Ernesto Valverde’s side are pretty comfortable at the moment with an undefeated streak in La Liga. This particular run has had its ups and downs aplenty which leave room for growth and improvement. With that being said, here are three things the Basque coach needs to do to defeat his former employer at San Mamés!
1. Play Nelson Semedo for 90 minutes
Seriously, it’s high time that Ernie gave the Portuguese full-back a positive run in the starting 11. It’s no surprise that Nelsinho has looked absolutely stellar for most of his minutes and while he may not have the coach’s trust yet, he has done enough to warrant a few chances.
Athletic are always a threat and the atmosphere will be electric. This will instil some big-game experience in the young player and give him a legitimate opportunity against formidable opposition
2. Bench Luis Suárez
I know he is better than all our options on the bench in terms of pure quality, but this is getting out of hand. Apart from that one goal against Atletico, Suárez has been invisible for most of this season and deserves to ride the bench.
We have given plenty of excuses for the Uruguayan and if benching him lights a fire under his generous bottom, then Ernie should be game for it. Messi is perfectly capable of exploiting the lack of pace in Athletic’s central defence while Paco Alcacer has made a case for himself in the Copa del Rey. The system isn’t important—Suárez is a liability at the moment and Barcelona cannot carry any passengers.
3. Bring back the aggressive press
Barcelona have always been known to have a high press and one of the biggest tactical changes observed in comparison to last season during the summer was some intense pressing. This particular tactic, however, has gone AWOL since the preseason. Where is it, Ernie? When will it return?
If there was ever a good time for The Ant to reintroduce the press, it is now—against his former side. Athletic are excellent on the counter and make up for their lack of quality with incredible work rate and dedication. Bilbao’s deep defence will struggle against the pressure from a high-press which will provide greater control in the attacking third.
P.S: Please start Sergi Roberto over Rakitic. Pretty please?