Barcelona’s away tour continues as they move into the city of Bilbao, for their second away successive away fixture. La Liga has always had a distinct list of the toughest away grounds to play at and San Mames finds itself comfortably placed in the aforementioned list.
On Wednesday, Ronald Koeman faces another stern test in what has not been a very promising campaign overall. Barcelona played well against Huesca, hardly giving the hosts any taste of possession. However, unlike the blunt and uninspired attack of Huesca, Athletic Bilbao will not forgive on Barcelona’s backline. The likes of Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain amongst others make them more than a potent threat.
The margin for error is low in a game with high stakes. Here is how Barcelona should line-up against Athletic Bilbao
Even in a game where Barcelona faced hardly any threats on the counter, it took some sensational saves towards the end for them to walk home with all three points. Huesca had their chances to equalise in the last ten minutes but was faced by the rock-solid Marc Andre ter Stegen.
On Wednesday night, the German will look to do more of the same, with it being another chance to prove why he is considered amongst the best in the world
Sergino Dest had an average performance against Huesca with nothing promising to show for. Surely, the USMNT defender must be keen to get his performances back on track. He will be the undoubted starter on the right-wing.
With the Huesca game, it was clear that Koeman had dismissed the three-man backline concept. Once again, one would expect Clement Lenglet to maintain his start alongside Ronald Araujo.
The Uruguayan centre-back has been splendid this season and holds the key to containing the Basque weapon-Inaki Williams. Additionally, with performances like this, he could easily hold the key to his own future as Eric Garcia’s transfer is expected to become a reality soon.
At left-back, Jordi Alba will look to build on an impressive showing at the weekend. The Spaniard dominated the left-wing in the last game. This time, however, he will have a much larger defensive role to shoulder.
Frenkie de Jong is a guaranteed starter and will be more determined than ever after scoring the winner on Sunday. The Dutch protege has been more involved in attack than ever, and one hopes the formula continues to flourish.
It was a topsy-turvy affair for Pedri on Sunday, nevertheless not a bad game. The Spaniard constantly found the right passes, connected with his teammates and helped navigate the course of the game. He will continue to start at the in the midfield triumvirate.
Rounding off the midfield could be Sergio Busquets who had a flawless 80 minutes against Huesca. He will operate as the anchor in the centre of the pitch, and be crucial to hold the Catalans’ defensive structure.
Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi seem untouchable in the XI right now and could start on the wings. Both players put up brilliant performances that just lacked the finishing the last time around. It is indeed the wingers that hold the key against Atletic Club’s style of play. That said, Dembele will be absolutely immense on the night.
After a horror show, one would expect Martin Braithwaite to be dropped on Wednesday. The Dane was barely visible and failed to even tee up with his teammates in the last game. Antoine Griezmann could make a start once again, hoping for a game where he can show his impact.
Dembele · Griezmann · Messi
Pedri · Busquets · de Jong
Alba · Lenglet · Araujo · Dest
Miralem Pjanic coming on for Sergio Busquets is almost the tradition and looks set to continue again in the coming game. It is a great move on two fronts, providing the Bosnian with some game time as well as providing Busquets with rest. Riqui Puig’s chances in the starting XI, though, loom distant.
Like the last game, Oscar Mingueza could come on for Sergino Dest in the second half. The American has barely had a minute’s rest since Roberto’s injury. A little rotation could do him a world of good.
Fransisco Trincao could Come on for Antoine Griezmann if the Catalans are in desperate need of a goal. The transition to a formation with two true wingers could be a great weapon for Koeman.
Preview: Barcelona’s strongest XI against Real Madrid
The title race is well and truly wide open. With Atletico Madrid still leaking points and Real Madrid trying to cope up with the tight schedule the Champions League brings with it, Barcelona would hope to be the favourites.
Barcelona travels to Madrid to face a team missing some big names. Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Eden Hazard and Daniel Carvajal all miss out on the decisive clash. Nevertheless, if Los Blancos‘ performance against Liverpool is anything to go by, El Clasico will be a battle to remember. Meanwhile, Barcelona will once again have the services of Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
The result on Saturday will count for so much in the title race. In this creme-de-la-creme of clashes, here is how Barcelona could lineup against Real Madrid.
Marc Andre ter Stegen is always the first name on the list for Ronald Koeman. At the Alfredo de Stefano, the German wall will don the gloves and aim to keep the Madrid attack at bay.
Gerard Pique finds himself back in the Squad, however, it seems unlikely he will be given a start considering lack of match fitness. The three-man defence system has worked wonders for the Catalans, and Koeman will not look to change the system. A trio of Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, and Clement Lenglet could possibly start on Saturday.
Oscar Mingueza has been rock solid and on a constant rise. With every passing game, the youngster’s confidence grows, and so does the performance. Meanwhile, Clement Lenglet had a tremendous game against Real Valladolid, hardly placing a foot wrong. The Frenchman finally looks to be hitting his stride. Ronald Araujo is fit and ready to start once again and will have to be the leader on the field on the night.
The midfield is where the game will be won or lost for Barcelona. The hosts boast of one of the most fearsome trios in midfield, who reiterated their greatness against Liverpool midweek.
Up against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it will be crucial for Frenkie de Jong to start in midfield. The Dutchman is one of the best in the business in controlling the tempo of the midfield.
The No.21 will be accompanied by Barcelona’s veteran maestro Sergio Busquets. Busquets will account for so much of controlling the midfield. Moreover, his distribution and defensive contributions will be invaluable.
Pedri will complete the midfield alongside the others. The recently internationally capped Spaniard will have to be on the top of his game at the di Stefano. He will be the fulcrum of Barcelona’s creative outlet.
Sergino Dest did face stagnation in performance last month. In the last few games, however, there has been a resurgence. The USMNT fullback has been more lively than ever in attack and has been completing take-one for fun. It will be crucial for him to exploit the right-wing on the night.
Jordi Alba will unsurprisingly continue to start at left wing-back. With Real Madrid being weakened at right-back, Alba will have his chance on a platter to once again come up trumps.
Ousmane Dembele has often been Koeman’s go-to option as a central player in the new formation. Once again, a two-man forward line could see the Frenchman return to duties in the front line.
Lionel Messi had a relatively quiet game against Valladolid, his first one in 2021. However, he will look to step up on the biggest stage in El Clasico, as he always does. The Argentine has been at the peak of his powers this year, and he could inspire the side to another title with a great game tonight.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Araujo · Mingueza
Antoine Griezmann, who recently welcomed his third child, will be more motivated than ever to return to his peak powers. The Frenchman undoubtedly has a celebration or two in store for the latest member of his family and will hunt for a chance to showcase it on Saturday.
Fransisco Trincao could come on for Ousmane Dembele late in the second half to bring in fresh legs. His intricate dribbling could prove invaluable on the night.
Ilaix Moriba could be utilized to ramp up the pressure in the midfield, while Riqui Puig is bound to get a few minutes as well.