Match Preview: Athletic Bilbao vs FC Barcelona

Match Preview: Athletic Bilbao vs FC Barcelona

There are many quotes that exist on the subject but essentially the message is: it’s not the falling down that matters, it’s whether and how one gets back up. Tuesday evening’s 4-0 defeat in Munich was a humbling experience but life goes on, competition continues and Saturday at 6pm local time FC Barcelona travels to the San Mamés with the possibility of wrapping up the 2012/3 La Liga crown. Barça currently lead Real Madrid by 13 points, a victory in Bilbao coupled with a defeat for Real in the Madrid derby would guarantee the league. Atlético Madrid trail Real by three points and will look at Saturday’s game as the perfect opportunity to vanquish the demons of not winning in over a decade. Mourinho is without doubt solely focused on the return leg versus Dortmund. He knows the league is beyond him and that his legacy at the club lies solely in an unlikely comeback in the Champions League. The game is at the Vicente Calderón and ‘Mou’ will be without Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo. But a trip to “La Catedral” is never easy and this trip being the very last FC Barcelona will ever play in the stadium (Athletic Bilbao are moving to a new stadium next season), the ever proud “Lions” could put up an extra fight.

But does Tito Vilanova play his strongest 11 and possibly wrap up the league, or should he rest starters and unleash them Wednesday in an all or nothing return duel with Bayern Munich? From his press conference earlier Friday it seems to be the latter and it may as well be. No question, a comeback from 4-0 would be the most impressive in footballing history, and it’s significantly unlikely, but as Tito said, “I know that’s its difficult, but I don’t want to throw in the towel.

On the other side, Athletic Bilbao sit an unimpressive 14th place with 36 points from 10 victories and 16 defeats. It seems a very long time ago that Marcel Bielsa had the admiration of the footballing world with Bilbao’s sparkling performances in the UEFA Europa League. But a lot has happened since those wonderful nights, most of it unsavory. Javi Martínez exited the club in a weird and slightly underhanded transfer, Llorente effectively went on strike and has been sold to Juventus, rumors persisted about the squad’s unhappiness with Bielsa’s relentless intensity, and at one point newspapers reported Bielsa had resigned over a dispute regarding the construction of new training facilities. Yet, the Argentine manager remains but lasting past the season’s end is far from certain. Nevertheless, in players like Muniain, Susaeta, Herrera, and De Marcos as well as Iraizoz’s repeated heroics in goal, Bilbao always has a chance.

Team News

Athletic Bilbao

Starting midfielder Ander Iturraspe is suspended while Aymeric Laporte is injured. Xabi Castillo and Isma López return to the squad.

Predicted Starting XI: Iraizoz; Iraola, San José, Ekiza, Aurtenetxe; Gurpegui, De Marcos, Herrera; Susaeta, Aduriz, Muniain

Match squad: Iraizoz, Toquero, Aurtenetxe, San José, Llorente, De Marcos, Ibai, Raúl, Susaeta, Iraola, Ismael López, Gurpegi, Muniain, Aduriz, Ander Herrera, Castillo, Ekiza, Ramalho

FC Barcelona

Sergio Busquets did not travel today with the team due to minor muscular discomfort. Javier Mascherano remains injured. It is unlikely that Lionel Messi starts, he sure did not look fit Tuesday, so it will be a real opportunity for those on show to prove their ability to win without the little genius.

Predicted Starting XI: Valdés; Montoya, Bartra, Abidal, Alba; Thiago, Song, Fàbregas; Alexis, Villa, Tello

Match squad: Valdés, Pinto, Dani Alves, Piqué, Fàbregas, Xavi, Villa, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Bartra, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Montoya, Adriano, Abidal, Song, Tello

It has become rather difficult to predict the match pattern with such ranging score lines and performances of late. However with Bielsa, it’s almost certain he will instruct his team to go full throttle, press hard and high and go for victory. The home side is definitely going to have its chances but on the transitions Barça’s players will find the space to create opportunities of their own. And while Bilbao are good, they certainly are no Bayern Munich. This game should have goals and several healthy tackles.

Source: fcbarcelona.cat, Image Credit: JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images