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Preview: Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Barcelona's trip to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga.

Barcelona will be looking to return to winning ways when they travel to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga on Sunday night.

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 when they visit Bilbao.


Athletic Bilbao

Iker Muniain in action for Athletic Bilbao in September 2017© Reuters

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.

In all honesty, things have not improved too much this term. A total of 26 points has left them in 12th position entering Week 23, but they are just two points off 17th-placed Girona and could find themselves sliding down the table if results go against them this weekend.

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.

Indeed, a 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.

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.

The points were shared in a 1-1 draw when Bilbao travelled to Camp Nou earlier this season, however, and fatigue could play a part for Barcelona when considering their busy run of fixtures in recent weeks.

The statistics suggest that stopping Williams and Muniain will go a long way to helping Barcelona claim all the points, though, with Bilbao managing just 23 league goals this season. Indeed, only four teams - Alaves, Leganes, Huesca and Real Valladolid - in Spain's top flight have scored fewer.

Recent form: DWWDWL
Recent form (all competitions): LWWDWL


Barcelona

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is crowded out by Real Madrid players on February 6, 2019© Reuters

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.

The table suggests that Valverde's team are still in a strong position. Indeed, they have a six-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid, while Real Madrid are eight points behind in third. The two capital rivals meet at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday and Barcelona will surely be hoping for a draw in that match.

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 23 fewer.

Barcelona will enter this weekend's match off the back of a 1-1 draw against Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final. It is an incredibly busy period of the season for the Catalan giants 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.

As if that run was not enough, next month gets off to a bang as they visit Real Madrid in the league on March 2. As good as Barcelona 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.

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 appearances.

Recent form: WWWWWD
Recent form (all competitions): WLWWDD


Team News

Barcelona duo Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi celebrate a goal against Leganes in La Liga on January 20, 2019.© Reuters

Bilbao will again be without the services of trio Inigo Lekue, Mikel Rico and Aritz Aduriz through suspension, while Garitano will be considering changes following the defeat to Sociedad.

Bernat and Raul Garcia both came off the bench against Sociedad and could start, while Markel Susaeta will hope to be involved having been an unused substitute in the Basque derby.

As for Barcelona, Messi has been training separately this week in a bid to be fit. A thigh problem meant that the Argentine could only play a small part of Wednesday's clash with Real Madrid, but Valverde is hopeful that he will be able to call upon Messi from the start this weekend.

Samuel Umtiti has returned to light training following a knee injury, but the Frenchman is still absent and the same can be said for Rafinha and Jasper Cillessen.

Jordi Alba will serve a one-match suspension, meanwhile, which should see Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto start in the full-back positions.

Ousmane Dembele is also in contention having recovered from an ankle injury and a fever, but Brazilian midfielder Arthur will spend the next four weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring problem.

Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup:
Herrerin; Capa, Alvarez, Inigo, Yuri; R Garcia, Bernat, D Garcia; Cordoba, Williams, Muniain

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Semedo; Busquets, Rakitic, Vidal; Dembele, L Suarez, Messi


Head To Head

As mentioned, the points were shared in a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou in the league earlier this season.

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.

It has been a fixture dominated by the Catalan giants, who have incredibly lost just one of the last 25 league meetings between the two teams.


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We say: Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Barcelona

Bilbao have been in decent form in recent weeks, but we fancy Barcelona to return to winning ways with a fairly comfortable away success.


body check tags ::

Who will win Sunday's clash between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona?

Athletic Bilbao
Draw
Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao
8.5%
Draw
8.5%
Barcelona
83.0%
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Barcelona duo Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi celebrate a goal against Leganes in La Liga on January 20, 2019.
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