A week and a half ago, Barcelona were on course for the treble. Just behind Atlético Madrid in La Liga, in the semi-final of the Champions League against the same opponent and in the final against Atlético's cross-city rivals Real. Now, they face the very real possibility of picking up no major honours this season.
A run of three consecutive defeats has seen them slip away from La Liga and be elevated from both the Champions League and the Cope del Rey. With what looks to be a pretty hefty summer clear-out on the way, Barcelona need to get back to winning ways and end the season well.
However Athletic Bilbao are unlikely to be the first team Tata Martino would choose to secure a win. Bearing in mind it was the Basque club that gave Barcelona it's first first league defeat of the season back in December. Four defeats in a row would be another blow it what has been the fortnight from hell so Martino's men need to win this one.
The headline news for Barcelona is that B-teamer Sergi Gómez is in the squad. The 22-year old replaces Carles Puyol, who has again been ruled out through injury. The B-team centre back has been brought in because of a mounting in jury crisis to the defence. Victor Valdés, Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué and Puyol are all in the treatment room while Marc Bartra has been given the go-ahead. Neymar is also absent having been ruled out for the rest of the season in midweek.
No surprise between the sticks as Jose Manuel Pinto will start in goal and will be hoping for a relatively quiet game in order to stay away from the headlines. Adriano will come in at left full-back for Jordi Alba and it'll be the same centre-back partnership as it was against Madrid on Wednesday night, Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra. At right-back Martín Montoya put in an impressive display when given the chance a week ago but it is likely Martino will revert to type and field Dani Alves.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets is suspended meaning the unreliable Alex Song will start at pivote. As usual, Martino has a choice of four attacking midfielders for the two available spots. Andrés Iniesta has been one of few players to not receive any criticism in the last few weeks and you'd expect him to start against Bilbao. Cesc Fàbregas is currently in an extremely average run of form so I'd elect Xavi Hernández to partner Iniesta in midfield. Fàbregas along with Sergi Roberto will start on the bench.
Up front, Messi will start in the centre proving Fàbregas does play from the bench. If Fàbregas is selected, Martino may shuffle Messi over to the right but reports say the Argentine striker doesn't like that particular position. Either side of the central Messi, I'd expect Martino to field both of Pedro and Alexis Sánchez. The two wingers have shown good, consistent form all season and can count themselves unlucky that they haven't started the big games.
Similar to Barcelona, Bilbao are currently going through a minor injury crisis. Ibai Gómez, Kike Sola, Carlos Gurpegi and Mikel Rico are all out injured meaning Ernesto Valverde will likely field the same XI that played in the 3-0 triumph against Málaga last week. Mikel Rico had been on course to recover in time for this game from his sprained ankle injury, but suffered a setback midweek and was subsequently ruled out by the medical team.
Valverde will be hoping that Markel Susaeta and Aritz Aduriz will put in similar performances as they did last week having scored two goals and created two goals respectively. 21-year old Iker Muniain will also be looking to impress having scored the winner in the reverse fixture.
Athletic Bilbao: DWDLWW
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 FC Barcelona - 1st December 2013 - La Liga
An Iker Muniain goal in the seventieth minute gave Barcelona their first league defeat of the season. It was also the Catalans' first ever game at the new San Mamés.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto, Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Song, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis
Athletic Bilbao (4-2-3-1): Iraizoz, Iraola, José, Laporte, Balenziaga, Morán, Iturraspe, Susaeta, Ander, Muniain, Aduriz
This game should be back to business as usual for Barcelona so I'm going for a 3-1 home win.
- FC Barcelona News: 19 April 2014; Marc Bartra, Sergi Gomez Included in 18-Man Squad to Face Athletic Bilbao
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- The Week from Hell for Barça: Fin De Ciclo, Part IV