What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona
When: Saturday 27th April, 2013, at 17:00 UK Time
Where: San Mames, Bilbao, Spain
Chance to Pounce
After their adversaries were dealt one of their heaviest blows in recent times, Athletic Bilbao hold the chance to rub salt into Barcelona’s wounds and inflict upon them a second defeat in a matter of days, should the morale of Tito Vilanova’s team be low after their destruction in the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich. However, Marcelo Bielsa’s side are also finding results hard to come by, with three losses in their last five league games, including a 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid.
On paper, now would be the perfect time for Los Leones to pounce on the soon-to-be Liga champions. However, club defender Carlos Gurpegui believes that the Catalan side will be entirely focused on the match at the San Mames.
“They surely had a bad day [against Bayern Munich] because they are a team that are not used to losing, let alone in this manner, but it will not affect them. I do not think this game will be easier, it will have its usual difficulty", explained the captain of Athletic Bilbao.
Gurpegui’s statement reflect his team’s latest results, as last year’s Europa League runners-up have failed to win once in their last six meetings with Barcelona. Furthermore, the reverse fixture this season ended with a 5-1 win for the Blaugrana. It will be very difficult for Athletic Bilbao.
Heaviest of Blows
Bayern Munich were always going to be a menace for Barcelona, but not even the most optimistic German fan would have thought that they could inflict such a defeat on the current Spanish league leaders. With their hopes of making the final at Wembley all but gone, Barcelona need to pull their act back together as they continue their quest for a 22nd league trophy.
Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 19 games against Athletic Bilbao, but the team arrive perhaps at their weakest point ever prior to this game; one that rarely is void of emotion as the Basque-Catalan rivalry plays out.
Speaking after their defeat to Bayern Munich, Andres Iniesta stressed that there is only one way his side can go after such a heavy defeat. “The only thing to do is to pick ourselves up and get back to winning the league. Now we have to switch our focus, go to Bilbao, win and ensure that the league title is one game closer. Athletic will demand that we are at our best. We have the experience of playing them over the last few seasons and we know that it will be an intense and physical game.”
Barcelona have scored at least twice in 23 of their last 25 away league games, and rarely fail to make their mark, even when on the road. Should they want to have any hopes of making a comeback at the Camp Nou against Bayern Munich next week, they will have to be at their absolute best.
Sevilla 2-1 Athletic Bilbao (08/04; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 0-3 Real Madrid (14/04; La Liga)
Deportivo La Coruna 1-1 Athletic Bilbao (21/04; La Liga)
Real Zaragoza 0-3 Barcelona (14/04; La Liga)
Barcelona 1-0 Levante (20/04; La Liga)
Bayern Munich 4-0 Barcelona (23/04; Champions League)
Athletic Bilbao: Aymeric Laporte; Ruiz de Galarreta; Inigo Perez; Fernando Llorente (doubt); Aritz Aduriz (doubt); Ander Iturraspe (suspended)
Barcelona: Javier Mascherano; Carles Puyol
Players to watch
Athletic Bilbao – Gorka Iraizoz: The goalkeeper will be facing the potential fury of a side that will be looking for blood. He will have the task of making sure that Barcelona’s week ends on a bad note.
Barcelona – Lionel Messi: The world’s best player was largely anonymous at the Allianz Arena, but in all fairness, Messi was short of match fitness. Facing one of the biggest games of his life against Bayern Munich next week, he will have to show his colours against Athletic Bilbao.
Barcelona will be looking to avenge their loss and a backlash on their part is certainly expected. On paper, they are most vulnerable now, but they rarely fail to get the job done two games in a row. Expect them to come closer to the title with a comprehensive win at the San Mames.
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