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How will Barcelona line up against Athletic Bilbao in a brutal La Liga away match?

Having had another rare and welcome full week of training to prepare for their next La Liga match, Barcelona return to action for a brutal away game as they travel to the Cathedral of San Mamés for the second time in less then a month to face off against high-flying Athletic Bilbao on Sunday night.

Barça played one of their best games of the season in their home win against Getafe, with a complete display with and without the ball and some really good goals and passing patterns all over the pitch. It was an encouraging performance as we hit the home stretch of the season, but the challenge is to replicate that level of play against better teams and in tougher environments.

And it’s hard to find a better team than Bilbao right now, or a tougher environment than San Mamés where Los Leones look absolutely unstoppable and are ready to use the home crowd to their advantage once again to beat Barça and take another big step in their quest for the Top 4.

Here’s how we think Xavi Hernández will line up his troops for Sunday’s battle.


FC Barcelona v Getafe CF - LaLiga EA Sports

Photo by Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Barça’s performance last week was largely dictated by a strong defensive performance and a very good passing display by all four defenders, specifically young Pau Cubarsí who impressed with his poise, anticipation and passing vision. The 17-year-old looks very comfortable in the side, and his remarkable maturity and ball skills will be severely tested by a very aggressive Bilbao press.

Cubarsí will have two experienced center-backs either side of him as Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo are expected to start around the youngster, with João Cancelo at left-back and Iñigo Martínez likely to begin on the bench against his former club.


SSC Napoli v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League

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Xavi surprised a bit with only three midfielders against Getafe, but a home game against a more defensive team made that decision a sensible one. The coach will likely go with a four-man central setup for this one, however, given Bilbao’s incredible high press which will require a Barça side filled with good passers who won’t lose the ball in bad positions.

That means a double pivot of Andreas Christensen and Frenkie de Jong, with Ilkay Gündogan further forward as a number 10 and Pedri as a false left winger. Fermín López has done plenty to earn more minutes and could be a surprised starter in this one, but the young midfielder will likely be a second half option.


Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - Copa del Rey

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Last weekend’s game was a welcome return to form for Raphinha and João Félix, who both played well and scored against Getafe. Barça will welcome as much help as possible up front, and the two wingers can provide very good options off the bench on Sunday.

But neither of them is likely to start if Xavi goes with a four-man midfield, which would mean Robert Lewandowski up front and only one attacking spot remaining on the right wing. Lamine Yamal is the favorite to get the nod after getting a rest last weekend, and he’ll be looking to score another world-class goal at San Mamés to help Barça steal the points.

Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Kounde, Cubarsi, Araujo, Cancelo; Christensen, De Jong; Yamal, Gündogan, Pedri; Lewandowski (4-2-3-1)

How do you think Barcelona should line up against Athletic? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!

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