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Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona: Odds, Live Stream, TV Schedule and Preview

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2019

FC Barcelona's Luis Suarez (R) celebrates his goal with teammate Antoine Griezmann during the second half of the La Liga-Serie A Cup match between FC Barcelona and SSC Napoli on August 10, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
JEFF KOWALSKY/Getty Images

Barcelona begin the defence of their La Liga title away to Athletic Bilbao on Friday, but they are sweating on the fitness of star man Lionel Messi.

The prolific No. 10 is dealing with a calf problem, and Ernesto Valverde hasn't expressed confidence his best player will be ready for the season opener.

However, the Barca manager will still have an ample array of attacking talent to choose from, including big-money summer import Antoine Griezmann.

Athletic's chances of causing an upset will hinge on dynamic forward Inaki Williams, who put pen to paper on a new deal set to run for nine years on Monday.

A goal against the champions at San Mames would be the ideal way for the 25-year-old to celebrate.

          

Date: Friday, August 16

Time: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET

TV Info: beIN Sports

Live Stream: fuboTV

         

Odds

  • Athletic Bilbao: +400 (bet 100 win 400)
  • Barcelona: -150
  • Draw: +300

Odds per Caesars.

            

Valverde recently spoke about Messi's status, per Alex Milne of the Daily Mirror: "I wish we could have him here and count on him for Friday (against Athletic Club) but it's difficult to see."

Messi is struggling for fitness.
Messi is struggling for fitness.Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The less-than-optimistic assessment will put the onus on Griezmann to deliver on his league debut in a Barca shirt. Goals aren't usually a problem for the France international, whose pace and subtle running off the ball put him in the best positions to score.

His chances of finding the net will also be aided by the presence of Luis Suarez. The 32-year-old wasn't quite at his best last season but still managed to score 21 goals in league action.

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

Antoine Griezmann: Only Messi, Suarez and Ronaldo have had a direct hand in more goals than Griezmann (126) since the start of the 2014/15 LaLiga season For more player stats -- https://t.co/1PeFygL3Qw https://t.co/t5rDDKZQ4E

Suarez and Griezmann will need creativity from midfield, something Barca may lack with Philippe Coutinho and Arthur Melo reportedly not ready to feature.

The Brazilian duo, along with Arturo Vidal, "are unlikely to be involved straightaway" after limited playing time in pre-season, according to Sergi Capdevila of Sport.

Athletic could boss the middle of the park against Barca's depleted ranks thanks to Benat Etxebarria, Ibai Gomez and Mikel San Jose. All three possess the vision and technique to unlock Barcelona's back four and release Williams in behind.

The striker scored 13 goals and provided four assists in La Liga last season and will again be Athletic's main danger man up top.

WhoScored.com @WhoScored

Inaki Williams: No player scored more counter-attacking goals than Williams (3) in LaLiga last season For more player stats -- https://t.co/2xyF2dTspg https://t.co/aQVnNwH0gv

If Barca take time to get going without Messi, Athletic could exploit the visitors early. Ultimately though, the quality of Griezmann and Suarez will see the champions off to a winning start.