on signing players makes it extremely difficult to improve on a season-by-season basis.
SAVE! Stunning save from Ter Stegen to tip a curling Susaeta strike over!
The points were shared in a 1-1 draw when Bilbao travelled to Camp Nou earlier this season and fatigue could play a part for Barcelona when considering their busy run of fixtures in recent weeks. There is no question that Bilbao have been the better side thus far tonight.
CHANCE! Big chance for Barcelona as Messi delivers a stunning cross into the Bilbao box, but Luis Suarez just cannot make contact! Any touch would have made it 1-0!
It is an incredibly busy period of the season for Barcelona when considering that they have another five matches beyond the end of the month. Indeed, they will face Valladolid in the league next weekend ahead of a trip to Lyon for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on February 19. Then comes a visit to Sevilla in the league on February 23, before the small matter of the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final at the Bernabeu on February 27.
SAVE! Very smart save from Ter Stegen to keep out an over-head kick from Raul Garcia!
Messi places wide from distance after Bilbao's goalkeeper had to come out to challenge Semedo, but the offside flag is raised and therefore it would not have counted.
Next month gets off to a bang for Barcelona as they visit Real Madrid in the league on March 2. As good as the Spanish champions have been this season, Valverde's team need to be careful that the run of matches does not become too much, as a brilliant campaign to date could easily go wrong. Bilbao are absolutely all over the away side at the moment here.
CHANCE! Another huge moment for Bilbao as Benat's excellent free kick is met by Yeray, but the defender's effort is somehow deflected over. What a chance once again.
Like Bilbao, the bulk of Barcelona's goals this season have been scored by two players. Indeed, Luis Suarez has 15 La Liga strikes to his name this term, while a certain Lionel Messi has 21 in 20 (+32 minutes) appearances. Bit of possession for Barcelona in the last few moments.
Williams has been excellent for Bilbao thus far, with the speedy forward causing Barcelona's defence all sorts of problems. Bilbao deserve a goal for their efforts in the first period.
Bilbao continue to win free kicks in dangerous positions, but they have not made the most of a number of positive areas. Not an awful lot happening for Barcelona at the moment here.
Little over five minutes of the first period remaining and we are still goalless. Bilbao have been the better side, but they might be made to regret not taking the lead up until this point.
SAVE! Smart save from Herrerin to keep out a powerful strike from Messi.
Still goalless with little over five minutes of the first period to play at San Mames.
CLOSE! Raul Garcia fires a deep cross wide of the Barcelona post from a good area.
There has been a lot made of Coutinho's struggles in recent months and it must be said that the attacker has been non-existent in the first 44 minutes of this football match.
Super defending from Martinez to clear ahead of Luis Suarez, who had looked to break onto a pass from Coutinho. Barcelona have been better in the last five minutes or so.
HALF TIME: ATHLETIC BILBAO 0-0 BARCELONA
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with the two teams level at 0-0. Bilbao have certainly had the better chances to take the lead, but we enter the half-time break at 0-0. Barcelona, to be honest, are fortunate to be on level terms at this stage.
STATISTICS! Barcelona had 65% of the ball in the first period, but hit the target with just one of their four attempts. Bilbao, meanwhile, registered two attempts on target from seven shots. No yellow cards to report, but there have been a few late challenges at San Mames.
BENCH WATCH! Barcelona have a lot of attacking talent on their bench tonight, with Boateng, Dembele and Malcom all available to head coach Valverde. Bilbao, meanwhile, have a certain Iker Muniain on the bench, in addition to the likes of Ibai Gomez, Cordoba and San Jose.
KICKOFF: Barcelona resume the action here...
... no changes from either side at the break, which is not much of a surprise. However, I suspect that both managers will have alterations in mind as the second period develops here.
You do get the feeling that the first goal tonight - if there indeed is one - could be absolutely vital. Barcelona will certainly be looking to improve on their first-half performance.
Coutinho has a strike blocked after Bilbao could only half-clear a Messi free kick. Moments before, there was a shout for a penalty when De Marcos handled, but VAR were happy for play to continue. Much better from Barcelona in the early stages of the second period here.
YELLOW CARD! Dani Garcia (Bilbao) is booked for a foul on Messi.
Barcelona have a free kick in a very dangerous position...
CLOSE! ... Messi's free kick just misses the crossbar!
CLOSE! Vidal misses the Bilbao post with a powerful strike from distance.
ATHLETIC BILBAO SUB! Mikel San Jose replaces Benat for the home side.
I suspect that Dembele will be introduced in the next five minutes or so if the score remains goalless. The Frenchman is back available for Barcelona following an ankle problem.
Luis Suarez delivers a dangerous cross into the Bilbao box, but Rakitic cannot make contact. The pressure continues as Rakitic delivers from the opposite side, but De Marcos clears.
ATHLETIC BILBAO SUB! Iker Muniain replaces Susaeta for the home side.
Barcelona are also preparing a change here, with Carles Alena set to be introduced. It will be very interesting to see which player leaves the field. Vidal will be the favourite.
BARCELONA SUB! Carles Alena replaces Vidal for the away side.
SHOT! San Jose misses the Barcelona post with a strike from the edge of the box.
Dembele to soon enter the field for Barcelona? Has to be in the mind of Valverde. Can Messi finish the 90 minutes tonight? The Argentine is clearly not fully fit as he battles a thigh problem.
YELLOW CARD! De Marcos (Athletic Bilbao) is booked for a foul on Coutinho.
Real Madrid will be looking on hoping that Bilbao can prevent Barcelona from winning this match. The title race would surely be back on if Barcelona fail to take all three points.
YELLOW CARD! Lenglet (Barcelona) is booked for a foul on Williams.
SHOT! Luis Suarez misses the post with an effort from outside the box.
Ousmane Dembele will soon enter the field for Barcelona. Coutinho to depart?
BARCELONA SUB! Ousmane Dembele replaces Coutinho for the away side.
Williams looks to get into a race with Busquets - which the Bilbao forward would love - but the Barcelona midfielder is well-positioned and just does enough to clear the danger.
YELLOW CARD! Busquets (Barcelona) is booked for a foul on Williams.
Both managers have one permitted change left here. Potentially Malcom for Barcelona? Although that would mean a very attacking XI if Messi and Luis Suarez both stayed on.
CHANCE! Huge chance for Bilbao as Williams meets a free kick from Muniain, but the attacker somehow heads wide of the post! What an opportunity for the home side.
Lenglet is down having treatment for Barcelona following a clash of heads.
CHANCE! Muniain finds Williams with a low cross inside the Barcelona box, but Ter Stegen is on hand to make the save! Another huge moment in this football match.
SAVE! Comfortable for Ter Stegen this time to keep out a Raul Garcia header.
Bilbao are on the front foot at the moment as we head for the final five minutes.
SAVE! Barca stopper Ter Stegen has to keep out Williams once again.
BARCELONA SUB! Thomas Vermaelen replaces Lenglet for the away side.
Time is running out for Barcelona and they have not done anywhere near enough to deserve to win this match. However, there is still a few minutes for the visitors to find a winner.
ATHLETIC BILBAO SUB! Kenan Kodro replaces Williams for the home side.
YELLOW CARD! Yeray (Athletic Bilbao) is booked for dissent.
We are into the third of four additional minutes at the end of the match.
RED CARD! De Marcos sent off for Bilbao!
De Marcos is sent off for handball. Second yellow!
Not long left here and Bilbao have a free kick inside their own half of the field.
We are into the final 60 seconds and Real Madrid will be loving this result.
VAR are going to have a look at a possible penalty here!
No penalty! Barcelona wanted it for handball, but no spot kick!
ATHLETIC BILBAO 0-0 BARCELONA
So there we have it. The referee brings the second period a close with the two teams level at 0-0. Barcelona are now three without a win in all competitions, and they did not deserve to pick up all three points tonight. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for our live coverage once again!