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FC Barcelona travel to the Basque Country to face the always difficult Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, knowing that a win would take them to within a point of Real Madrid at the top of the table. With eight wins out of their last eight games and a total of 29 goals in the last month, Luis Enrique’s side is, as Gerard Piqué confirmed this week, “in winning form in the league and the cup, and that’s generating high hopes and confidence.”
LuisEnrique is bringing 18 players to San Mamés. The coach has included all available first-team players except Jordi Masip, Martín Montoya and Sergi Roberto, and the injured Douglas and Thomas Vermaelen. No Barça B players made the list. Defender MarcBartra is back in the squad after being left out last week.
Barça's squad: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Piqué, Adriano, Alba, Bartra, Mathieu, Mascherano, Sergio, Xavi, Iniesta, Rakitic, Rafinha, Pedro, Neymar Jr, Messi and Suárez
Athletic Club's squad: Iraizoz, Toquero, Aurtenetxe, Laporte, San José, Beñat, De Marcos, Ibai, Iago Herrerín, Susaeta, X.Etxeita, Mikel Rico, Gurpegi, Muniain, Aduriz, Aketxe, Balenziaga, Unai López, and Williams.
Luis Enrique knows what to expect from the Basques, explaining in his press conference on Saturday: “They compete for every ball, you can’t relax for two seconds. And they have a lot of physical players that are strong in the air. Their season didn’t get off to a great start, but I think that’s because they were struggling to play in both La Liga and the Champions League.”
After a welcome week off from Cup action, Barça will be looking to lengthen their eight game winning streak. Luis Enrique’s side have scored 10 goals in their last two league games on the road (0-4 against Deportivo and 0-6 at Elche), but they opened 2015 with a defeat in the Basque Country – losing 1-0 to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad. Athletic are sitting in the 12th spot, having won just three of their 10 games at the New San Mamés so far this season, with the 1-1 draw against Málaga in their last game putting an end to a three match losing streak at home.
Ones to watch
Jordi Alba has been putting in some excellent performances over the last few games and he told reporters this week: "I'm having a very good time; the same feeling I had in 2012.” Expect to see him bombing down the touchline on Sunday. For Athletic, Aduriz has been their main threat up front, but Muniain seems to be coming back into form and he also scored the only goal when Barça lost at the San Mamés last season.
There’s a long history between the two clubs, but for many fans, Pep Guardiola’s triumphant final game in charge when Barça lifted the Spanish Cup in 2012 has to be the most memorable.
The game is being shown live by Sky Sports in the UK and beIN Sports in the US.
No matter where you are in the world we have you covered. And remember, you can also listen to live play-by-play in English on Radio Barça. The radio link will appear on www.fcbarcelona.com just before kick-off. Twitter users can follow @FCBarcelona for a live feed of all the action.
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