Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Prediction: Athletic vs Barcelona

Prediction: Away win

Best Odds: 1/2

Bookmaker: William Hill

Having suffered a disappointing defeat to Sporting Gijon on the opening day of the season, Athletic will be looking to show some improvement when they host mighty Barcelona at San Mames. The Catalans, on the other hand, have been quite convincing in the early exchanges, but that does not mean they will have an easy job in Basque country.

Athletic

Athletic Bilbao enjoyed a pretty successful season last term as they narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification, finishing just two points behind fourth-placed Villarreal. Los Leones are not the club that would normally make major changes to their playing squad, but this has been a unique transfer window at San Mames, given that there were no notable arrivals or departures. That means that Athletic should have been pretty much good to go when the season started, but while they did dominate the opening clash against Sporting Gijon, they suffered a 2-1 defeat and could have lost by a greater margin had Isma Lopez converted a second-half penalty. The bad news is that Barcelona are the team that arrives to San Mames, but, knowing Erneste Valverde and his side, we seriously doubt they will be fazed by the magnitude of their next opponents. If there ever was a team that could make life difficult for the Catalans besides their El Clasico rivals, it was Athletic, and we fully expect los Leones to adopt a positive approach when facing arguably the world’s strongest side.

Team News

Spain international midfielder Mikel San Jose is rated doubtful through a back pain, but Mikel Balenziaga should play despite wear a protective mask.

Barcelona

Barcelona won the La Liga trophy last term, but failed to challenge for the Champions League title, so no wonder the club chiefs wanted to reinforce the squad over the summer. The Catalans rejuvenated their ranks by signing Denis Suarez, Lucas Digne, Samuel Umtiti and Andre Gomes, while Jasper Cillessen was brought to replace Claudio Bravo, who has joined Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. There were no major departures at Camp Nou, as the club only got rid of some dead weight, and the team in turn enjoyed a very good start to the new campaign. Barcelona recorded a 5-0 aggregate triumph over Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup, before beating Real Betis 6-2 in their opening La Liga fixture. The club officials have been unable to recruit another forward even though Paco Alcacer is believed to be close to joining the Catalans, but Arda Turan did well to compensate for Neymar’s absence as the Brazilian superstar was at the 2016 Summer Games. Following some very convincing performances in the opening exchanges, Barcelona will be eager to keep the rich vein of form and record another victory in the final game before the international break.

Team News

Brazilian forward Neymar was given permission not to return to the club until after the international break, but Rafinha Alcantara is back in contention.

Key Factors to Consider

  • Barcelona won last four meetings with Athletic
  • Athletic scored in four of last five home games vs Barca
  • Los Leones kept one clean sheet in last seven home matches
  • Barcelona won last four away games without conceding
  • Messi and Suarez have scored 7 goals between them this season

Conclusion

Athletic Bilbao do not appear to be in a good shape at the moment, which cannot be said of Barcelona, who have been scoring goals for fun of late. The trip to San Mames will not be a walk in the park for the Catalans, but we do expect them to emerge victorious.

Prediction: Away win

Best Odds: 1/2

Bookmaker: William Hill

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