Just two games into the Liga season, and FC Barcelona are already the only team that has a one hundred per cent record. After beating Elche 3-0 at the Camp Nou and then winning 1-0 in Villarreal, the side are in a buoyant mood as they prepare to take on Athletic Bilbao at home. But this game is the first of a marathon series of fixtures – Barça have seven games in just 22 days ahead of them!
Luis Enrique has a virtually full squad at his disposal for Saturday afternoon’s game (4.00 PM CET). The returns of Javier Mascherano (suspended against Villarreal), Marc-André ter Stegen (missing through injury for the first two league matches) and Andrés Iniesta (who sat out the Villarreal game)were confirmed on the morning of the match. Mathieu, Leo Messi and Adriano have also been declared fit to play.
So, the only absentees from today’s squad are the injured Alves, Jordi Masip (with a fractured finger) and Vermaelen as well as Douglas, Bartra and Rafinha, who the manager has decided to rest.
Both sides go into this game with Europe on their minds. The Basques will be hosting Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday at San Mamés, while FC Barcelona also start their UCL campaign at home, the day after against Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus. Luis Enrique already admitted at his Friday press conference that this was one of several factors that would condition his team selection for Saturday, two others being the fact that several of his players have only just returned from international duty and that over the next three weeks, he’ll have almost one match every three days to think about. Nine different players appeared in both of Barça’s first two league outings, but perhaps this is the time for him to start rotating his bench?