Sports Mole previews Wednesday’s La Liga clash between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday evening with the opportunity to move into third position in the La Liga table.
Meanwhile, Athletic head into the contest at the San Mames Stadium with a new manager having replaced Gaizka Garitano with Marcelino.
Sitting 10 points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played a game more than the leaders, Ronald Koeman will want to make sure of third spot before thinking about further targets.
Nevertheless, putting together a six-match unbeaten streak has given the Dutchman reasons to be optimistic for the second half of the season.
Performances are far from the level expected at Camp Nou, but Koeman would have taken some satisfaction from the clean sheet recorded during Sunday’s 1-0 success at bottom club Huesca.
Despite criticism regarding his attack, Barcelona have the joint-best record in the division, scoring the same amount of times as Real Madrid having played one game fewer.
While there is a vulnerability about the Catalan giants at this stage of their transitional period, it may only take an improvement from Lionel Messi to make a significant difference in the title race.
Although Athletic boss Garitano had been under pressure for a number of weeks, the win over Elche at the weekend felt like a step in the right direction.
However, the decision has been made to replace Garitano with former Valencia manager Marcelino, who has been out of work since September 2019.
The arrival of Marcelino is somewhat of a coup for Athletic after their indifferent form in La Liga, but he will be aware that his reputation will count for little if he cannot help his players find some consistency.
On the plus side, seven points have now been collected from four matches, and the 55-year-old may be arriving at San Mames at the perfect time.
Athletic Bilbao La Liga form: DLWDLW
Barcelona La Liga form: WWDWDW
Koeman is likely to make a number of changes to his Barcelona XI, including handing a recall to Antoine Griezmann.
Miralem Pjanic should get the nod over Sergio Busquets, while Francisco Trincao is in contention for his first league start of the campaign.
With Marcelino only having a couple of days to work with his new squad, it remains unclear whether alterations will be made to Athletic’s strategy for this game.
If a switch is made to 4-4-2, Alex Berenguer and Iker Muniain could line up on opposite flanks, with Inaki Williams operating through the middle.
Athletic Bilbao possible starting lineup:
Simon; Capa, Nunez, Martinez, Berchiche; Berenguer, Vesga, Garcia, Muniain; Williams, Villalibre
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet, Alba; Pedro, Pjanic, De Jong; Messi, Griezmann, Dembele
We say: Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Barcelona
Despite much of their recent criticism being deserved, Barcelona still head into this contest as the clear favourites. While we do not expect a match that is easy on the eye, the visitors should have enough quality in the final third to claim a hard-fought win.
Top betting tip
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