Match Preview: Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona

It is La Liga time! Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona will raise the curtains on the new season in Spanish football tonight at 21:00 (CET).

Reigning champions Barcelona will open the 2019-20 La Liga campaign with an away trip to San Mames vs Athletic Bilbao.

La Blaugrana will be looking to win their third consecutive Spanish championship this season which would be their first time to do so since the period between 2009 and 2011.

Bilbao, on the other hand, would be happy if they improve their last season record and finish above the eighth place on the table.

They have a tough test at the start of the 2019-20 campaign, as they welcome Barcelona in a game which is also a test for the Spanish football champions.

Team news

Athletic Bilbao did not make a single signing in the summer transfer period so far. Their Basque only policy is always an extremely limiting factor in terms of what they can do in the transfer market.

However, their head coach Gaizka Garitano does not have any kind of injury concerns ahead of the season opener, making it unlikely that there will be any major surprises in the starting line up.

Barcelona will start their 2019-20 campaign without Lionel Messi, their captain and most important player, due to a calf injury.

His fellow South American forward, Luis Suarez is ready to take the responsibility on his shoulders, while Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong are expected to make their Barcelona debuts this evening.

What did the managers say

Gaizka Garitano spoke about Bilbao’s famous Basque only policy – their tradition to sign only players of Basque descent.

“It is very special,” Garitano explains about the Basque-only policy. “We are very proud of doing things this way. In my opinion, we are the most unique team in the world using this philosophy of playing with just Basque people and we feel very proud.”

Julen Lopetegui, Sevilla, La Liga

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“It is a miracle, to be honest, because in 100 years or more we haven’t been relegated and – fingers crossed – we won’t.

“Just doing this with Basques is very difficult and more and more difficult nowadays because the other teams are increasing their budgets, they have more money, so it’s very difficult to compete with them with our philosophy but, in my opinion, we are not ever going to change.”

Ernesto Valverde will return to Bilbao, a club he is familiar with, having managed it for six years in his coaching career.

“It is certainly a difficult game to start with, we not how good Athletic are at San Mames,” said Valverde at the pre-game press conference.

“I think we played against them in the La Liga opening game not very long ago. It will be difficult, they had a good pre-season.”

“They’ve kept pretty much the same squad and dynamic from the last season. They put a lot of pressure up front and take their chances. It’s one of those stadiums you always not it is going to be one of the trickiest games of the season. But we want to start the league on a good foot.”

Stats

Barcelona failed to win against Athletic Bilbao last season, winning only two points (0-0 and 1-1 draws) in their encounters with the Basque side.

Bilbao however, hasn’t won a La Liga game against the Catalans since December 2013, curtesy of Iker Munian’s strike in the 70th minute.

In all competitions, Los Leones defeated Barcelona for the last time two years ago, when they survived a ten-minute scare with nine men on the field to record a 2-1 win in the Copa del Rey.

The Catalans lost only three games in La Liga last season, two of which came on the road – against Celta Vigo and Leganes.

Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, are undefeated in their last 14 league games at the San Mames stadium, noting eight wins and four draws in the process.

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