Two-time reigning Spanish champion Barcelona travel to Basque country on Friday night to open up the La Liga season against Athletic Bilbao.
Group Clubs San Mames, Bilbao, Spain
Key Stat: Barcelona are unbeaten in their last six against Bilbao, though both matches ended with draws last term.
Expert Verdict: Barcelona haven't lost to Athletic Bilbao in a while, but they haven't just walked over them of late, either. That's not going to give them a huge boost of confidence here, so it will not be an automatic victory just by showing up. Bilbao are not an easy side to visit, even when they are a little bit down. With that being said, it's just so hard to predict against the Catalans. They've got so much firepower and they will surely find a way through.
Gaizka Garitano hasn’t seen any major stars come in this summer, so there isn’t much in the way of reinforcements. However, most of his top players are intact and are healthy to begin again here at San Mames.
Inaki Williams led the team last season with 12 goals in 36 appearances in La Liga, so the quick and dynamic striker will be the man to keep a watch on this term as they go forward. He’s dangerous and will make Barca think twice about pushing too far up the pitch to squeeze the field. In behind him is the ever-present veteran attacking midfielder Raul Garcia. The former Atleti man scored nine times last term and is just the type of hard-nosed man that can trouble a silky smooth team such as the Catalans.
Athletic have a win, three draws, and a loss in their last five matches:
1-2 win vs Mirandes (Fri)
2-2 draw vs Roma (Fri)
2-1 loss vs Racing Santander (Fri)
2-2 draw, penalty win vs West Ham (Fri)
1-1 draw vs Numancia (Fri)
Defenders:Capa, Yeray, Inigo Martinez, Berchiche
Defensive Midfielders:Unai Lopez, Dani Garcia
Attacking Midfielders:Muniain, Raul Garcia, Cordoba
Ernesto Valverde has seen some big names join the team this summer, with Frenkie De Jong and Antoine Griezmann being the biggest. The largest to depart has been Malcom, who wasn’t much of a favorite in his short stint, anyway. The issue at hand for the Catalans right now is over the fitness of Lionel Messi. The Argentine magician is a doubt, and it’s not looking likely he’ll be risked here. Also set to miss out is goalkeeper Neto.
Even with Messi likely to miss out in some way, this side has plenty of firepower aboard to blow the opposition away. That’s what Luis Suarez is used to doing. The Uruguayan had a bit of a disappointing summer for his country, but he’ll be looking to fire on after bulging the net 25 times in all comps last term. Griezmann is another that will be eager to show why he was worth so much money. The Frenchman has scored a ton of big goals for both club and country, but now it’s time for him to take it up a notch.
Barcelona have four wins and a loss in their last five matches:
0-4 win vs Napoli (Fri)
2-1 win vs Napoli (Fri)
2-1 win vs Arsenal (Fri)
0-2 win vs Vissel Kobe (Fri)
1-2 loss vs Chelsea (Fri)
Defenders:Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba
Midfielders:Roberto, de Jong, Arthur
Forwards:Dembele, Griezmann, Suarez
In 65 matches, Athletic Bilbao have managed just nine wins and 14 draws against Barcelona.
Here's a look at the last five results:
Feb 10, 2019: Athletic 0-0 Barcelona
Sep 29, 2018: Barcelona 1-1 Athletic
Mar 18, 2018: Barcelona 2-0 Athletic
Oct 28, 2017: Athletic 0-2 Barcelona
Feb 4, 2017: Barcelona 3-0 Athletic
Bet365 have the following odds available for this match:
Athletic Bilbao are at 15/4, a draw is at 3/1, and a Barca win is at 4/6.
Athletic Bilbao come into this season off the back of an eighth placed finish last term. That means they did not qualify for European competition, marking the second consecutive season in which that is the case. However, it was a huge improvement over the prior season in which they came in 16th, so progress was made tremendously. Some point toward their policy of only signing Basque players as being a problem, but this has helped them stay together and makes them incredibly dangerous most of the time.
Barcelona are, of course, the defending champions and will look to defend their crown by getting off to a fast start and being ahead of the rivals, even if it’s a little silly to say so. They have strengthened up front this summer, bringing in Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid. And there are rumors that they will bring, or try to bring in, Neymar as well. Either way, Ernesto Valverde is under serious pressure to get the job done. Spanish glory is one thing, and they only captured the league last term rather than the double, but they also will be begging for a return to their status as rulers of European football as well.
Betfair have no for both sides scoring at 2.05.
Barca scoring two or more is at Ladbrokes for 4/6.
It’s far from the easiest possible fixture to begin the season, but Barcelona could have also landed a lot worse. Athletic will frustrate them, or attempt to, but the Catalan Giants will break through and take home three points to start in style.