PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Athletic Club

PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Athletic Club

At Sunday at 9pm CEST, the league campaign kicks back in following the international break

Liga football is back after the international break, and that means the first game at Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys for over three weeks. And it's one of the oldest fixtures in the country as FC Barcelona and Athletic Club go back into battle in a history that dates back more than 120 years.

Barça go into the game with the pressure on, for after finally working their way to the top of the table, two 2-2 draws in the last three games, against Mallorca and Granada, mean they started the weekend back down in third behind Real Madrid and Girona.

Matters aren't helped by the injury situation, with more players than ever now unfit to play. But as Xavi said in his pre-game press conference, that's not an excuse, and the Catalans will be hoping for something akin to the last two times they played at home to the Basques, when things turned out very nicely indeed.


Those were both 4-0 wins for Barça, and there was also a 1-0 win at San Mamés last season. So that's three wins out of three, nine goals scored and none conceded against the bilbainos since Xavi took charge of the team.

The game also means the chance to welcome Ernesto Valverde back to the Catalan capital. The Athletic manager was at Barça both as a player and later as coach, and it is always a pleasure to see his face again. But niceties aside, we hope he'll once again be headed back north empty-handed!

How it stands

Leaders Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Sevilla on Saturday, giving Barça an excellent opportunity to close the gap to just one point should they beat Athletic.

It looked like second placed Girona might also drop points after they went 2-0 down at home to bottom-of-the-table Almeria, but three goals in five minutes turned the whole thing around and they eventually marched to a 5-2 win and join Real Madrid on 25 points.

Barça actually start the game in fourth, after an Antonie Griezmann hat trick earned Atlético Madrid the three points in Celta to replace the blaugrana, at least for now, in third.

Team news

Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Jules Kounde, Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, five essential players in Xavi's gameplan, are still out injured, and this week captain Sergi Roberto also became unavailable to add to the mounting problems in the Barça camp.

However, although Alejandro Balde picked up a problem while on international duty for Spain, and Lamine Yamal was unable to play in either of La Roja's games this week, both have made excellent progress and have been included in the 19 man squad for the game by coach Xavi Hernández.

With so many first teamers out, Xavi has been forced to turn to the reserves, with Unai Hernández, Marc Guiu and Héctor Fort all getting call-ups.

Right back Fort thus gets named in the first team squad for the first time in a competitive match, although he did feature in the end-of-season game against Vissel Kobe last summer. Central midfielder Hernández and striker Guiui have both been called up before but have not yet been used. A good chance of seeing one or more official debuts today!

The Basques, meanwhile, are hanging on Nico Williams who also dropped out of the Spain squad with back issues, although he may be good to play, albeit perhaps off the subs bench. There are similar doubts concerning Mikel Vesga while defender Yeray Álvarez underwent an adductor operation this week and will be out for the next few months.

Athletic have got off to a decent enough start this season, In fact, their 17 points after the first nine games is better than they have ever done before this century, and that's despite a crushing loss at home to Real Madrid on the opening weekend and a similarly painful defeat to Real Sociedad in the recent local derby.

Xavi says

"Valverde is a brave manager and likes to apply deep pressure. Apart from the derby, they've been on top form lately. And we have a lot of injury concerns, although I'm not using that as an excuse."

"The tough schedule is to blame for the injuries. Two ankle injuries from unlucky situations, another unfortunate knee injury. Raphinha was worn out after playing so much. Araujo, Gündogan, Balde and Lamine are all fine to play on Sunday. Lewandowski is feeling good about things. Hopefully he'll be ready for the Clásico. He's top class in this too, he'll fighting no matter how much it hurts"

"There have been games this season where we deserved to win and didn't, but there others where we didn't really deserve the three points" 


Força Barça
Força Barça

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