Previewing Barcelona vs Athletic Club: LaLiga Matchday 31
Athletic’s victory over Real Betis on Saturday was a breath of fresh air. Taking all three points allowed to the Basques to stay within five points of Europe and build some confidence going into what will be one of the biggest games of the season. On Tuesday night Athletic will walk into an empty Camp Nou to face Barcelona with every intention of bringing all three points back home to Bilbao.
As usual, Barcelona will be favorites but it’s not that simple. Athletic have beaten Barcelona twice this season and will fully believe that they can do so again. First, the Basques defeated Barcelona 1-0 at San Mamés to open the season with Aritz Aduriz scoring an incredible overhead kick. The second victory came in the Copa del Rey which sent Athletic to the final.
Athletic have no fear of Barcelona, but the Catalans need a win to keep pace in the race for the La Liga title. Quique Setien’s side will also be out for revenge no doubt. Without fans in the stands Barcelona will lose part of their advantage at Camp Nou and this could end up being yet another match that goes down to the final minutes.
Unfortunately, Athletic will be without one of the team’s key players. After being shown a yellow card in the win over Real Betis, Yuri Berchiche will be suspended for the trip to Barcelona. Mikel Balenziaga and Iñigo Lekue will be options to replace the left-back, although Gaizka Garitano could potentially turn to Óscar De Marcos who is fully fit again and has played in all three games since the season resumed.
Beñat and Ibai Gómez won’t travel with the team either after both missed training on Monday due to discomfort. Their absences resulted in Unai Vencedor, Dani Vivian, and Jokin Ezkieta all being called up to the squad, but one player will have to be dropped for the game as Garitano has summoned a total of 24 players.
On the other hand, Barcelona will also be missing Frankie De Jong who has been ruled out due to a calf injury, but Setien will still be able to field an incredibly strong lineup at home. Interestingly, the manager has called up eight youth players for the match including Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig.
There are no secrets when it comes to playing Barcelona. Athletic know that the Catalans will want to have possession and try to break down the back line. Having built their success on organized defending, Athletic have already proven that they can silence the Barcelona attack and will look to do so again at Camp Nou.
The real question is whether or not Garitano will revert back to a 5-3-2 formation. During Monday’s press conference the manager explained that the team has worked on it as a possible option and the fact that Vivian has been called up suggests that Garitano will indeed field three center-backs against Barcelona.
Athletic have the quality to cause problems for Barcelona, especially on the counter attack and from set pieces. The Basques likely won’t have many chances but if they can make the most of their limited opportunities it’s reasonable that Athletic could take all three points back to Bilbao. Barcelona presents one of the biggest tests of the season, but Athletic have aced this exam before.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Yeray, Unai Núñez, Iñigo Martinez, Óscar De Marcos, Dani García, Mikel Vesga, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Iñaki Williams