Barcelona travel to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao as they kick-start their La Liga title defense on Saturday.
The Catalans have won the league title twice in a row and will look to start on a winning note as they aim to make it three in three years. Ernesto Valverde is overseeing a good summer with Ajax superstar Frenkie de Jong and Atletico Madrid talisman Antoine Griezmann joining already.Embed from Getty Images
While the futures of Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic is up in the air and the rumours of a Neymar return refuse to go away, Barcelona will look to focus on the task at hand.
Coming to their opponents, Athletic Bilbao have the toughest possible start, hosting the La Liga champions. The Basque club finished 8th in the league last season, out of the European places.Embed from Getty Images
Now, Gaizka Garitano’s side will look to improve upon those performances and getting a result against Barcelona will set a fine mood for Los Leones. However, it is easier said than done and their transfer inactivity poses further difficulty for the side.
In terms of team news, the home side will rely on Aritz Aduriz and Inaki Williams to find the back of the net while they will be without Gorka Guruzeta and Ibai Gomez for the clash.
On the other hand, Valverde is likely to miss his side’s talisman and captain Lionel Messi as the Argentine is struggling with a calf injury. In his absence, Griezmann will be expected to step up and the Frenchman will be more than willing to do so.
Head-To-Head and Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona PredictionEmbed from Getty Images
In terms of head-to-head, Barcelona lost just once in their last 13 meetings with Bilbao across all competitions. The Blaugrana are unbeaten in their last 6, with 4 clean sheets in the last 5 clashes.
However, the 2 league meetings ended in draws last season and the home side will look to take strength from that. Further, they lost just once in pre-season and will look to keep that run going on Friday.
That could prove to be insufficient against Barcelona, who have won the last 4 pre-season games and have lost just once in the last 26 league games.
Thus, Valverde’s side will be favorites to pick up all 3 points irrespective of Messi’s fitness on Friday.
Predicted Athletic Bilbao XI: Simon; Rodriguez, Martinez, Berchiche; Lopez, Dani Garcia; Munian, Raul Garcia, Cordoba; Williams
Predicted Barcelona XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Roberto, De Jong, Alena; Dembele, Suarez, Griezmann