Evening all! Our Week 34 La Liga coverage continues from the Camp Nou as Barcelona welcome Athletic Bilbao
in the game of the weekend. The Catalan outfit need the three points to keep their slim title hopes alive, but Bilbao have fifth-place Sevilla on their tails and need the points to consolidate fourth position in the table. It promises to be a fascinating Spanish affair. Let me bring you the team news from Catalonia.
BARCA: Pinto; Alves, Mascherano, Bartra, Adriano; Xavi, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro
BILBAO: Iraizoz; De Marcos, San Jose, Laporte, Balenziaga; Iturraspe, Moran, Herrera; Susaeta, Aduriz, Muniain
So there we have it. Neymar misses out for Barcelona through injury, while Gerard Pique is also absent for the home side. There is a start in midfield for Alex Song, while Alexis Sanchez and Pedro join Lionel Messi
in attack. Bilbao, meanwhile, select Oscar de Marcos at right-back in place of Iraola. There is also a spot in the XI for Erik Moran, but the remainder of the Basque team at the Camp Nou is as expected.
In terms of the recent meetings between the two sides, Barcelona have won three of the last five matches, with Bilbao winning once and the further game ending in a draw. As mentioned, the corresponding clash last season ended in a 5-1 home win, but Bilbao are unbeaten in their last two against Barcelona – including a 1-0 win over the Catalan outfit when the pair met at San Mames earlier in the campaign.
In truth, it has been a disastrous couple of weeks for Barcelona. Gerardo Martino's side were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid on April 9, before losing 1-0 at Granada in La Liga last weekend. To make matters worse, the Catalan outfit lost 2-1 to Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. As it stands, they are facing the serious possibility of a trophy-less season.
That said, all is not lost in the league. Victory this evening would move them above Real Madrid, who do not play this weekend, into second position, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who travel to Barcelona on the final weekend of the season. Barcelona's home record this season has been strong with 15 wins from their 16 matches – only Valencia have won at the Camp Nou in the league in this campaign. What's more...
Goals have not been a problem for Barcelona in the league, with 92 strikes in their 33 games a total that has only only bettered by Real Madrid this season. Bilbao, however, have also registered solid numbers in attack with 58 goals. Down the other end, Barcelona have the second-best defensive record in the division with just 32 conceded, while Bilbao have the fourth-best record (35 conceded). Impressive from the Basque outfit.
Until this point, it has been a terrific season for Bilbao. The Basque outfit are fourth in the table on 62 points, but they are now just three points ahead of fifth-place Sevilla, who have played one game more after beating Granada 4-0 earlier this evening. Defeat for Bilbao this evening would certainly make the battle for the final Champions League position interesting as Sevilla travel to San Mames next weekend.
Much of Bilbao's success this season has been down to their form at San Mames, where they have won 12 of their 17 matches, losing just twice in the process. They have been fairly strong on the road, but five of their seven league defeats this season have come on their travels. Bilbao have also lost on each of their last two visits to the Camp Nou, conceding seven and scoring just once. In truth, it is a big ask tonight.
PREDICTION: There is no question that Bilbao enter the match in the stronger form, but they have really struggled at the Camp Nou in recent seasons. Barcelona have lost their last three in all competitions, but I expect them to put that right this evening. My score prediction is 3-1 Barcelona.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the first period. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. You just get the feeling that Barcelona need to start quickly this evening and try and find an early goal. Right, the home side get the first half underway.
Far from a full house inside the stadium this evening, but those in attendance will expect a response from their side. It is Bilbao, however, that have started in confident fashion, with the likes of Herrera and Moran enjoying possession of the ball. The early exchanges will be absolutely vital this evening.
Just 11 days ago, Barcelona were still on for a treble. However, things have changed since then. Three points is a must this evening if the Catalan outfit are to remain in the title race. Possession football from Barcelona in the last couple of minutes, but Bilbao have been comfortable in dealing with the threat thus far.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the opening minutes, but the referee has been called into action to deal with a number of late challenges in the middle of the park. Pedro threatens down the left for the home side, but De Marcos is across to make the tackle as Bilbao clear their lines once more.
It hasn't quite happened for Xavi or Iniesta thus far, with both failing to find Alves down the right twice in quick succession. Bilbao threaten moments later as Muniain finds some space outside the Barcelona box before sliding a pass towards Iturraspe, but Mascherano is on hand to clear at the vital moment.
BOOKING! Iturraspe picks up the first card of the match as the Bilbao midfielder brings Pedro to the ground inside the Barcelona box. Poor challenge from the Spaniard.
First real sign of Messi as the Argentine drives past three Bilbao defenders before sliding a pass towards Iniesta, who settles on the ball before floating a cross towards Messi, but the attacker cannot collect at the vital moment. Moments later, Pinto makes a smart save at his near post to deny Bilbao forward Aduriz.
Plenty of attacking intent from Barcelona, but Bilbao are finding space in the final third as Herrera slides another through pass towards Aduriz, but this time Bartra is across to clear the danger. A loose kick from Pinto hands possession back to Bilbao and the away side indeed force a corner from Barca left-back Adriano.
Bilbao threaten once more as Muniain combines with Iturraspe before floating a cross into the Barcelona box, but Bartra is on hand to head clear. Barcelona are down the other end with Messi moments later, but the Argentine cannot find Pedro with a through pass. Still goalless with 14 minutes on the clock at the Camp Nou.
CHANCES! Incredible chance for Barcelona as Messi slides a pass towards Pedro, who drives into the Bilbao box before striking on goal, but Iraizoz makes the save. Moments later, the Bilbao stopper denies Messi, who had found some space inside the box. Brilliant work from the Spanish goalkeeper.
Strong pressure from Barcelona as the home side force two corners in quick succession, but San Jose and Laporte take it in turns to clear the danger before Alves fires high and wide of Iraizoz's crossbar.
Brilliant work from Muniain as the Bilbao attacker denies Messi in the Barcelona half before sliding a pass towards Susaeta, but Alves is across to make the challenge. Just a few signs that the home side are starting to click into gear, meanwhile, as Alves wins a free kick from Balenziaga with some neat work on the right.
Another free kick on the right for Barcelona as Herrera brings Sanchez to the ground. The set piece is taken quickly towards Alves, but his effort is blocked by Laporte. Strong pressure from the hosts as Messi turns into the net from close range moments later, but the Argentine had been leaning into an offside position.
Slightly untidy period of the match in the last couple of moments as the referee is called into action to deal with a number of late challenges. Bilbao are struggling to keep the ball as Barcelona continue to press, but the score remains goalless. The home supporters are willing their side to find the first goal.
OFF THE LINE! Brilliant defending from Balenziaga as the Bilbao defender clears a strike from Adriano off the line. His goalkeeper had given that one up as it whistled towards the bottom corner.
BOOKING! Bartra enters the book for Barcelona for pulling Herrera to the ground. Both sides have picked up one booking in the opening 22 minutes of this La Liga contest at the Camp Nou.
Erik Moran stops Barcelona from launching another counter as the Bilbao midfielder fells Iniesta in the middle of the park. Xavi looks for Messi moments later, but San Jose is across to clear once more.
CHANCE! Brilliant chance for the home side as Sanchez rises highest inside the Bilbao box from a corner, but Bartra cannot make decisive contact at the vital moment. Bilbao launch an immediate counter with Susaeta, but Alves clears the danger. Still goalless in this key league contest.
Good pressure from Bilbao in the last couple of moments as Aduriz finds some space outside the Barcelona box before attempting to release an effort on goal, but Mascherano makes the block. Almost silent inside the Camp Nou at the moment with little over 15 minutes of the first period remaining. Still goalless.
Brilliant defending from San Jose once more as the Bilbao centre-back denies Messi, who had threatened to drive into a one-on-one situation with the Bilbao goalkeeper. Plenty of attacking intent from the home side, but Bilbao have dealt with the threat thus far, in addition to providing an attacking threat of their own.
POST! Wow! Stunning effort from Aduriz as the Bilbao forward produces a wonderful over-head kick inside the Barcelona box, but his strike smashes the inside of the post. Incredible piece of skill!
Bilbao have not come here for the occasion that is for certain. The Basque outfit continue to threaten as Herrera drives a deep cross into the box, but Bartra is on hand to clear. Moments later, Iniesta attempts to break for the home side, but Laporte is across to fell the Spaniard. End-to-end football at the Camp Nou.
CROSSBAR! How on earth has he missed! Barcelona come within a whisker of taking the lead as Pedro drives a low cross towards Sanchez at the far post, but the Chilean rattles the crossbar!
How on earth is this match still goalless?! Both sides have struck the woodwork this evening, but both goalkeepers still have their clean sheets in tact. Little over 10 minutes of the first period to play.
Bilbao threaten once more as Muniain finds some space on the right before delivering towards the near post, but Mascherano is on hand to make the clearance. Moments later, Pinto comes to collect a loose header inside his own box. It is one-way traffic from Bilbao at the moment, with Barcelona struggling for the ball.
Little over five minutes of the first period remaining at the Camp Nou and still the score remains level. Just a reminder that as it stands, Barcelona would be six points behind leaders Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile, Bilbao would sit four points clear of fifth-place Sevilla in their fight for a top-four finish.
CHANCES! Another strike on goal for Barcelona as Sanchez hits one from just inside the box, but Iraizoz gets down to make the save. Better tempo from the home side in the last couple of minutes and another chance arrives when Pedro hits one towards the bottom corner, but Iraizoz makes another fine save.
Another tangle of arms inside the Barcelona box as Aduriz clashes with Adriano, but the referee is not interested. Good pressure from Bilbao in the last couple of minutes as the Basque outfit continue to force the issue. Little over one minute of the first period remaining at the Camp Nou.
HALF-TIME: Barcelona 0-0 Bilbao
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to an end with the two sides level at 0-0. Both have hit the woodwork in an end-to-end first 45 minutes of football, but neither has been able to open the scoring. Barcelona's troubles continue against an in-form and impressive Bilbao outfit.
STATISTICS: Barcelona have had more of the ball with 60%, while they have had nine attempts - five of which have been on target. Bilbao, meanwhile, have hit the target with two of their six attempts. Just the two bookings to report, meanwhile, with Bartra in the book for Barcelona and Iturraspe for Bilbao.
BENCH WATCH: The home side have a number of injury problems at the moment, but still have the likes of Fabregas, Roberto and Tello in reserve this evening. Bilbao, meanwhile, have options in the shape of Benat, Rico and Toquero. Both managers have the personnel to alter proceedings from the bench.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch for the second period. It is simple for Barcelona, they must win. Anything less and surely their title hopes would be over. Bilbao, meanwhile, are on course to consolidate fourth position. Right, the away side get the second 45 minutes of action underway.
No changes for either side at the interval, which is not too much of a surprise at this stage of proceedings. However, I suspect that both managers will look to their bench if the score remains level for the next 20 minutes or so. The first goal this evening - if there indeed is one - will surely be vital.
Wonderful work from Sanchez as the Barcelona winger combines with Iniesta before driving towards the edge of the Bilbao box, but Laporte brings the Chilean to the ground. Messi appears to be favourite to take.
Messi does indeed take the resulting set piece, but his effort is high and wide of the crossbar. Much better work in the build-up from Sanchez, but still the score remains goalless at the Camp Nou.
GOAL! Barcelona 0-1 Bilbao (Aduriz)
Aduriz just cannot stop scoring at the moment as the Bilbao forward nets his eighth goal in his last 10 games. A mistake from Bartra allows the Spaniard to drive into the box before picking out the bottom corner.
In truth, it is not that much of a surprise. Bilbao have forced the issue on a number of occasions in the second period and Barcelona's defensive problems have haunted them once more. Key period of the match approaching as Barcelona attempt to respond. Time is on the Catalan outfit's side that is for certain.
GOAL DISALLOWED! Bilbao have the ball in the back of the net once more as Susaeta converts from close range, but this time the flag is raised. Barcelona really need to settle their nerves here.
Not too much in the way of a response from Barcelona, but Alves and Adriano continue to offer width. Iniesta takes matters into his own hands moments later with an effort from distance, but Laporte makes the block. Moments later, Sanchez is ruled offside as Bilbao gain another period of respite at the Camp Nou.
Half-chance for the home side as Iniesta finds the run of Pedro with a sweeping pass, but San Jose is across to clear at the vital moment. Not too much of an atmosphere inside the stadium at the moment, which is not helping the home side. Little over 30 minutes of football remaining at the Camp Nou.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Barcelona as Xavi finds Pedro inside the Bilbao box, but once more Iraizoz is on hand to make a brilliant save. It just will not go in for Barcelona!
CHANCE! Incredible chance for Messi this time as the Argentine is played through by Sanchez, but his effort is wide of the post. How on earth has he missed?!
CROSSBAR! It is all happening at the moment as Herrera strikes one from distance, but the Bilbao midfielder's effort clips the top of the crossbar. Incredible scenes at the Camp Nou!
Another half-chance for the home side as Iniesta slides a through pass towards Pedro, but the Spaniard had been in an offside position. Plenty of chances for the home side, but it just is not happening. Little over 25 minutes of this contest remaining and Barcelona are heading for their fourth straight defeat.
SUB! Bilbao make their first change of the match as Mikel Rico enters the field in place of Moran, who has been a willing worker in the middle of the park this evening.
Again it is brilliant goalkeeping from Iraizoz as the Bilbao stopper comes to claim at the feet of Adriano, who had threatened to meet a through pass from Xavi. Still no movement on the Barcelona bench, which is a surprise at this stage of proceedings. Bilbao, meanwhile, continue to carry a threat on the counter.
Iraizoz takes one for his troubles as the Bilbao goalkeeper dives at the feet of Alves, who had moved into an offside position following a through pass from Sanchez. However, it appears that the Spanish stopper will be fit to continue. Until this point, Iraizoz has been the star performer at the Camp Nou.
CHANCES! Another chance for the home side as Adriano meets a high ball inside the Bilbao box, but Laporte makes a fine block. Moments later, Messi heads straight into the arms of Iraizoz.
SUB! Barcelona make their first change of the match as Fabregas replaces Xavi.
BOOKING! Bilbao midfielder Herrera enters the book for a poor challenge on Iniesta.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-1 Bilbao (Pedro)
Breakthrough Barcelona! The home side level the scores as Pedro turns a strike from Sanchez into the back of the net from close range. In truth, it had been coming. Can Bilbao hold out in the final stages?
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for the home side as Messi drives into the Bilbao box before attempting to clip one into the top corner, but Iraizoz is on hand to make the save.
BOOKING! The referee brings the play back and books De Marcos for felling Messi just outside the box. Strange piece of officiating.
GOAL! Barcelona 2-1 Bilbao (Messi)
Barcelona take the lead with 74 minutes on the clock as Messi drives a low free kick into the bottom corner. The home side have completed the turnaround on their own patch. Bilbao have just fallen away here.
Hardly time to take a breath at the moment as Barcelona continue to force the issue in the final third. I would be surprised if we had seen the last of the goals, with Bilbao still threatening on the counter. Little over 10 minutes of football remaining and Bilbao have a corner following a clearance from Adriano.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Bilbao as Susaeta drives into the Barcelona box, but his effort is straight into the arms of Pinto. Good grief what an opportunity for the Basque outfit.
BOOKING! Pedro enters the book for Barcelona after coming through the back of Muniain.
Half-chance for Bilbao as Herrera meets a loose ball on the edge of the box, but his effort is blocked by Adriano as Barcelona launch another attack. End-to-end football with 82 minutes on the clock.
Messi threatens once more for the home side following a through pass from Fabregas, but Iraizoz is out to claim at the vital moment. Possession football for Bilbao in the last few minutes, but they are not really threatening Pinto in the Barcelona goal. Little over five minutes of normal time remaining.
SUB! Bilbao make their second change of the match as Benat replaces Iturraspe.
Incredible pace from Messi as the Argentine drives past Balenziaga before moving into the Bilbao box, but Laporte is across to make a fine challenge at the vital moment. Mascherano has an opportunity moments later, but his effort is high of the crossbar after breaking into the Bilbao box.
SUB! Bilbao make their third and final change as Toquero replaces Susaeta.
SUB! Barcelona make their second change of the match as Tello replaces Sanchez.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of moments as Barcelona continue to dominate possession of the ball. You just get the feeling that there might be one final chance in this match. Bilbao will feel that they deserve a point from their efforts this evening that is for certain.
CHANCE! Incredible chance for Barcelona to score their third as Tello drives into the Bilbao box in a one-on-one situation with Iraizoz, but the Spaniard loses control at the vital moment and Laporte is across to clear the danger. Poor from the Barcelona sub, who also had Messi in close proximity.
CHANCE! Incredible chance for Bilbao to take a point from this match as Rico meets a low cross from Herrera, but Mascherano is on hand to make a stunning block. Brilliant defending!
FULL-TIME: Barcelona 2-1 Bilbao
So there we have it. Barcelona recover from 1-0 behind to claim all three points and move four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid. Bilbao, meanwhile, remain fourth, but are just three points clear of fifth-place Sevilla. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action. Good evening!