Previewing Athletic Club vs Barcelona: La Liga Matchday 23
After suffering the first La Liga loss of the Gaizka Garitano era, Athletic will look to get things back on track on Sunday when they host league leaders Barcelona at the San Mamés. This fixture is arguably the biggest challenge of the season so far for the new manager, but it also presents the team with an opportunity to continue climbing the table. When these two clubs meet it’s always entertaining.
Throughout history Barcelona have had the upper hand, winning 98 of the 194 total meetings with a +95 goal differential. Athletic have only managed 63 wins but they have had some good performances of late. Earlier this year they played the Catalans to a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou and pulled off a 2-1 win at home in the Copa del Rey back in January of 2017. The last time Athletic beat Barcelona at the San Mamés in league play was December of 2013 and the players are confident that they can get a positive result once again this weekend.
Things have been going well for Barcelona who are currently enjoying a 10 game unbeaten streak in La Liga. However, their last two matches have been challenging. Valencia played the Catalans to a 2-2 draw last weekend and on Wednesday they were involved in a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey. Still, Barcelona hold a six point lead over Atlético Madrid at the top of the table.
Ernesto Valverde will have some big decisions to make as he will be without three key players. Jordi Alba is suspended due to yellow card accumulation while Arthur Melo is out with an injury. Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele made the squad for the match and could play. The former Athletic manager could still choose to keep Messi and Dembele on the bench out of precaution, but they are available.
For Athletic this games comes at an unwanted time. The Lions saw their 7 game unbeaten streak come to an end last weekend in a 2-1 loss to Real Sociedad at the Anoeta and now they will face the top team in the league. That being said the Zurigorri have been playing their best football of the last two years under Gaizka Garitano and several players have come out to share their confidence and belief that they can get a positive result against Barcelona.
Like Valverde, Garitano will have to make some alterations to his team as well. Ander Capa will miss the game due to yellow card accumulation while Aritz Aduriz, Peru Nolaskoain, and Iñigo Lekue are all out due to injury. Oscar De Marcos is expected to start at right-back in place of Capa which means that Ibai Gómez will likely be on the right-wing once again. The rest of the lineup could remain unchanged, but with Raúl García healthy Garitano could look for a way to get him on the field without disrupting the rhythm too much.
Athletic know what they are facing when Barcelona comes into the San Mamés. The league leaders have been deadly this season and they want to possess the ball and cut open defenses. For the Lions to get a good result they will need to be as organized as ever in defense and attack quickly when they do win the ball back. The pace of Iñaki Williams could be an invaluable asset but it’s going to take another complete team performance to come away with something positive.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Ibai Gómez, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Iñaki Williams