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A trip to the Basque country and a Saturday evening fixture against Athletic Club (8.45pm CET) is the next challenge which awaits FC Barcelona. It will be an emotional night for Ernesto Valverde as he returns to the club that he coached for four years prior to his move to Barça.
Andrés Iniesta and Thomas Vermaelen have joined Ousmane Dembélé, Rafinha, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal on the injury list, but Jordi Alba is match fit again.
Defensive midfielder Oriol Busquets and central defender David Costas of Barça B have been drafted in as replacements, and are in the squad along with Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Semedo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Denis Suárez, Suárez, Messi, Mascherano, Paulinho, Deulofeu, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes and Umtiti.
Barça boss Valverde commented on Friday that “Athletic are very strong at San Mamés, not just now but for a long time now. They are intense in their play and the fans really get behind them, and we know they will not give up. They are a team who always go for goal, they have great team spirit with fans and the played united in their feeling for the club.”
His Athletic counterpart, Kuko Ziganda offered that "this is a very difficult challenge, but if we are still in contention to the end and with the fans behind us, we can keep the points at home.
Athletic started the season well and were unbeaten in their opening six games in league and European action. However, they’ve only won one of their last 10 in all competitions, against Sevilla earlier in October. In each match where they’ve taken the points at San Mamés in 2017/18, they’ve always done so to nil.
The draw at the Wanda Metropolitano remains the only game this season that Barça have failed to win. In the 13 games since the start of the season, they’ve stopped their opponents scoring on nine occasions.
Barça have won the last seven consecutive La Liga fixtures against Athletic Club and have only lost two league games to the Basques in the last 14 years. Both of those defeats were at San Mamés, in December 2013 and May 2006. In total, the blaugranes have only lost four of the last 42 games between the sides.
Los Leones haven’t scored in the last four league meetings but did win the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie 2-1 back in January of this year – a defeat that was overturned at Camp Nou in the second leg. Goals are virtually guaranteed as there’s only been one goalless draw (in 2010) this century.
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