Athletic Bilbao vs FC Barcelona
Competition/Round: 2021-22 Copa del Rey, Round of 16
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Eric García, Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Luuk De Jong, Ousmane Dembélé, Memphis Depay (out)
Athletic Outs & Doubts: Asier Villalibre, Unai Núñez, Unai Vencedor (out)
Date/Time: Thursday, January 20, 2022, 9.30pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8.30pm GMT (UK), 3.30pm ET, 12.30pm PT (USA), 2am IST (India, Friday)
Venue: San Mamés, Bilbao, Spain
Referee: José Luis Munuera Montero
VAR: José Luis González González
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA, Canada, India), Premier Sports 1 (UK), Startimes (Nigeria), TeleCinco (Spain), others
Following a painful loss in the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid and a rare weekend off, Barcelona return to action looking to advance to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as they travel to glorious San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao in a single-elimination Round of 16 tie.
Despite the loss in El Clásico these are encouraging times to be a Barça fan, with the quality of performances and the team’s fighting spirit looking better and stronger under Xavi Hernández, who despite his natural ups and downs as a young coach has clearly made his mark and is making his players and the fans believe that good times are ahead.
But it is important now to follow up on that game in Saudi Arabia instead of having it be a one-off because of the occasion and the opponent. Barça are healthier and stronger now and have a chance to once again prove their worth against one of the toughest teams in the country.
Athletic shocked the world by beating Atlético Madrid in the Supercopa semi-final and then gave Real Madrid all they could handle in the title match. Even though they come up short, Marcelino García Toral’s troops gave an excellent account of themselves in Saudi Arabia and will no doubt come back home hungry to face another giant opponent and try to cause the upset at home.
Perhaps becase of the two tough matches in a space of three days followed by a long trip back, Athletic will be a little too tired and might not be able to keep up the same intensity against Barça, but they can’t be taken for granted. Xavi’s men need to be at their best from minute one and expect more than a football match. Athletic at San Mamés is quite simply a war, and Barça should prepared for one.
The Copa del Rey remains Barça’s best shot at a title this season and they can’t afford any mistakes on the road, especially against Bilbao. This should be a good one.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Neto; Dest, Piqué, Araujo, Alba; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; Ez Abde, Ferran, Fati
Athletic (4-4-2): Simón; De Marcos, Yeray, Martínez, Balenziaga; Berenguer, Zarraga, García, Muniain; Williams, Sancet
I am incredibly nervous every time we go to San Mamés, and we never seem to play well there. Still I am trusting the boys to go out and find a way to win: 2-1 Barça.