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The odds for Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona have been taken from the FanDuel sportsbook.
The La Liga leaders should come out on top against a team whose results have declined of late.
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The La Liga title race is by no means over yet, but Barcelona are now in a commanding position to finish on top of the pile. Last weekend, a Raphinha goal brought them a 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Valencia, while Real Madrid could only draw 0-0 with Champions League contenders Real Betis.
That leaves Barcelona nine points clear of their arch-rivals at the summit of the standings. There is still one more Clasico to play this term, so Madrid would move to within six points of top spot were they to win that match next weekend.
Conversely, a victory for Barcelona in that head-to-head clash at Camp Nou would surely put them out of Madrid’s reach, provided the gap between them does not shift in the Blancos’ favor this weekend.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are in action on Saturday, when Espanyol will visit the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. That should not be too tough an assignment for Madrid, even though Ancelotti will have an eye on his team’s upcoming Champions League clash with Liverpool.
That means Barcelona’s lead might be down to six points by the time their meeting with Athletic kicks off on Sunday.
In years gone by, this has been a difficult fixture for the Blaugrana, who drew at San Mames in both La Liga and the Copa del Rey last season. But Xavi Hernandez’s side will be quietly confident of a successful outcome on their upcoming visit to the Basque Country.
Barcelona were eliminated from the Europa League at the end of last month, having already been knocked out of the Champions League before Christmas. Yet the predominant feeling is that a La Liga title would make up for disappointment on the continental stage, at least on this occasion.
After all, Barcelona have not been crowned Spanish champions since 2019 - their longest gap without a title since the early 2000s.
It was always going to be interesting to see how teams responded to this season’s unprecedented schedule. With World Cup 2022 taking place in November and December rather than June and July, sides in Spain and elsewhere had to deal with a mid-season break lasting for around seven weeks.
Some teams came back refreshed and raring to go. Others have struggled to get going since domestic soccer resumed. Athletic Bilbao belongs to the second group.
Post-Qatar, the Basque side have won only two of 10 La Liga fixtures. Since the World Cup, only Elche and Valencia - the bottom two in the standings going into the weekend - have collected fewer points than Ernesto Valverde’s team.
As a result of their downturn in form, Athletic are in danger of dropping out of the race for Europe altogether. They were fourth when La Liga paused for the international action, but are now down in ninth.
Athletic trail the Champions League spots by 11 points, so it is safe to say they will not be sitting at Europe’s top table next season. The Europa League and Europa Conference League are still within reach, but Valverde will need to arrest his team’s slide quickly.
Kick-starting a revival against his former club would do wonders for Athletic’s morale. They will also try to draw confidence from underlying data such as expected goals, which ranks them as the third top-performing team in the division behind Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Xavi had some welcome news from the Barcelona medical team this week, with Gavi and Robert Lewandowski set to return to the fold for the trip to San Mames on Sunday. Frenkie de Jong and Andreas Christensen could also be available, which would be a major boost for the La Liga leaders.
Barcelona have been superb in 2023, at least in domestic competition. Eight of their nine league games since the turn of the year have ended in victory, as did a significant Copa del Rey clash with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
As we mentioned earlier, San Mames has not always been a happy hunting ground for Barcelona, who have failed to win five of their last seven trips to the stadium. But the defensive solidity and resolve they have demonstrated all season should stand them in good stead on Sunday.
Athletic have failed to score in six of their 10 encounters post-World Cup, which does not bode particularly well as they prepare to take on the most water-tight backline in Europe. Barcelona are conceding an average of 0.33 goals per game this term, which makes them difficult to beat.
A clean sheet is a distinct possibility in this one, but we recommend betting the moneyline and choosing Barcelona as the winner on Sunday.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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