Round two of La Liga action is upon us, and it’s so far so good for the apparently in crisis FC Barcelona.
Ronald Koeman’s men put their off-the-pitch troubles to one side to cruise to an impressive 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad on the opening weekend of the season – and they did so without legend Lionel Messi.
He’s as good as forgotten now, I’d say. Martin Braithwaite wants to take his chance in the first team, while Antoine Griezmann is hoping to fill the departed Argentine’s boots.
See? Life after Messi isn’t so bad. Barça’s challenging start to the season continues in the form of an away trip to Athletic Club, who they have already faced three times in 2021. But which way will this clash swing?
Here’s 90min’s preview of the big match.
When Is Kick Off? Saturday 21 August
What Time Is Kick Off? 21:00 (BST)
Where Is it Played? Estadio San Mames
TV Channel/Live Stream? LaLiga TV (UK), ESPN (US)
Referee? Juan Martinez Munuera
Barcelona will once again be without the commanding presence of the injured Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks, so Neto will deputise for the German.
Sergio Aguero, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati are also absentees, but other than that, Koeman suffered no new injury scares in the last outing. The Dutchman is likely to keep faith in the starting lineup which defeated Real Sociedad, meaning Pedri’s chaotic year continues.
Marcelino has no new injury worries to ponder ahead of Barça’s visit, and they will also have the luxury of the returning Raul Garcia, who has served his suspension. However, it’s not guaranteed that he’ll slot straight back into the starting lineup.
Athletic Club: Agirrezabala; De Marcos, Alvarez, Martinez, Balenziaga; Berenguer, D Garcia, Vencedor, Muniain; Sancet, Williams
Barcelona: Neto; Dest, Pique, Garcia, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, De Jong; Braithwaite, Griezmann, Depay
As expected, Barça dominate the head to head record against Athletic, although the European giants have not always had it their own way. Bilbao’s last win against the Blaugrana came in the Copa del Rey back in February 2020, but Messi and co had their revenge just over a year later, beating the Basque side 4-0 in the final of the 2021 edition.
The two sides also played out a thriller at the San Mames last year, which Barcelona came out on top with a 3-2 victory. Pedri cancelled out Inaki Williams’ early opener, before Messi took centre stage to bag a brace.
The Argentine is not here to dig them out of trouble this time round.
It’s a chaotic period for Barça off the pitch, but the season has started well enough on it. A trip to Bilbao is a difficult first away game of the season, and they’ll have to be at their best to come away with all three points.
We fancy both teams to score in this one, but Koeman’s men could just have enough between them to get the job done.
Prediction: Athletic Club 1-2 Barcelona