MX23RW : Monday, January 21 04:12:15

Preview: Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao

Sports Mole previews Barcelona's second-leg Spanish Cup meeting with Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou as the Catalans look to overturn a 4-0 first-leg defeat.

Barcelona host Athletic Bilbao in Monday's second-leg Spanish Super Cup clash at Camp Nou knowing that their bid to win the sextuple hangs by a thread.

Aritz Aduriz starred by netting a hat-trick as Bilbao cruised to a 4-0 win over the Catalans on Friday, leaving them on the brink of their first trophy since 1984.


Barcelona

Barcelona's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (L) vies with Athletic Bilbao's goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz (R) during the Spanish Supercup first-leg football match Athletic Club Bilbao vs FC Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on August 14, 2015© Getty Images

Coach Luis Enrique was frank in his assessment: "Is a comeback possible? This was just the first half. If there's one team that can turn this around it's Barca."

By virtue of the fact that his side have scooped Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey and UEFA Super Cup titles in 2015, few can doubt the confidence in Enrique's post-match sentiments. After all, it's Barca. They do not do second best these days.

Although the 45-year-old has a duty to preserve his side's morale, and ensuring that they believe that a comeback is possible, the Blaugrana boss must be preparing for second place at this stage of the tie.

Despite fielding the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, a tired-looking Barcelona had no reply for what Bilbao threw at them. Enrique cited his team's hectic schedule as a factor in the defeat - and under the circumstances it may be a valid excuse.

On Tuesday, they endured a two-hour classic as Sevilla took them to extra time in their UEFA Super Cup clash in Georgia, before the treble winners ultimately returned home from Eastern Europe with a 5-4 win. There appeared to be a price for the win.

Given that they had already completed a pre-season tour of the United States, it can be of little surprise, then, to see what happened to them three days later when they met Bilbao at San Mames.

Nevertheless, Enrique also heavily rotated his first XI and tonight's clash should see the return of several familiar faces as they look to defy the odds. Few would back against them.

Recent form: WL
Pre-season form: WLLLW


Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao's defender Mikel San Jose celebrates after scoring during the Spanish Supercup first-leg football match Athletic Club Bilbao vs FC Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on August 14, 2015© Getty Images

If Athletic Bilbao brought a 'nothing to lose' mentality into the tie then that it is certainly no longer the case. On the brink of their first trophy since 1984, Ernesto Valverde's men now have everything to lose.

Complacency is now the big risk for Bilbao as they look to end a 31-year barren spell, but Valverde was unequivocal in his assertion that the tie is far from over.

Speaking after their famous win on Friday, the Spaniard remarked that his troops still have "plenty of suffering to do" - the words of a man expecting an anxiety-laden 90 minutes at Camp Nou.

Given who their hosts are, few could blame him or any of the Bilbao squad for refusing to get too carried away. Even the fact that no team has recovered from a four-goal first-leg deficit to win the trophy is unlikely to ease Los Leones' worries.

Still, failing to lift the trophy from here would represent a huge upset - even if it is against Barcelona - but Valverde's side can still expect a stern test.

Recent form: W
Pre-season form: WD


Team News

Neymar of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Camp Nou on May 9, 2015© Getty Images

Neymar remains sidelined with mumps as Pedro could continue to deputise alongside Messi and Suarez in the hosts' three-pronged attack.

Left-back Jordi Alba will miss the second leg with a hamstring injury, while Adriano dropped out of training with a thigh strain yesterday.

Douglas is also unavailable for Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Ander Iturraspe, Iker Muniain, Inaki Williams, Mikel Rico and Ramalho are expected to sit out the visit to Catalunya for Bilbao.

Barcelona possible starting lineup: Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Mascherano; Busquets, Rafinha, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Pedro

Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup: Iraizoz; De Marcos, Balenziaga, Laporte, Etxeita; San Jose, Benat, Eraso, Susaeta; Aduriz, Sabin Merino


Head To Head

Friday's victory ended the Catalans' four-match winning streak against Bilbao, whose last victory at Camp Nou came way back in 2001. Since then, Los Leones have only won two of the subsequent 34 meetings - not including the 4-0 earlier this week.

However, Barca have only won by four goals or more on one occasion during the same time period.


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We say: Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Bilbao

They will certainly not give up without a fight, but surely Enrique's men left themselves too much to do.

As he pointed out, a four-goal win is hardly beyond his troops, but with a three-day rest period separating both legs, Monday comes far too soon for an already-tired Barcelona to produce the full-blooded effort needed to overturn the deficit.


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Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi vies with Athletic Bilbao's French defender Aymeric Laporte during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Athletic Club Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 13, 2014
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Preview: Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Barcelona20135253203344
2Atletico MadridAtletico20118130131741
3Real Madrid2011363024636
4Sevilla209653122933
5AlavesAlaves209562223-132
6Getafe208752516931
7Real Betis208572525029
8Valencia2051141918126
9Real Sociedad207582524126
10Levante207583235-326
11GironaGirona205962326-324
12Espanyol197392127-624
13Leganes205871721-423
14Athletic Bilbao2041152126-523
15Real Valladolid205781723-622
16EibarEibar195772128-722
17Celta Vigo205693234-221
18Rayo Vallecano2055102436-1220
19Villarreal203982126-518
20Huesca2025131739-2211

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