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La Liga: Barcelona Look to Break into Top 4 at Bilbao


La Liga: Barcelona Look to Break into Top 4 at Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona

After their early-season struggles, Barcelona have slowly climbed back up the La Liga table. They are now up to fifth after their 1-0 win over Huesca to start the New Year, which extended their current unbeaten run to six matches in a row.

Barcelona will now look to break back into the Champions League spots with another win at Athletic Bilbao in midweek.

Barca have a terrific record at San Mames, but Bilbao have not made things easy for the Catalans in recent meetings and will be eager to defy the La Liga 2021 betting odds.

Talking Points

Athletic still formidable at home

Athletic Bilbao kicked off 2021 on the right foot as they picked up a 1-0 win at home over Elche. Iker Muniain’s first-half strike was enough to give the Basque side the win over the relegation strugglers.

It was a much-needed victory for Athletic, who lost 1-0 to rivals Real Sociedad at home in the Basque derby. They also drew 1-1 away to fourth-placed Villarreal in their previous match.

Bilbao’s home form has been crucial for them once again this season. Five of their six wins this season have come at the San Mames, and they’ve conceded just five goals in eight matches. Only leaders Atletico Madrid have conceded fewer goals at home.

However, regular starting centre-back Yeray Alvarez has missed the last two league matches due to a calf injury. If he’s not yet fit to return, Unai Nunez will be set to continue deputising at the back.

Meanwhile, Athletic manager Gaizka Garitano has been rotating Raul Garcia and Asier Villalibre at centre-forward as he desperately searches for goals from his squad. Muniain and Inaki Williams are tied for the team lead with just 3 goals apiece this season.

Garcia returned to the starting XI in place of Villalibre in their win over Elche, and the veteran could be favoured once again to face Barca.

Barca putting together unbeaten run

Barcelona bounced back from their disappointing draw at home to Eibar by beating Huesca 1-0 away from home. Lionel Messi, who sat out the Eibar match, returned to the starting line-up and supplied the assist for Frenkie de Jong’s winning goal.

Since their shock loss away to Cadiz at the start of December, Barcelona have gone undefeated in their last six matches, with 4 wins and 2 draws.

Even though Messi has taken a noticeable step back this season, he is still clearly the main man in the Barcelona attack. The Argentine has produced 3 goals and 2 assists in his last five La Liga matches and has a team-leading 7 goals overall.

Barca will also be pleased to have Ousmane Dembele back in the side and playing well since returning from injury. The 23-year-old winger scored their equaliser against Eibar and created several La Liga 2021 highlights with 6 shots against Huesca.

Dembele’s pace is a perfect complement to Messi’s passing, and it could be crucial to breaking down Athletic Bilbao’s usually resolute backline.

Messi will once again have to shoulder majority of the creative load in Barcelona’s attack after Philippe Coutinho underwent knee surgery and will be out for three months.

Pedri and Miralem Pjanic are expected to take Coutinho’s place in midfield alongside de Jong and Sergio Busquets.

Barcelona have struggled away from home this season. They have already lost 3 times in 7 away matches while scoring just 9 goals. However, they have conceded just 5 goals, which is the second-best road defensive record behind Atleti.

History

Barcelona have utterly dominated their matchup against Athletic historically. Barca have a 114-76 advantage in terms of all-time wins, with 38 draws.

That advantage has been much more pronounced in recent years. The Catalans have won an incredible 19 out of the last 27 league meetings between the two, as well as 6 of the last 10 in the Copa del Rey.

However, Athletic have made things much more competitive than they appear in the last few meetings. They drew against Barca in their two matches during the 2018-19 season, and they won 1-0 twice against them at home — once in the league and once in the cup — last season thanks to some late goals.

Barca got their revenge by winning the reverse fixture at the Camp Nou, but that was also by just a narrow 1-0 scoreline.

Betting Tip

Under 2.75 @ 1.74

SBOTOP odds have Barcelona installed as the 1.83 favourites away from home, while Athletic are priced at 4.30 to win their sixth home game of the season at San Mames. A draw is 3.45.

Barcelona have been quite unconvincing away from home this season, so it’s hard to trust them completely to pick up all three points against an Athletic side that is tough to beat at home.

So instead, let’s go to the over under market and take the under. This is been quite a low-scoring fixture in recent years, with two goals or fewer in seven of their last eight league meetings. Moreover, Athletic have kept a clean sheet in their last three home matches against Barca in all competitions.

With struggling to break teams down of late, look for this to be another low-scoring affair in the Basque Country.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

 


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