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BILBAO, SPAIN - JANUARY 20:  Head coach Luis Enrique of FC Barcelola reacts during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final First Leg match between Athletic Club and FC Barcelola at San Mames Stadium on January 20, 2016 in Bilbao, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Athletic Bilbao Vs FC Barcelona: Tough Challenge At San Mames Awaits The Blaugrana

After routing Real Betis in their first game of the La Liga, Luis Enrique’s men now travel to the San Mames. Barcelona scored six goals against Betis and picked up their first three points of the season while Bilbao suffered a surprise defeat in their opening game against Sporting Gijon and are yet to open their account in the Spanish League. Barcelona clearly as expected do have the upper hand against their opponents in the tie with Bilbao losing their last four encounters with the Blaugrana. Coach Ernesto Valverde would be hoping to make home advantage count and get at least something from the game for another loss would make it very hard for the team.

Team News

Valverde is likely to field the exact first XI which played against Gijon, without making any changes. The team would like to do a better job this time around and defend better which would be the hardest thing to do against their opponents though. Going forward, the hosts have a lot of quality with the evergreen Aritz Aduriz leading the line and the pace of the jet legged Inaki Williams on the flanks. There will be goals at ‘The Cathedral’ the home fans would hope that it’s Bilbao who scored more.

Barcelona would miss the services of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who joined English club Manchester City a couple of days before. His replacement, Jasper Cillessen would not be featuring however, which means Ter Stegen should be making his start after his return from injury. Javier Mascherano is back from his injury and is likely to feature on the bench while Andres Iniesta’s absence would mean another chance for the new signing Denis Suarez to accompany Rakitic and Busquets in the midfield. Arda Turan is likely to play upfront with Messi and Suarez with Neymar on an extended break after his 2016 Olympics commitments.

Predicted Line-Ups

Athletic Bilbao (4-2-3-1): Iraizoz; de Marcos, Boveda, Laporte, Balenziaga; San Jose, Benat; Williams, Raul Garcia, Susaeta; Aduriz

Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Denis; Messi, Suarez, Arda Turan

Manager’s Word

Ernesto Valverde: “We made too many costly mistakes [against Sporting Gijon], especially in the second half. The key to the game was the two goals we conceded in three minutes at the start of the second half. I always expect the team to have the attitude we showed in the first half. The mistakes we made weren’t normal. Starting the season with a defeat has a price because it forces you to make up the ground you lost on the opening day, plus we face Barcelona on Sunday, but we’ll be up for it.”

Luis Enrique: “It was a perfect game [against Real Betis], both on a football and emotional level. The players came out with more ambition and enthusiasm than ever before. We were brave and effective, and I only remember a few games when our opponents put us under so little danger. It was a complete performance, and at this stage of the season it’s difficult.”

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Arka Tarun Mukherjee

Arsenal fan and football expert, Arka Tarun Mukherjee actually used to play cricket at semi pro level. An ardent student of football tactics, ATM is very passionate about the tactical aspects of the game and has a dream of being a football manager in the future.

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