Athletic Bilbao - Barcelona: team news and starting line-ups
The 2019-20 Liga season gets underway on Friday evening as Athletic host reigning champions Barcelona in San Mamés in the absence of Leo Messi.
Athletic vs Barcelona: starting XIs
Team news is out for the LaLiga opener. Here's how the sides line up
Unai Simón, Capa, Yeray, Nuñez, Yuri B., Unai López, Dani Garcia, De Marcos, Raúl García, Muniain, Williams
Subs: I. Herrerín, Beñat, Larrazabal, Aduriz, Balenziaga, Vivian, O. Sancet
Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Lenket, Jordi Alba, Aleña, Sergi Roberto, De Jong, Dembélé, Suárez, Griezmann (De Jong is the player missing from Barcelona's tweet, for the eagle-eyed of you)
Subs: I. Rakitic, Sergio, Rafinha, Umtiti, Junior, Iñaki Peña and C. Pérez
Athletic vs Barcelona: team news and line-ups
Friday night football is back, after a protracted battle between the suits at LaLiga HQ and the Spanish Football Federation, and in fairness at least this season (or at least today) they have shied away from handing the gig to usual suspects like Betis or Espanyol and slathered the reigning champions on top of the aperitif as Barça travel to Athletic Club – one of the bigger games of the season to get the ball rolling.
How long this largesse on the part of the organizing disunion will continue is anyone’s guess – we’ll hazard one we won’t be seeing Real Madrid on a Friday evening any time soon – but Athletic will be happier than most with the scheduling as it ensured Leo Messi will be out for the trip to San Mamés. The Argentinean is still recovering from a calf injury and won’t be risked by Ernesto Valverde against a side not noted for rolling out the red carpet, no matter how illustrious the house guest.
It also gives Valverde a chance to try out Antoine Griezmann in his attack without the obvious pressure of playing alongside one of the greatest in the game in a stadium where he is guaranteed a hostile welcome. The Frenchman will likely move out to the left of the front three - a position he inhabited for Real Sociedad before Diego Simeone converted him into a striker – with Ousmane Dembélé on the right and Luis Suárez in the middle.
Barça generally struggle without Messi but their recent record against Athletic is solid enough: the Catalans have not been beaten since 2013 but were held to a pair of draws last season, with this fixture in San Mamés ending goalless.
Athletic’s summer business has been non-existent. The Basque side’s major coup was tying Iñaki Williams down to a new long-term deal and other than a few promotions from Bilbao Athletic Gaizka Garitano has much the same team as last season – one that is unbeaten at home in 14 Liga games, although he has lost some experience in the shape of Ander Iturraspe and Mikel Rico.
Athletic team vs Barcelona (predicted)
Starting XI: Herrerín; Capa, Martínez, Álvarez, Yuri; D. García, López; Córdoba, R. García, Muniain; Williams
Barcelona team vs Athletic (predicted)
Starting XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; De Jong / Vidal, Busquets, Rakitic; Dembélé, Suárez, Griezmann.
Athletic vs Barcelona: Injuries and suspensions
With Messi out, Athletic will go for the jugular and play Williams as a lone forward with support from the brute strength of Raúl García and the guile of Iker Muniain. Iñigos Córdoba and Martínez face late fitness tests but should make the starting XI with Aritz Aduriz expected to start on the bench.
Barça have almost a clean bill of health beyond Messi. New keeper Neto is out and Frenkie de Jong is expected to start after a niggle during the week alongside Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic while at the back Valverde has his first-choice back four available.
Athletic vs Barcelona: AS English prediction
The champions to drop points on the opening day as Athletic earn a third consecutive Liga draw. With Messi, Barça are practically unstoppable. Without him, and with Griezmann, Suárez and Dembélé an untested force in attack, anything is possible and Athletic are nothing if not a solid unit coached by a man who does enjoy a clean sheet.