What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao
When: Sunday 20th April, 2014, at 20:00 UK Time
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

Competitions Goodbyes

In the space of a week, Barcelona bid farewell to two competitions, as Atletico Madrid made sure they knocked them out of the Champions League while Real Madrid beat them to the Copa del Rey a few days ago. With only La Liga remaining this term – a tournament in which they are seven points off the mark of leaders Atletico Madrid – Barcelona are facing their hardest times since they came back to life in the 2008/09 campaign under former manager Pep Guardiola. Having suffered three consecutive defeats in three different competitions, Gerardo Martino’s men simply cannot fail in this one.

At the Mestalla against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, Barcelona looked disinterested at best: Xavi was stagnant in midfield, Neymar over-crowded, and Lionel Messi could have very much been absent altogether. With signs of crisis growing further at the Camp Nou, the Blaugrana will breathing a sigh of relief as they play for the first time in three games in front of their own fans, as they have an amazing record at home, having won 30 of the last 31 league games they disputed in Catalonia. 

Against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou, they have won five and drawn one in the past six games, but this time might be Barcelona’s toughest meeting given current circumstances.

Another Fight

Athletic Bilbao might be just one spot below Barcelona in the league standings, but 16 points separate the two sides before this meeting. With five games to go before the end of the term’s festivities, the Basques will want to keep fighting for their fourth position in the league standings; the final Champions League qualification ticket for the tournament’s edition next season. Six points ahead of fifth-placed Sevilla, Ernesto Valverde’s side have a very strong chance of achieving their goal, and a win against the Blaugrana will be crucial as they continue their fight.

Speaking ahead of the team’s trip to Catalonia, Gorka Iraizoz was proud of his team’s recent displays, but still urged his team-mates to be cautious when they prepare to meet last season’s La Liga winners.

“We have fought in every game ever since we achieved fourth place and we have to keep doing it. Nobody will give us anything and all the teams behind us want this position. We have no time to relax… We must now use all our strength to keep going”, explained the goalkeeper.

This could be a true testament to Athletic Bilbao’s seriousness, as they are undefeated in their last seven games on the road.

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Recent form

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona (09/04; Champions League)
Granada 1-0 Barcelona (12/04; La Liga)
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid (16/04; Copa del Rey)

Athletic Bilbao:
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid (29/03; La Liga)
Levante 1-2 Athletic Bilbao (07/04; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 3-0 Malaga (14/04; La Liga)

Key absences

Barcelona: Neymar; Jordi Alba; Gerard Pique; Victor Valdes; Isaac Cuenca; Jonathan dos Santos; Marc Bartra (doubt); Sergio Busquets (suspended)

Athletic Bilbao: Borja Ekiza; Carlos Gurpegui; Kike Sola; Ibai Gomez; Moreno Mikel Rico (doubt)

Players to watch

Barcelona – Lionel Messi: Football fans and particularly Barcelona’s are all wondering about the sudden drop in form that the Argentine is suffering. Kept at bay at the Vicente Calderon against Atletico Madrid and virtually nonexistent in the Copa del Rey final, now is the time for the real Lionel Messi to step up.

Athletic Bilbao – Aritz Aduriz: The striker is enjoying his football recently as he is finding the back of the net on a regular basis. With the Barcelona defence on the brink of falling down, he has the chance to add more insult to injury in the Camp Nou against the hosts.

Match Prediction

A fourth successive defeat for Barcelona? Surely inconceivable, as fans will simply riot should they see their team suffer against the Basques. This will be by no means an easy task for the home side, but they simply cannot afford any more slip-ups. Expect a narrow win for them.

Betting on Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao? Make sure you read our betting preview first!

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