La Liga: Brave Athletic Hold Barca To A Draw

Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Barcelona

Athletic Bilbao ended the weekend in La Liga with a superb performance to hold champions Barcelona to a goalless draw in the Basque.

Almost 47,000 passionate fans at the Saint Mames roared their side on as they pushed Barca to the limit and fully deserved to take a point from the champions, finishing with ten men after Oscar de Marcos picked up a late red card.

Coach Gaizka Garitano has lifted Los Leones away from the drop zone and tonight they had the better of the chances. The pre-match odds here at us had the draw at 3.70 and that was the least the hosts deserved. The striking La Liga news from yesterday was Real Madrid’s 1-3 win against Atletico which put down a challenge to Barcelona as Los Blancos climbed into second place and just five points behind the Catalans.

But Ernesto Valverde won’t be unhappy to take a point from this tough encounter and stretch the lead to six.

Highlights of the game

Athletic started the game brightly, determined to erase the memory of defeat to Real Sociedad in last week’s Basque derby, and Yuri came very close with a long-range shot in the first real chance of the game. And then Raul Garcia brought a good save from Ter Stegen with a shot heading in the bottom right corner.

The hosts continued to have the better of the opening half and Yeray Alvarez got on the end of a cross by Benat Etxebarria but his header was blocked. Barca fans were sweating on the fitness of Leo Messi and were relieved to see their talisman make a start, and as the half wore on he began to make an impact, first taking a pass from Luis Suarez and forcing a good save by Iago Herrerin before having a shot blocked just before the break.

Luis Suarez and the rest of Barcelona were held to 0-0 draw in their La Liga match vs Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez in action against Athletic Bilbao

At the other end, Garcia came very close with another shot as the two teams headed in level at half time.

After a rather subdued first half, Barcelona came out on the attack and Philippe Coutinho was the first to have a shot at goal blocked, before Messi came close with a free-kick but fired just over the bar. Ivan Rakitic combined well with Arturo Vidal but the Chilean’s shot flew wide of Herrerin’s right-hand post.

With 20 minutes to go both teams searched for a winner, with Barca’s Carlos Alena having a shot blocked before Athletic Bilbao top scorer Inaki Williams had his effort charged down. Then Messi teed Suarez up but his shot fizzed just wide of the post.

The hosts had a golden opportunity on 78 minutes after Sergio Busquets fouled Williams, and when Iker Muniain swung the free-kick over Williams had a point-blank header but it flew wide. Moments later the two combined again and Williams’ shot was well saved in the bottom corner by Ter Stegen. And as the hosts ramped up the pressure Garcia brought another strong save from the Barca keeper. Then it was Williams turn to test him again in the bottom left corner after taking a pass from Mikel San Jose.

In a dramatic finish, Barcelona almost snatched a winner after Athletic’s Oscar de Marcos saw red after taking a second booking. Ousmane Dembele had a good chance to win it but his shot was well saved by Herrerin as the hosts deservedly held on for a point.

Key statistics

In a tight first half, Barca dominated possession with 65 per cent of the ball, but the hosts made more use of it, having seven shots to the visitors’ four and two to one on target.

It was the same pattern in the second half with Barca hogging the ball and Athletic Bilbao keeping Ter Stegen busy with five shots to two on target.

Having been held at the Camp Nou by Valencia last week, this was another tough test for Barca and they’ll be satisfied to leave the Basque with a point. That’s two draws between these two sides this season and we shouldn’t have been too surprised to see a goalless draw. Barca has earned seven clean sheets in ten games while Los Leones have had eight shutouts in 13.

What’s next?

Athletic Bilbao has a chance to keep a superb run going with a trip to bottom club Huesca, but they will go in with their eyes open, as the strugglers have won three in the last six and are putting up a real fight in an unlikely survival bid.

Barca returns to the Camp Nou to take on Real Valladolid and should keep Los Blancos at arms length with another win. The La Liga 2019 betting odds say Barca fans shouldn’t worry too much…but their El Clasico rivals are back in the hunt after five consecutive wins.

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La Liga: Tough Test for Barca in the Basque

Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde takes his defending champions to Bilbao on Sunday night to continue his quest for La Liga domination.

He still has a few hurdles to overcome this season, and La Liga Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona at Saint Mames could turn out to be a pretty high one. Since replacing Eduardo Berizzo as Bilbao boos, Gaizka Garitano has lifted Los Leones away from the drop zone with a series of battling performances. His first defeat will have hurt badly, losing the Basque derby to Real Sociedad last weekend, and his team will be fired up to take on the Catalans.

Barcelona has come under a little pressure recently and this promises to be a fascinating clash, so make sure you catch up with us again for the Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona highlights on Sunday.

This is a great time for us La Liga 2019 fans with the Madrid derby on Saturday when the reigning champions will be hoping for a draw. Then they’ll turn their attention to Garitano’s Lions.

Talking Points

Garitano’s Bilbao revolution

The Saint Mames Stadium is a different place now. With three wins from the last six league games, Garitano’s team has climbed to 12th place on 26 points and the passionate Bilbao fans are chanting with hope rather than anxiety once again. But with the teams at the bottom all starting to pick up points, they only have a three-point cushion to 18th-placed Rayo Vallecano, and so there is still plenty of work to do.

Garitano has two lively characters up front to test Gerard Pique and co in the Barca rearguard. Iker Muniain scored his sixth league goal in a 1-0 win over Real Betis the last time Athletic Bilbao were at home. And his attacking partner Inaki Williams has been in fine form, scoring nine goals in all competitions.

After a disappointing loss to rivals Real Sociedad, Bilbao aim to halt leaders Barca in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao need a win vs Barcelona to put some more distance between themselves and the drop zone

Barca has fight as well as finesse

Ernesto Valverde’s team has looked the best side in La Liga, by a distance, for much of this season. But they have also shown they can scrap it out to avoid defeat in two difficult tests over the past week. Barca had to come back from a two-goal deficit to save a point at home to Valencia, while Real Madrid won their fourth game in a row to climb to within eight points of the leaders.

There was a midweek El Clasico, too, where Malcom scored a brilliant second-half goal to earn Barca a draw against Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey. So it’s two draws in a row but they were against two very strong teams, Barca fought back well and could have won both games, Ivan Rakitic hitting the woodwork against Real.

The Catalans’ biggest worry is the fitness of Leo Messi. The Argentine has scored 21 league goals already this season, including a double against Valencia, but he suffered a thigh injury in that game. Valverde is sweating on his progress, hoping he will be fit enough to face Bilbao on Sunday. If not, then Ousmane Dembele is likely to take his place having recovered from his own ankle niggle. Meanwhile, Valverde must shuffle his defence with Jordi Alba suspended after collecting his fifth yellow card of the season.

Former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho has been short of confidence for much of the season, but there have been signs recently that he is discovering his mojo again. He scored in the Copa victory over Sevilla and has increased his league tally to four.

History

Barca versus Bilbao head-to-heads are massively in the Catalans’ favour, winning 42 of the 64 games played since 1993. Athletic Bilbao managed nine wins and 13 draws.

The underdogs grabbed an unexpected point at the Camp Nou earlier in the season with a 1-1 draw, courtesy of an Oscar de Marcos goal which put them ahead before Munir El Haddadi scored a late equaliser.

Defeat in the Basque derby was Los Leones’ first in eight league games, and they have a home record of four wins, five draws and just two defeats. And Barca are unbeaten in ten in the league.

The strikers will have their work cut out. Barca earned six clean sheets in their last nine, while Bilbao had seven shutouts in 13.

So let’s see where the value is with the latest Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona odds.

Betting Tip

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Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona Barcelona -0.75 @ 2.01
February 11, 03:45 (GMT+8)

Athletic Bilbao fear no-one since the arrival of Garitano, and this will be no easy ride for Barcelona. The hosts are at 4.80 to win with the draw at 3.70 and Barca at 1.70, so we expect an away win. But the telling factor will be which strike force has the lethal touch to open up two in-form defences.

If Messi doesn’t make it then Bilbao has a chance, but I think Barca’s class will be too much for Los Leones in the end.

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?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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Valverde uses Messi sparingly

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde has vowed to remain cautious with superstar Lionel Messi, who recently sustained a slight thigh injury.

Messi was injured during the 2-2 draw with Valencia at the weekend, a game which saw the Argentinian ace score in a ninth consecutive match in all competitions.

However, he was only utilised as a substitute on Wednesday evening, as Barca drew 1-1 against Real Madrid in the Camp Nou in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie.

Afterwards, Valverde told Marca: "He was fine, but we cannot take risks with this type of injury.

"He was not fully fit, there were certain discomforts he had and we had to make a decision that was best for everyone.

"As a coach you need to make tough decisions like this, but it must benefit the player and the team, taking a lot of issues into account.

"He is fine; we know he is not at full fitness, but we know that he could have been decisive in the closing stages."

Barca are back in La Liga action on Sunday, when they face a tricky test away to Athletic Bilbao, with the Catalans currently holding a six-point advantage at the top of the table.

Barcelona are priced at 1/7 to be crowned Spanish champions this season, while they are 9/2 to triumph in the Champions League – having been drawn to face Lyon in the last-16 of the competition.

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La Liga: Bilbao stuns Sevilla with Inaki Double

Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Sevilla

Inaki Williams bagged a brace on the break to give Athletic Bilbao a massive home win against Sevilla which lifts the Basque team clear of La Liga’s bottom three.

And defeat did serious damage to Sevilla’s slim title hopes which now look in tatters, and Pablo Machin’s side needs to concentrate on securing a top four place. But it’s 11 points from five games for new Bilbao boss Gaizka Garitano and the smiles have truly returned to the faces at the Saint Mames stadium.

Sevilla has been in a battle with Atletico Madrid for second spot and the two title hopefuls battled out a 1-1 draw last week. But with Rojiblancos winning earlier in the day that ship looks to be sailing away rapidly.

Highlights of the game

Sevilla started brightly and sent out a warning in the third minute when former Manchester City winger Jesus Navas fired a shot from outside the box but it was comfortably saved by Iago Herrerin.

The hosts had their first attempt on goal when Oscar De Marcos passed to Inigo Cordoba just outside the penalty area and he let fly, but his shot was straight at Tomas Vaclik in the visitors’ goal. But the opener did arrive on 23 minutes when Bilbao broke quickly and Cordoba found Inaki Williams with a beautifully weighted through ball, and the striker smashed his sixth league goal of the season high into the top right corner to send the 40,000 home fans wild.

Chances to add to the score line were few and far between though the hosts did have an opportunity on the cusp of half time. Simon Kjaer fouled Iker Muniain within shooting distance and Benat Etxebarria’s free kick whistled past the left hand post.

The big pre-match Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla news was that Machin was without winger Nolito, who is out for three months having broken his leg in training, and his team was struggling to create the chances to service Wissam Ben Yedder and Andre Silva.

The second half began as the first ended, with Bilbao looking more likely to add a second. Munain and Williams combined well to make an opening but Munain’s shot went wide, and Yuri had an effort blocked. Sevilla weathered the early storm and Pablo Sarabia and Andre Silva both had efforts on the Bilbao goal, but nothing much to panic the home fans.

Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla news: Andre Silva's effort was not enough to keep Bilbao from scoring

Andre Silva struggled with little service against Athletic Bilbao

As the clock ran down Sevilla continued to press and Silva tested Herrerin but the Bilbao keeper was equal to his shot. Then, after Quincy Promes’ shot flew wide Herrerin took an age to retrieve the ball and take the goal kick, receiving a yellow card for his trouble. But he needn’t have worried and the game was settled once and for all when Williams bagged his second on another fast break. This time Dani Garcia fed the in-form striker and he did the rest, slotting coolly home.

Job done.

Key statistics

Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla betting tips predicted a tight game and both sides had ten shots, Sevilla enjoyed more of the possession, but Bilbao had the killer instinct.

In a first half dominated by two well drilled defences there were only six shots, four for the hosts and two for Sevilla, though both had two on target. And things livened up a little in the second. Garitano has made a big impact since his promotion to the top job in Bilbao and this was a great win to keep his momentum going.

It was a rematch of the Copa del Rey fixture right here on Thursday which Sevilla won 1-3, but I’m sure Garitano wouldn’t swap the results for a minute.

This was the 50th meeting of these two sides since 1993 and Sevilla is still on top, with 23 victories to Bilbao’s 14, but this was a first defeat for Sevilla in nine games, while Bilbao has now won the last four meetings between the two teams at Saint Mames.

What’s next?

These two teams meet for the third time in a week when they contest the second leg of the Copa del Rey tie in Seville, and then Athletic Bilbao makes a trip to Valencia to take on fellow strugglers Villarreal in an epic clash.

Sevilla has an equally huge game next weekend when Machin takes his side to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid. Los Blancos are hot on Sevilla’s heels and will expect to beat their rivals in front of a passionate crowd on home soil.

Two great fixtures for us football fans to enjoy, so make sure you keep up with all the news updates right here.

 

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La Liga: Bilbao are Back and Sevilla are a Game On

Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla

Third plays fourth from bottom in the big La Liga clash in Saint Mames on Sunday, but all is not quite as it appears.

Athletic Bilbao at home to Sevilla looks like a classic well-matched fixture, but the hosts are down in 17th place so you might expect a comfortable away win. Thankfully for the Basque club, their La Liga 2019 results have been much better than the sorry run which dumped them deep in the relegation mire since the appointment of Gaizka Garitano.

So I expect a hard-fought match when Sevilla come to town.

It’s a rematch of the Cope del Rey fixture right here on Thursday which Sevilla won 1-3 with goals from Nolito, Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder against a weakened home side.

This league match is a different prospect and it could be a great game to watch, so let’s take a closer look at the shape of the teams and then come up with our Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla betting tips.

Talking Points

Bilbao are looking up

Head Coach Garitano has made an immediate impact since his promotion from Athletic Bilbao II at the beginning of December. Taking over a team on its knees, he had three wins and two draws in all competitions before the Copa defeat to Sevilla. However, he did rest a number of senior players.

He began his reign with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Girona in La Liga when, as well as winning three crucial points, the Lions played some great football. And after a catastrophic first half of the season, eight points from four games have lifted Athletic Bilbao out of the bottom three; and they are looking to kick on. They have appointed Rafa Alkorta as new Director of Football, and he already has his sights set on Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera and Spurs striker Fernando Llorente as he aims to strengthen Bilbao’s survival bid.

The club’s recruitment policy is to only sign players born in the Basque Country or who came through the ranks of Basque clubs, and both these players have starred for Bilbao previously and would be welcomed back with open arms.

Iker Munian and Inaki Williams are top-scoring for the Lions with five each and were both on target in an excellent 1-2 win away at Celta Vigo last week. Last season’s top hit man Aritz Aduriz is only on two but is starting to suffer muscle injuries more often than he’d like at 37.

Sevilla fans expect Wissam Ben Yedder to continue his fine run of form against Bilbao in La Liga

Wissam Ben Yedder is in fine form with nine league goals and he scored in the Copa clash on Thursday

Can Sevilla find another gear?

We’ve been keeping a close eye on Pablo Machin’s Sevilla with our us tips, and a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid last week showed they are ready to push the two Madrid clubs all the way in the pursuit of Barcelona at the top of La Liga. The Catalans have not been firing on all cylinders but still enjoy a five-point lead at the top, and someone needs to make a stand.

Could it be Machin’s team, seven points back? Well, it’s a big ask; the practical approach is to lock down a top-four place and see where that takes you. But if they are to stay in the race until May, Sevilla need to find another gear. This is a really tough game, and I think we’ll have our answer if the visitors fail to win.

Wissam Ben Yedder and Andre Silva make an exciting strike partnership with 17 goals between them so far, and they’ll need to at least match that in the second half of the season.

History

This game will be the 50th meeting of these two sides since 1993, and Sevilla are on top with 23 victories to Bilbao’s 13; there have been 12 draws.

FC Sevilla haven’t lost in their last 8 games, and both arrive with three wins in the last six. So two in-form teams are set to battle it out.

And Bilbao have won on the last three occasions these two sides have met at Saint Mames in the league.

Betting Tip

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Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla Under 2.50 goals @ 1.80
January 13, 23:15(GMT+8)

This is a really tight game to call with the visitors marginal favourites at 2.64, while the hosts are at 2.79 and the draw at 3.00. So take your pick!

Garitano has done an excellent job in breathing life into Bilbao’s campaign and he has made the Lions hard to beat, conceding just twice in the last four league games. Bilbao won this corresponding fixture last season, 1-0, and a repeat of that would make the weekend in the Basque.

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?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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Bilbao lose patience with Berizzo

Athletic Bilbao have sacked their coach Eduardo Berizzo in the wake of Monday's 3-0 defeat at Levante which left the club 18th in La Liga.

The 49-year-old Argentinian had coached Celta Vigo and Sevilla before taking charge of Bilbao at the end of May.

However, the Basque club have endured a dismal campaign and have only won one of their first 14 La Liga games – and that was a 2-1 victory against Leganes on the opening weekend of the season.

Since then they have drawn eight matches and lost five.

Bilbao, who have never been relegated from La Liga, have named their B team manager Gaizka Garitano as Berizzo's successor.

"Athletic Club has decided to end the contract with coach Eduardo Berizzo," the club tweeted. "From Wednesday 5th December, Gaizka Garitano will be in charge of the first team."

Garitano guided Eibar to promotion to La Liga in 2014, but resigned one year later when they were relegated in 2015, despite the club being reinstated following Elche's demotion.

He had spells in charge of Valladolid and Deportivo La Coruna before taking over at Bilbao Athletic, the club's reserve side.

Athletic Bilbao are 7/2 to be relegated this season and 17/10 to beat Huesca in their next match on Thursday.

Muniain extends at San Mames

Athletic Bilbao have confirmed Iker Muniain has signed a new contract until 2024.

The winger has spent his entire career with Los Leones, debuting as a 16-year-old in 2009 and has since made 357 appearances, scoring 51 goals.

Muniain's form saw him earn a cap for Spain in 2012 and be linked with both Liverpool and Manchester City during his younger years but his progress in recent seasons has been punctured by a pair of serious knee injuries.

The 25-year-old has looked sharp this term, netting four times in his 11 La Liga appearances and is likely to start on Sunday when Athletic welcome Getafe to the Basque Country.

Bilbao are 21/20 to win the game, with the draw 11/5 and Los Azulones 14/5.

Muniain's previous contract was due to expire next summer but he has now penned fresh terms to keep him at the club beyond his 30th birthday and the agreement does not include a buyout clause.

The Pamplona-born star says the news will help him towards achieving a childhood dream, as he intends to stay with Los Leones for his entire career.

"It is surprising, but I think it is the right thing," he told Athletic's offical website. "The club has always been supportive, even when there have been bad times. This is a way of showing my loyalty to the club.

"I fulfil a wish and the dream I have had since I arrived, which is to play my entire career here. What I have always wanted comes true."

Muniain is 11/4 to score at any time on Sunday, with team-mates Inaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz available at 7/4 and 2/1 respectively.

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Messi Watches as Barcelona Suffer Another La Liga Shocker

Barcelona 1-1 Athletic Bilbao

This game was supposed to be easy for Barcelona.

The La Liga supernovas, heavy favourites by La Liga predictions to win the league and the Copa del Rey, suffered consecutive poor results by their high standards. Their last victory was a steely victory against Real Sociedad in the middle of September. Their position at the top was in danger, with a maximum of five clubs ready to put on the hurt at Barca within the next five fixtures.

Given the dire situation, you would’ve thought that Ernest o Valverde played their best players in this match. However, he did the unthinkable. Many us football fans were equally surprised when they saw the Starting XI.

Lionel Messi was nowhere near the pitch to start the match. And he had to watch the only club he has ever played for suffer for a long period of time before he had to step in and save their hides once again.

Highlights of the game

Of course, Valverde’s decision to not play Messi at the start of this match for the sake of rotation is a heavy point of contention among the ever-loyal and vocal fans that flock to the Camp Nou every home game. Which manager with a speck of common sense would pull his star player out of the line-up in the midst of a poor run of form?

Valverde made a very good point in defence of his decision, saying that resting his stars will help the team in the long run as the season is still far from over. Luis Suarez, the Blaugrana‘s star striker, echoed his manager’s decision and said that they cannot rely on Messi to do everything for them.

However, the problem is that it seemed like they cannot actually accomplish anything without their star man.

To their credit, they did start the game running. Suarez launched a free kick in the seventh minute that flew just wide of the left post. However, Athletic Bilbao fired back a warning shot of their own when Inaki Williams found himself free to power a pinpoint cross towards the goal. Fortunately for them, the ball flew wide of the right post.

Oscar de Marcos has led Athletic Bilbao to a 1-1 draw against Barcelona during their latest La Liga battle

Oscar de Marcos celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal for Athletic Bilbao during a La Liga clash with Barcelona

And the fears of many Barcelona fans were realised when Oscar de Marcos scored a goal after a bit of beautiful teamwork. Markel Susaeta fired a beautiful cross to the right side of the goal, placing the ball just in front of goal. De Marcos made an immaculate run to beat the offside trap and punch the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen and get the first goal of the game.

Philippe Coutinho tried to score a late equaliser when he jumped high as a salmon to meet a cross and head the ball towards the bottom-left corner. His superb effort, however, was blocked by Unai Simon to end the half with Athletic Bilbao finding themselves in an unbelievable situation.

At this point, plenty of Barca fans would be fuming at Valverde’s decision to sit out Busquets and Messi. The two could have done more to make sure this wouldn’t happen. They could have scored three goals if Busquets was there to make the pass and Messi to finish it off. Some were probably getting flashbacks of their horrible loss to Leganes.

The two eventually entered the pitch during the early minutes of the reset,  and the fans were desperate for them to do something with the football. Philippe Coutinho fluffed a chance to equalise in the 63rd minute when he over-hit his shot from point-blank range. Messi almost sent the crowd to ecstasy in the 77th minute, but his first-time effort hit the post!

Eventually, the little maestro delivered on his promise and managed to salvage a draw. Leo’s sheer dominance on the right forced the defence to adjust to him. He made a piercing run towards the goal and fired a shot that Simon saved. He gathered the rebound, passed it to Munir El Haddadi, and the 23-year-old Spaniard tipped the ball into the net.

Camp Nou was understandably relieved after that goal. However, they didn’t get enough time to try for a winner as nothing significant happened after that match.

Key statistics

This game will be included in many La Liga 2018 highlights for the wrong reasons.

Barcelona had clear control of the match. They had the lion’s share of the ball with 70% possession, made 20 shots with eight being on target and four being blocked. They had 21 free kicks and four corner attempts. They also forced Simon to make seven big saves. The Bilbao defence had to cede 18 fouls to get this one point.

While Barcelona now haven’t lost their last 22 matches in all competitions at Camp Nou, this has got to be the most frustrating result for them. They were supposed to win this. They were supposed to extend their chokehold on the La Liga title.

However, they messed up. And they only have themselves to blame.

What’s next?

Bilbao will have to feel confident after getting such a result at Camp Nou. Their next opponent will be Real Sociedad at home, and they better hope that they break the winless duck this game.

Meanwhile, Barcelona will have to put their domestic issues to rest as they will now have to travel to London and face Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham aren’t at their best right now, and this is the best opportunity for them to try and get their act together.

Their next opponent in the league, meanwhile, is Valencia. While they are far from the being the toughest opponent at the moment, Los Che can definitely pull the rug underneath their feet.

And given how Barca is at the moment, that may just happen. We can only hope that Messi won’t be benched this time, either.

 

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La Liga: Barcelona Have No Other Choice But To Win!

Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona’s place at the La Liga summit is in danger, and they know there’s no other acceptable result for them than a win when they host 13th-placed Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou.

Although the Catalans remain on top of the league standings, their shock defeat to bottom-club Leganes could have cost them that spot. Fortunately, second-placed Real Madrid bowed down to Sevilla in an interesting, and pretty historic, turn of events.

Ernesto Valverde, however, needs to regroup and get things together quickly if Barca want to keep the no.1 rating. After all, they haven’t won in their last two games in the Spanish top flight.

Athletic Bilbao pose little threat, but that’s also what everyone said when the reigning champions played a team that hasn’t defeated them before the midweek spectacle.

Talking Points

Rotation, rotation, rotation?

Barcelona have already dropped a total of five points in their last two games against smaller teams, and that isn’t good for a club with championship aspirations.

Valverde, nonetheless, has no one to blame but himself for the way he managed his squad over the past week.

The Blaugrana started the season on a high as they bagged four straight wins, including an 8-2 drubbing of new boys Huesca. After their UCL opener against PSV, however, Valverde started to change things in his lineup which led to this mess.

In their 2-2 draw with Girona, Valverde used Ivan Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho and Samuel Umtiti as second-half substitutes—all after Christian Stuani bagged two goals to put Los Leones ahead. Meanwhile, in the Leganes match, Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba didn’t start as well and was only fielded when the team was already behind.

While it’s clear that the 54-year-old Valverde is only keeping his players well-rested for their Champions League run, he cannot afford to rest his key players if it means losing winnable games.

The team has been too reliant on Messi to score and create, and the absence of Suarez, Coutinho and Rakitic in the Starting XI has greatly affected their production on the offensive end.

It remains to be seen if Valverde will field his best players against Bilbao, especially with a high-stakes UCL match against Tottenham coming up. But it might be best for the Spanish boss to do so, as his team could really use a morale-boosting victory.

Barca defence needs stability

Another problem for Barca that was prevalent in their recent outings is their shaky defence rooted on individual mistakes…well, on Gerard Pique.

Their old guard, who was supposed to be the symbol of stability at the back, made two costly errors that led to two goals against Girona, and he completed the unwanted hat-trick against Leganes when he played the ball to Oscar Rodriguez Arnaiz inside the box—in front of the Barcelona goal!

There’s a huge possibility that Pique won’t start against Bilbao, but that means the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Clement Lenglet needs to pick up the slack.

Gerard Pique is apparently going to miss out Barcelona's La Liga clash with Bilbao due to his poor display recently

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique in action with Borja Garcia during La Liga clash with Girona at Camp Nou

Vermaelen has been less than impressive at the centre-back post while Lenglet is coming off his one-game ban due to a red card, so Barcelona certainly have their work cut out.

Struggling Bilbao on a winless skid

If there’s one silver lining for Barcelona in this affair, it’s the fact that Bilbao are on a four-game winless skid.

The Basque side hasn’t been in a lot of La Liga 2018 highlights, having drawn with Huesca and Real Sociedad and losing recently to Villarreal. They did draw with Real Madrid, but that match only showed how easily they crumble when the pressure rises.

Indeed, while Bilbao have scored in all but one of their five outings, they are susceptible defensively after failing to keep even one clean sheet.

It’s up to Barcelona to take advantage of the visitors’ glaring weakness, but Bilbao will surely find some inspiration from the giant-slaying act of Leganes that the football world just witnessed.

History

Out of their last 10 meetings in all competitions, Bilbao have won just once against Barcelona. The Catalans, on the other hand, won the other nine games by an average of 2.5 goals.

Even more remarkably, in those nine victories, Barca kept six clean sheets and conceded just one goal each in the other three encounters.

Last year, Barcelona dominated their home-and-away fixtures by the same 2-0 scoreline. Lionel Messi scored in both meetings too!

Betting Tip

??
Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao Total Goal 2-3 @ 2.38
September 29, 22:15 (GMT+8)

The La Liga 2018 odds at us suggest that this fight will be one-sided, but I beg to differ.

Barcelona are struggling to find their rhythm, and it’s doubtful Valverde will play a full-strength squad given that they are set to travel to England for the Spurs match.

While I expect Barcelona to break off their slump, I don’t think that there will be a large margin as what the Asian Handicap odds suggest.

With that said, I predict two to three goals in this game for a Barca victory.

A SHORT EXPLANATION ON HOW OUR (??) BETS ARE WORTH:
?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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Real will get better – Ramos

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos is confident that his side will improve on the performance they gave in a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Los Blancos dropped their first points of the La Liga season as they could only secure a draw at the San Mames, with Spain international midfielder Isco netting an equaliser shortly after the hour mark.

And, while being disappointed at losing ground to Barcelona at this early stage of the campaign, Ramos was upbeat about the potential of a Real side still adjusting to life without Cristiano Ronaldo.

He told the Spanish press: "Perhaps we started the first half with a few more problems due to our lack of movement when receiving the ball.

"In the second half we were able to improve and got a goal back. We would have liked to pick up all three points, but we will keep improving.

"Drawing is never good. When you pick up one point instead of three, it means there are things to improve on.

"We should've moved the ball quicker to create space between the lines, but they retreated well, defended very close together and were very compact.

"In the second half we overcame their first line of pressure better."

Real are 7/4 to be crowned champions of Spain this season, with Barcelona available at 4/7 and Atletico Madrid priced at 14/1.

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