Now that the UEFA Champions League and Europa League midweek results are in the book, we focus on the best of the weekend’s action in Spain. Several eye-catching games are on the schedule, and that’s excellent news for armchair fans who are preparing to keep pace with the results. The one match from Europe that caught our eye will be played in La Liga, where Athletic Bilbao enjoys a home advantage as they attempt to derail Barcelona’s journey to the title. The visitors lead the race and have a chance to rip the trophy from the grasp of bitter rivals Real Madrid who won at a canter last season.
Only one of these teams holds ambitions of winning the La Liga championship trophy this season, but there’s plenty to play for in both camps. Three points would provide a shot in the arm to the locals, who are stuck on a three-game winless streak, sinking into midtable as a result. To get back on track and push towards a European finish, they must return to winning ways, especially at home. Needing to win against the league leaders isn’t ideal, but Bilbao will be roared on from the stands by passionate and loyal supporters. Will it be enough?
Sunday’s game – scheduled for a 20:00 GMT kick-off – will be the second time these sides have met in competitive action this season. The previous game was played at the Camp Nou, where Barca won 4-0 over Athletic Bilbao for the second time in a row. Interestingly, each of Barcelona’s last three wins over Bilbao has produced a 4-0 scoreline, and that will catch the attention of those who like to follow the stats and trends when making their predictions. Keep reading for our in-depth preview and views on how this game might play out on Sunday evening.
Rocky spell for Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao has the unenviable task of playing Barcelona who appear to be back to their best and most ruthless form. To make matters worse for followers of the locals, their team is without a win in any of their last three games with that drought consisting of two defeats and a draw. One point gained from a possible nine did their chances of finishing in the top-four no favors whatsoever and they started the week down in ninth with 33 points on the board. A return to winning ways is required, and it must come sooner rather than later.
Their points tally means Bilbao are already 11 off Real Sociedad who currently sit in fourth place, holding the last Champions League qualifying berth. The top six will all be involved in European action next term but even Villarreal in sixth enjoy a cushion over Bilbao with four points the difference there. No one inside the home dressing room will be ready to throw in the towel just yet, but if this winless streak goes on too much longer they could soon be staring at an uninspiring midtable finish, something supporters won’t be happy to accept.
Bilbao were last seen in action last Sunday when holding on for a goalless draw against Rayo Vallecano away from home. Both teams had chances to win that match and after losing each of their two previous outings, there were nerves in the Bilbao camp. Taking a draw from a tricky visit would have given the players some much-needed confidence and the clean sheet would’ve pleased the manager. That sturdy defence will be called into action again on Sunday, but now face a much more ruthless attacking side in Barcelona.
Barca are back with a bang
Barcelona endured a torrid time last season and the club aren’t out of the woods with regards to its financial troubles just yet, but they have looked like their old selves this year. The giants of Spanish football were eliminated from the Champions League and Europa League in quick succession and in any other season that may have cost the manager his position, but not this year. Now Barca fans are happy to fully focus on winning the league trophy from Real Madrid and they are going the right way about achieving that.
The latest update from La Liga shows Barca are top of the table after 24 games played with a record detailing 20 wins, two draws and a pair of defeats with 46 goals scored and only eight conceded. Barca has won more games than any other team, lost fewer, scored more goals and conceded the least. That’s why they are top of the league and edging towards what would be the most important league title in their history. Furthermore, they are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
We last saw Barca in action a week ago when they returned from a rare defeat to beat a strong Valencia side 1-0. It wasn’t pretty and there’s no doubt Barca will play better football, winning games much more comfortably, but they won the three points. Putting wins on the board is essential at this stage of the campaign with fans knowing the title is now theirs to lose. Having worked so hard to hit the front, we don’t imagine Barcelona will give up their position without a fight.
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona prediction
Athletic Bilbao holds the home advantage but their recent form has been poor and it’s difficult to get too excited about their chances of winning with Barcelona up next. Across the hall in the away dressing room, holding their lead and winning La Liga is a real possibility for Barca but they are under no illusions and know nothing has been achieved just yet.
La Liga odds
The pre-match betting odds available on this game at 22Bet has Athletic Bilbao at 3.3 with the draw 3.32 and a win for Barca 2.225.
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