Barcelona host Athletic Club on Sunday night in a meeting between representatives from two of Spain’s biggest autonomous communities; Catalonia and the Basque Country.
The Catalans produced one of their most encouraging performances in a 3-0 victory over Villarreal in midweek, quelling the “negative dynamic” set in motion by Champions League disappointment against Inter and a Clasico defeat at the hands of Real Madrid.
Under the stewardship of former Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde, Athletic Club have recorded their best start to a league season since 2013 – during Valverde’s first spell at the club.
Here’s everything you need to know about the meeting between these Spanish giants.
Barcelona: 3 Wins
Athletic: 1 Win
Barcelona’s weighty injury load is gradually lightening. Ronald Araujo has only just begun his recovery after undergoing hip surgery but Xavi was able to welcome back Hector Bellerin in midweek.
Marcos Alonso, however, did have to fill in at centre-back while Andreas Christensen continues to nurse an ankle injury. Memphis Depay has been waylaid with a hamstring problem since September’s international break.
Barcelona Starting 11 (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Garcia, Balde; Gavi, De Jong, Kessie; Torres, Lewandowski, Dembele.
Bench: Pena, Bellerin, Pique, Busquets, Fati, Pedri, Raphinha, Alonso, Alba.
During Athletic’s 2-2 draw with Getafe in midweek, top scorer Inaki Williams “fell badly on the last play after his shot,” according to Valverde.
However, the striker himself quelled any concerns over his fitness after the match by confirming that he is “well” but “tired”.
Athletic Starting 11 (4-2-3-1): Simon; De Marcos, Alvarez, Martinez, Lekue; Sancet, Vesga; N Williams, Muniain, Berenguer; I Williams.
Bench: Agirrezabala, Vivian, D Garcia, Vencedor, Villalibre, R Garcia, Balenziaga, Morcillo, Guruzeta.
This is a meeting between the two La Liga sides that have completed the most high turnovers in the division this season. However, whereas Barcelona consistently press in a bid to rapidly retrieve possession, Athletic are far more direct after winning the ball in the final third, with their surges forward spearheaded by the jet-heeled Williams brothers.
After five wins from their first seven matches of the campaign, Athletic’s red-hot start has begun to cool during a winless October. If Barcelona can replicate the standard they set with a slightly tweaked side in midweek, the Catalans should have enough to get one over their Basque counterparts.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Athletic