How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Athletic Bilbao

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How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Athletic Bilbao
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Barcelona need to up their game against Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona head for the new San Mames and a tough test against fifth placed Athletic Bilbao.

Los Leones have made their new home something of a fortress already, and are still unbeaten there as we head towards the end of the year.

It's certainly a fixture Tata Martino won't be relishing now, coming as it does on the back of one of the poorest Barca performances seen in a while.

Despite being much more experienced, against Ajax the Blaugrana were naive defensively and complacency was a common theme throughout the side during an untidy 90 minutes in Amsterdam.

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This weekend's game may be just too early for a much needed Jordi Alba.

Jordi Alba's return to the side cannot come soon enough. Iker Muniain was man-of-the-match for Athletic against Malaga and Martino will want to ensure that his raids, or those of Markel Susaeta, down the right are kept to a minimum. For this reason Alba may get the nod even if he's still not at 100 percent.

If medical advice precludes Alba's inclusion for another week, Martino needs to choose between a fully fit Carles Puyol or a more natural fit in the position, Adriano Correia, who is also coming back from his own injury.

Martin Montoya was a liability in the position against Ajax so will once again find himself keeping the substitutes bench warm.

The experiment of leaving Marc Bartra out of central defence failed dismally and Barca's best defender this season will be back at home alongside Gerard Pique. Perhaps Martino will point to the Ajax match as being less important than a tough La Liga fixture by way of explaining Bartra's absence.

There'll be none of this at San Mames this year.

How many more chances will Gerard Pique get? A lack of quality central defenders at the club is the only reason why he still remains as a first choice because frankly his performances throughout this season have been poor.

Dani Alves, thankfully, will have recovered from his slight knock and will assume usual duties on the right hand side. The maverick that is Jose Manuel Pinto continues to deputise for Victor Valdes between the sticks.

The entire back line should be on their guard from the rampaging Ander Herrera who has been at the heart of everything good that Athletic have achieved this season, and who will make his 100th appearance for the club if selected.

Whilst Alex Song wasn't immune to the odd mistake in the Champions League tie, over the course of the match he still completed a 91 percent pass accuracy, via Despite this, he will again make way for Sergio Busquets.

Ernesto Valverde will likely go with his usual 4-2-3-1 set up, so expect much of Barca's play to come down either flank. With Benat Extebarria and Ander Iturraspe pulled from the central areas, there will be space to create just in front of the back four.

A case can be made for a number of individuals to go about their work in this area, but Cesc Fabregas is the one who provides the most options here, so should be given the nod.

Many facets of Neymar's game have been hugely positive, but one that needs some work is his goalscoring. Whether he can add to his modest tally out on the left is open to debate, but he is sure to give Andoni Iraola a torrid time throughout.

Alexis Sanchez, fresh from his Champions League suspension, will return to the right hand side intent on continuing his high level of form so far this season.

Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta will have their work cut out in a congested midfield but are cute enough to expose the home side's weaknesses to maximum effect.

In short, Martino will pick his strongest XI available for what is likely to be Barca's toughest test so far this season.

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