FC Barcelona have begun their post-Messi era with a comprehensive 4-2 win over Real Sociedad last weekend.
This weekend, they face Athletic Club away at San Mamés for Matchday 2 for what should be another really good game for Barcelona, yet a difficult test for the Catalan giants early on in the season. There will be some home fans in the stadium for Athletic and they use their supporters a lot so that’s going to be important and it could be a big part of the game.
Both teams have faced each other four times last season, twice in the league, once in the Super Cup, and of course in the 2021 Copa Del Rey Final, so Ronald Koeman pretty much knows how to deal with Athletic Club. Barça is well accustomed to playing this sort of side even though they changed their coach midway last season and have decided to stick with Marcelino since then.
The Athletic side hasn’t changed from last season as their transfer policy of only signing Basque players. So if they bring new additions, it’s only from the academy. In the La Liga opener, they played a goalless draw away at Elche, not a very inspiring performance. What was seen from the Marcelino side in that game was the typical 4-4-2, they played their usual men out there. However, some new faces were also seen on the pitch. Athletic should be using some new young players for this game, New goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala played in goal and their talisman Iñaki William’s brother Nico Williams came off the bench in that game. So whilst expecting a similar Athletic to last season in their 4-4-2 under Marcelino, it’s hard to break down, they’ll try to hit Barcelona when they can from set-pieces or counter-attacks and will try to sneak in that goal and put pressure on Barcelona.
Although, Ronald Koeman and Barcelona will also know who the dangerous men are. In the wings, there are Berenguer, Iker Muniain, the two very dangerous players who can cause any team issues. In the attack, there’s Iñaki Williams who will be hard to deal with for the Barça defenders with the pace that he’s got. Athletic play their football collectively as a team, which at times, is difficult and frustrating to deal with.
Whilst for Barcelona, it’s never an easy fixture whenever they play at San Mamés. Athletic Bilbao Makes them earn their victory and try to make the Blaugrana suffer until the end. Barça needs to be inventive, quick, and innovative as they haven’t been getting behind their defence, they need to create more chances and got to put more pressure on them.
Barcelona can’t let Athletic play their game and dominate, they need to constantly put pressure on them. Athletic will be rough and tough with all the support from the fans behind them and get balls in behind when Iñaki Williams as mentioned could be the key for them up against Piqué and Eric Garcia, who’s going be a key for Barça pressing the opponent high up and winning the ball back which is going to be a key for this one, the pressing from the front, the structure of the team is going to be imperative.
For Barcelona, Philippe Coutinho isn’t going to be fit for this fixture and probably be available for next week’s fixture against Getafe. However, Koeman did say that he counts on Coutinho in his plans for this season.
Another Barcelona midfielder Pedri González is a player who was brought up for this game and there are talks that after this game Pedri is expected to have a much deserved two-week break which both coaches Ronald Koeman and Luis Enrique have agreed on. He also won’t be available for Spain’s World Cup Qualifiers in the coming month.
In the squad list, there are indeed some interesting players who have been left out again, Ansu Fati, who’s still injured and will probably be out for at least a month, along with their shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen and of course Coutinho who are also left out for this game due to their injuries. Midfielders Miralem Pjanić and Álex Collado, Centre-back Samuel Umtiti are also not included in the squad and it looks like Barcelona is looking to offload them before the transfer window shuts off.
Barcelona is expected to play the same line-up they played against Real Sociedad on Matchday 1. Neto in goal, Dest Will be the right-back, left-back will be Jordi Alba. In centre-back, along with Piqué there’s going to be a gamble on Clément Lenglet and Eric García but Koeman is most likely to go with the later, keeping in mind his performance in the last game against Sociedad. In midfield, it’s going to be Pedri, Sergio Busquets and Frenkie De Jong with the limited options he has on the midfield. In attack, there’s going to be Griezmann on the right, Braithwaite on the left, and Depay will play the central role.
Prediction is Athletic Club 0, Barcelona 1, a narrow victory for Barcelona, it is expected to be a tough game as mentioned throughout the preview. It should be a difficult test for Barcelona. They do go to Basque Country with all the confidence from the last game, so if they get a win here that is huge and will give them a kickstart in the title race.