What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Barcelona (1st; 62 points) vs Athletic Bilbao (5th; 38 points)
When: Sunday 20th February, 2011, at 20:00 UK time
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

A Bad Week

It is not every day that Barcelona suffer two bad results in the space of a week. A frustrating 1-1 draw against Sporting Gijon in La Liga was followed by a 2-1 setback to Arsenal in the Champions League, leaving a great amount of work for the current Spanish champions to do in the return leg. For now, their lead at the top of the league could very well be jeopardised as they prepare to face Athletic Bilbao.

The aftermath of Barcelona’s defeat to Arsenal was visible as team vice-captain Xavi expressed his disappointment for the way his team played: "It was a shame because we felt we were superior to Arsenal. The result is worse than last season’s, as we had a draw in that match, and now we have a loss. The team made significant errors, but played good football. All we lacked was the finishing touch.”

Much of the Blaugrana’s recent frustrations have been due to the absence of skipper Carles Puyol. The 32-year-old has been absent in nearly all of the games that his team have failed to win this season, and given his importance to the squad, his return, if he can shake off injury, will be highly anticipated, especially in such a crucial match as this against Bilbao. Barcelona need a resounding victory to get back on track.

Time to Pounce

If there was a perfect time for Joaquin Caparros to attack the Blaugrana and make use of their recent misfortunes, it is now. While Bilbao themselves endured a rough defeat to Mallorca last weekend, they nonetheless have the potential to upset their hosts and go back to Basque country with some of, if not all, the spoils.

Having embarked upon a good streak recently, Athletic’s fortunes came to a halt with that defeat to islanders Mallorca. Speaking after the match, coach Joaquin Caparros blamed his own team for the outcome, citing a lack of intensity as the reason behind Los Leones’ demise: “We did not play this match with the same intensity we had in our previous encounters. It was only in the second half that we tried to win. But I must point out that Mallorca did well this evening.”

Supporting the words of his coach, President Fernando Macua praised Caparros’ work at Bilbao, saying that he still has lots of work to achieve at the San Mames: “His cycle here, which began four seasons ago, is still not over.” Such support will surely be a boost for Caparros as his team continues to aim for the Champions League places.


Recent form

Barcelona 3-0 Atletico Madrid
(05/02; La Liga)
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Barcelona
(12/02; La Liga)
Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona
(16/02; Champions League)

Athletic Bilbao:
Atletico Madrid 0-2 Athletic Bilbao (30/01; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 3-0 Sporting Gijon (05/02; La Liga)
RCD Mallorca 1-0 Athletic Bilbao (14/02; La Liga)

Key absences

Barcelona: Carles Puyol (doubt); Jeffren Suarez

Athletic Bilbao: Carlos Gurpegui; Jonas Ramalho; Aldekoaotalora Ustaritz (doubt)

Players to watch

Barcelona – Lionel Messi: The world’s best player surely must step up to the occasion as his team try to forget what has been a difficult week. Just like last season, Messi has been superb for Barcelona, and a good display on his part would destroy Bilbao. On occasions like this the Catalans need Messi, and the Argentine rarely fails to deliver. Expect a big display from the little wizard.

Athletic Bilbao – Fernando Llorente: If there is a man who is able to hurt the Catalans at this point, it is Llorente. The towering forward can be a real nuisance in the Barcelona box, and it is not by chance that the Catalans, as well as Real Madrid and English side Liverpool, have all been linked with bids for his services. Llorente could be a match-winner here if Barcelona’s defence do not adequately stop him.

Match Prediction

To fail for a third consecutive match would be a big blow for Barcelona, to say the least. Back in the confines of the Camp Nou, such a lapse appears unlikely for Pep Guardiola and his men, and home comforts could well help them forget their recent woes. Barcelona will get their act together for this one, and come out on top. Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Bilbao.

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