Pep Guardiola foresees an intense match against Athletic Bilbao, a team that he qualified as the "Sensation of Europe"
The manager recognises that all teams need days of recovery between matches, but he believes that Bielsa’s team will give their all on Saturday at the Camp Nou, despite having played on Thursday
Gambling on youth
Both FC Barcelona and Athletic Club are two teams that have gambled strongly on their youth systems. The manager believes that the difference with other clubs who also have good youth systems "is that we pick them".
Josep Guardiola believes that his team will do well not to think that Athletic Club are coming to the Camp Nou with the 'handicap' of having played 48 hours before in their Europa League match. The manager, who watched Bilbao’s win against Schalke, said that the Basque outfit "is used to working at maximum effort. They are educated to believe that they can do more". He also thinks that they won’t come out at the Camp Nou thinking more about the European game than this one. "They can win, lose, or draw, but they can dominate in games and always have chances to win them".
He recognises that for both Barça and Athletic it’s better to have more rest days between matches, but accepts that "the schedule is what it is ... it’s better to have three or four days rest but teams that want to reach Finals have to play lots of games, one after another, in this situation," he said.
Careful with Athletic
Guardiola was once again full of praise for Marcelo Bielsa, the Athletic Club manager. "I think he’s the best and believe me it’s a pleasure for me to go up against him," he said. Given that, he recognises Bielsa’s role in taking Athletic to the top and didn’t hesitate in saying that "they are the sensation of Europe. They’ve earned the right to have the admiration of everyone".
About the dangers of the next opponent, Guardiola has watched Bilbao’s last few games, as well as Barça’s game in Bilbao in the first part of the season. "They usually play with the same players. The matches I've seen are a pleasure for the spectator. It’ll be a really tough game, very demanding for the players, but good to watch".
A good test
Athletic Club, and Barça’s situation coming into this match with the Champions League qualifier in between, is a good stress test for Guardiola if they want to win more titles. "If we want to be champions of the League, the Cup, or Europe, we have to overcome these circumstances. Overcoming them is the only way, bearing in mind possible difficulties. We have to look forward and take another step".
But first of all the players have to be mentally prepared for the game this Saturday, and not the Milan match. "If we’d been focused on another match and not the next one, we wouldn’t have won 13 out of 16 titles". So now it’s the Athletic Club match, and from Sunday there'll be time to focus on the return leg of the Champions League.