Barcelona can break the record for the best start to a La Liga campaign with a win over Athletic Bilbao and in doing so likely enhance their position at the top of the standings.
Barcelona currently have a three point lead over Athletic Bilbao, with an 11 point gap to great rivals Real Madrid. With the two sides from the Spanish capital meeting later in the day, Barcelona should receive a boost whatever the result at the Bernabeu.
However, Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova has understandably tried to play down the potential impact of week 14’s fixtures.
“We just have to focus on Bilbao—everything else is out of our hands,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “You are talking about ending the weekend 14 points ahead, but it could just as easily be eight.”
Barcelona will be expected to take care of business at home to an Athletic Bilbao side that currently languishes in 14th spot in the league table. Having sold Javi Martinez in the summer and with Fernando Llorente’s contract dispute leading to the striker being largely relegated to the bench, Marcelo Bielsa’s side have failed to recapture their form of last season.
However, Bielsa’s famed attacking, high pressing style still makes the fixture a challenging one for Barcelona, according to Vilanova.
“They still play a very intense game and they will make it a difficult game for us,” he said.
Dani Alves has been ruled out of the clash with a hamstring injury, while Alexis Sanchez, Marc Bartra, Isaac Cuenca and Eric Abidal all remain on the sidelines. Adriano is also a doubt through illness.
For Athletic, striker Aritz Arduriz returns from suspension but defender Andoni Iraoloa is an injury doubt.
D: Montoya, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Messi, Villa
Athletic Bilbao (probable)
D: Iraola, Ekiza, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe
M: De Marcos, Iturraspe
Susaeta, Ander, Muniain
Prediction: Barcelona should record a comfortable win to break the record for the best ever start to a La Liga season.
Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Bilbao
Where to watch: The La Liga clash kicks-off from the Camp Nou at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.