Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona: Team News, Preview, Live Stream, TV Info

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IAugust 14, 2015

Athletic Bilbao need to stop Lionel Messi to be in with any chance of just their second win in the last 25 competitive fixtures between the sides.
Athletic Bilbao need to stop Lionel Messi to be in with any chance of just their second win in the last 25 competitive fixtures between the sides.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao meet for the first of three fixtures against each other in nine days.

The last time that the Catalans played at this venue they strolled away with a 5-2 victory and a performance as commanding as any other during the campaign.

Another big win for Luis Enrique's men here will place them in a good position to take the Spanish Super Cup trophy after the second leg at Camp Nou on Monday.

They'll have to defend a whole lot better than they did in the second period against Sevilla in the European Super Cup if they want to claim their fifth trophy of a possible unprecedented second sextuple.

Recent games between the sides suggest that the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the visitors. Per Fussball Wettpoint, the Basques have won just once in the last 25 stretching back to 2006.

Date: Friday, August 14

Time: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET

Venue: New San Mames, Bilbao, Spain

TV Info: Sky Sports 5/Sky Sports 5 HD (UK only)/ESPNdeportes (USA only)

Live Stream: Sky Go (UK only)

Form Lines

Last 6 Results
Athletic ClubBarcelona
L 0-2 vs. Inter MilanW 5-4 vs. Sevilla
D 0-0 vs. Inter BakuW 3-0 vs. AS Roma
L 0-2 vs. OsasunaL 1-2 vs. Fiorentina
W 2-0 vs. Inter BakuD 2-2 vs. Chelsea
D 1-1 vs. ValladolidL 1-3 vs. Manchester United
D 1-1 vs. Real BetisW 2-1 vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

WhoScored.com

 

Predicted Formations 

Expected Barcelona formation against Athletic Bilbao.
Expected Barcelona formation against Athletic Bilbao.B/R Formation Builder

It's hard to imagine that Ernesto Valverde will play with anything other than an attacking but combative 4-2-3-1 formation.

Aritz Aduriz was well-marshalled by Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano in the last meeting so the striker needs to provide some more attacking solutions to enable his side to take the initiative.

Some early balls in from the wide areas from the likes of Markel Susaeta and Inaki Williams' movement can all contribute to Barca having a less-than-easy ride in the opening stages.

Adriano Correia in particular will need to be more studious in his attacking forays. Without the pace of Jordi Alba to get back, he runs the risk of leaving the Catalans exposed.

Dani Alves' particularly enthusiastic forward play and link-up with Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic can keep Benat's movement in check and may force the tigerish midfielder back into more defensive positions.

Mikel Balenziaga and Aymeric Laporte will have their hands full with Messi marauding down the right, and the Frenchman needs to address how often he is pulled away from a more central position because Luis Suarez is playing well enough to take advantage of any space offered.

Should Pedro Rodriguez have departed for Manchester United by the time of this match, then expect Munir El-Haddadi to get an unexpected early chance to shine in the left-forward position.

Ander Iturraspe and Oscar De Marcos represent a formidable barrier for either Barca player to breach, albeit should Andres Iniesta offer himself in attack on that side of the pitch, he offers a creativity unmatched and a style of play to hurt the hosts.

Mikel San Jose can't really afford to stray too far from a central-defensive midfield berth, ditto Sergio Busquets for the visitors.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen can add to his growing reputation with another solid performance here. Opposite number Gorka Iraizoz might be hoping for an easier night's work than the last time Barca came to town.

Player to Watch

Inaki Williams can be a big influence in this match.
Inaki Williams can be a big influence in this match.Alex Caparros/Getty Images

The one player who caused Barca problems in the Copa Del Rey final was young Inaki Williams.

Scorer for the Basques on the night, Williams was a thorn in the side for the Catalans throughout.

With Jordi Alba missing, Athletic will look to take advantage of some space in behind. If Williams can get up in support of Aritz Aduriz, as he did with aplomb at Camp Nou, then we could see further reward for his fabulous work ethic.

His movement in behind the centre-forward and ability to spray the ball either side are likely to be key factors in whether Athletic still retain an interest in the tie heading to Barcelona. 

Key Battle 

Aymeric Laporte will have his hands full having an in-form Luis Suarez to contend with.
Aymeric Laporte will have his hands full having an in-form Luis Suarez to contend with.LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Aymeric Laporte was embarrassed by Lionel Messi in the Spanish cup final, turned inside and out as the Argentine scored one of the competition's greatest goals.

In fairness to the youngster, no one was going to stop Messi as he slalomed goalwards.

However, it is Luis Suarez who has already hit the ground running during this pre-season.

The Uruguayan has obviously benefited from a stay at home rather than fulfilling Copa America duties for his country during the summer, and he's looked sharp in each and every game played.

Laporte has long been regarded as one of European football's premier centre-backs, and a recent increase in his buyout clause to £36.5 million, along with an extension on his deal, per Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail, speaks of a player well equipped to deal with the demands of domestic combat.

No quarter will be asked or given by either player.
No quarter will be asked or given by either player.LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Neymar's absence weakens the Barca front line somewhat but alongside Messi, Suarez will ensure that Laporte is given the most thorough of examinations. 

If manager Valverde decides to double-up his defenders on Messi thereby limiting his influence, then Suarez will be looked upon as the main supplier of goals.

How Laporte copes with his trickery, aggression and ability will likely determine the outcome.

Odds

The following pre-match odds are available, per Oddschecker:

Barcelona Win: 2/5

Athletic Bilbao Win: 17/2

Draw: 4/1

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