Athletic Bilbao (9th, 21pts) vs FC Barcelona (5th, 28pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Wednesday
Competition/Round: 2020-21 La Liga, Matchday 2
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ansu Fati, Gerard Piqué, Philippe Coutinho, Sergi Roberto, Carles Aleñá, Matheus Fernandes (out)
Athletic Outs & Doubts: Peru Nolaskoain, Yeray Álvarez, Unai López (out)
Date/Time: Wednesday, January 6, 2021, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Thursday)
Venue: San Mamés, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro Grande
VAR: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva
How to watch on TV: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), LaLigaTV (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), Not Available (India), others
How to stream: FuboTV (USA), Premier Player (UK), Facebook Live (India), Movistar+ (Spain), others
Following a rather unimpressive win against bottom of the table Huesca last weekend, Barcelona are right back in action in La Liga for a make-up game against Athletic Bilbao at San Mamés. This match was supposed to happen at the beginning of the season but was postponed due to Barça’s trip to the Champions League playoffs in Lisbon back in August.
Barça come into this one on a six-game unbeaten streak, their longest of the season, but four wins and two draws aren’t exactly impressive considering the opponents and — most importantly — the quality of the performances. Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona continues to show zero identity and seems to just find a way to get a result depending on how the game is going, even despite Koeman’s attempts to sabotage the team with his personnel decisions.
Koeman is not the only one to blame, though: the crazy schedule amid a pandemic leaves virtually no time for training and several players are underperforming, resulting in a mediocre team that will probably fight for the third Champions League spot this season the way the Madrid teams are playing.
Facing Athletic is never easy, especially at San Mamés, and there will be an added ingredient of toughness to this one thanks to Bilbao’s coaching change which brings Marcelino García Toral to the club. Marcelino’s last job was a fantastic one at Valencia, which included a Copa del Rey win over Barcelona, and his ability to motivate and organize a team to be nearly impossible to break down and lethal on the counter attack always creates problems whenever his teams face the Blaugrana.
Beating Athletic convincingly would be a step in the right direction for Barça, and with the possibility of reinforcements coming in the January transfer window there could be some optimism for this team this season. They have to perform when it matters most, though, something they are yet to do this season, and despite Bilbao’s position they are still talented and can certainly benefit from the initial boost of a coaching change. This will be fun but also nervous, and Barça must show strength.
Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet, Alba; Pjanic, De Jong; Dembélé, Messi, Pedri; Griezmann
Athletic (4-4-2): Simón; Capa, Núñez, Martínez, Yuri; Berenguer, Vesga, D. García, Muniain; Williams, Villalibre
Marcelino is an excellent coach and Athletic always make it tough for us in Bilbao, and I just can’t trust Barça in big games: 2-2 draw.