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La Liga: FC Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao: Team News, Match Preview

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Ernesto Valverde returns home as Barça face another really tough challenge on the road

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FC Barcelona v Chapecoense - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

La Liga leaders Barcelona return to action this Saturday with one of the toughest fixtures of any season: a trip to the San Mamés for a meeting with Basque Country powerhouse Athletic Bilbao.

This will certainly be an emotional night for Barça manager Ernesto Valverde, who managed Athletic for many years and made them one of the best teams in Spain. Valverde always made things tough for Barça whenever the Blaugrana traveled to the San Mamés, so it will be interesting to see if Valverde’s knowledge of the Lions will help him get a victory against his former team.

For Barça, this is a very important game. After a few poor results early in the season, Real Madrid are starting to win again and they’ll continue to chase the Blaugrana for the entire campaign; Valencia are unstoppable right now, and if they manage to stay consistent throughout the season they might be a title challenger as well thanks to a young, hungry squad and a great coach.

To win at San Mamés would mean staying five points ahead of Madrid and four above Valencia, and it would show that Barça are strong enough to win anywhere, even in what probably is the toughest atmosphere in Spanish football.


MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING

Date/Time: Saturday, October 28, 2017, 8:45pm local time, 7:45pm (UK & Nigeria), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 12:15am IST (India, Sunday)

Venue: San Mamés, Bilbao, Basque Country

Television: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), Sky Sports Football (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India)

Online streaming: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA & Canada), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)

(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)


TEAM NEWS

The absence of Andrés Iniesta due to a minor muscle problem made it impossible to figure out which team Valverde will pick at San Mamés. With the captain in the squad it’s easy to know that the lineup would be a 4-4-2 designed to control the game, keep possession, make the game a little boring and try to win 2-0 without any danger or excitement.

Without Iniesta, we have a problem: there is no ideal replacement. Sergi Roberto, Denis Suarez, Paulinho and André Gomes all have equal chances of starting in midfield, so it’s really hard to know who will be picked. There is a chance, and that’s what I’ve gone with, that Roberto and Denis start on either side of Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in a flat midfield four, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez up front and Nélson Semedo at right-back.

There’s also the chance of this being a 4-3-3 with Gerard Deulofeu on the right wing, Messi at False Nine and Suárez on the left, with Gomes/Paulinho in midfield and Roberto at right-back. This is both the most probable and also the worst possibility, so here’s hoping that Valverde is reading this preview and goes with the lineup below.


POSSIBLE LINEUPS

Barcelona (4-4-2)

Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Digne; Roberto, Rakitic, Busquets, Denis; Messi, Suárez

Athletic Bilbao (4-2-3-1)

Arrizabalaga; Bóveda, Etxeita, Laporte, Saborit; San José, Iturraspe; Williams, Raúl García, Susaeta; Aduriz


PREDICTION

This could very well be our first loss of the season, but I’m trusting Barça will do the job: 2-1 to the visitors.