FC Barcelona (2nd, 25pts) vs Athletic Bilbao (6th, 18pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Saturday
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 11
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, Memphis Depay (out)
Athletic Outs & Doubts: Ander Capa, Jon Morcillo (doubt)
Date/Time: Sunday, October 23, 2022, 9pm CET (Barcelona), 8pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 12.30am IST (India, Monday)
Venue: Spotify Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Juan Martínez Munuera
VAR: José Luis González González
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA), TSN 2 (Canada), ITV 4, Premier Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a solid performance and a very important win against Villarreal on Thursday, Barcelona return to La Liga action for another crucial matchup as they welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Greatest Stadium on Earth for some Sunday Night Fútbol fun.
Barça really needed to bounce back against and regain confidence after last week’s disasters in Europe and in El Clásico, and the Blaugrana picked up three big points while also playing pretty good football. But Villarreal were missing their best players through injury and didn’t put much of a fight, so assuming everything is fine again is a dangerous thing to do.
Consistency is needed both in results and performances, and they’ll be facing a really good team on their quest to that consistency. If you haven’t been paying attention to Athletic Bilbao this season, you have missed perhaps the most fun team in the league in the first two months.
Former Barça manager Ernesto Valverde returned to Athletic this summer and rejuvenated a squad that played well below its usual standards last season, with an exciting brand of football based on intensity, high pressing, quick passing and a whole lot of speed up front. The Williams brothers, Iñaki and Nico, have become an unstoppable pairing and attacking midfielder Iker Muniain remains one of the most underrated players in Spanish football.
Los Leones know exactly who they are. They play the same formation, players know their roles and perform it to the very best of their abilities, and the team just won’t stop running. Their defense is solid but vulnerable if their backline is caught higher up the pitch, but Barça target Iñigo Martínez has returned from injury and made the unit a lot better the last few weeks.
Athletic are winless in their last three, and they stopped winning once their soft early schedule became a little more difficult this month. But they are very clearly a contender for European places and are full of confidence behind their excellent start and their coach who will no doubt look for a big result in his return to Camp Nou.
Barça play a big Champions League game against Bayern Munich on Wednesday but know that the league must be their priority especially with Real Madrid’s refusal to ever slip up, so Xavi Hernández and his troops are more than aware of the importance of having full focus and winning on Sunday.
The home team will be looking to start a new winning streak. The away team will provide a very tough test.
This will be fun.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Bellerín, Eric, Alonso, Alba; Kessie, De Jong, Gavi; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Fati
Athletic (4-2-3-1): Simón; De Marcos, Yeray, Martínez, Lekue; García, Sancet; Williams, Muniain, Berenguer; Williams
Athletic will be tough, intense, hard to break down and will use their pace to hurt Barça on the counter. Valverde’s gameplan is clear and simple, and it’s up to Xavi’s troops to match Bilbao’s intensity and use their superior talent to get a crucial win: 3-1 to the good guys.