Barça vs Bilbao: Preview

The leaders face a very tough match in their road to the title while missing some key players

Barcelona (1st, 72pts) vs Athletic Bilbao (12th, 35pts)

Competition/Round: 2017-18 La Liga, Matchday 29

Barcelona team news: Luis Suárez (suspended), Sergio Busquets, Nélson Semedo, Denis Suarez, Thomas Vermaelen (out, injury)

Athletic Bilbao team news: Iker Muniain (out), Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel Rico, Yeray Álvarez (doubtful)

Date/Time: Sunday, March 18th, 2018, 4.15pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 3.15pm GMT (UK), 11.15am EST, 8.15am PST (USA), 8.45pm IST (India)

Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Referee: Santiago Jaime Latre

How to watch on TV: beIN SPORTS (USA, Canada, Spain), Sky Sports Mix (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India), others

How to stream: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA, Canada, Spain), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)

After a fantastic win against Chelsea in the Champions League, Barcelona are back in La Liga action with another home game when Athletic Bilbao visit the Camp Nou on Sunday. Barça remain eight points clear at the top of the table and are getting closer and closer to the title, and this weekend’s test will be a tough one.

Athletic have had a very tough season and are just not the same team they used to be under, you know, Ernesto Valverde! They’re struggling to defend as well as they did under the current Barça manager and they’re not nearly as lethal on the counter as Valverde’s side was.

But they still have a really good squad of Basque players, including Barça’s January target Iñigo Martínez, and their attacking players Iñaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz are still very dangerous. They’ll come to the Camp Nou and be very organized without the ball and look to get a goal on the break.

Barça will have to play this one without Sergio Busquets and Luis Suárez, but they have some guy named Lionel Messi who apparently is quite good at football. So yeah, I like our chances.


Barcelona (4-4-2): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Vidal, Rakitic, Paulinho, Coutinho; Messi, Alcácer

Athletic (4-2-3-1): Kepa; De Marcos, Núñez, Martínez, Balenziaga; San José, Etxebarria; Williams, Raúl García, Susaeta; Aduriz


Bilbao will put up a pretty good fight as they always do, but Messi is just in the zone right now: 3-0 Barça, Messi hat-trick.

Messi: I’m trying to be a less selfish player

Lionel Messi has given a rare interview to America TV’s La Cornisa programme and had some pretty interesting things to say.

The Argentine basically explained how his game has changed over the years and how he tries to be more of a team player and less selfish.

“Before, I tried to steal the ball and make my play,” he said.

”Now, I try to make the team play more, pass the ball more and not be so defining or selfish.

”I try to move the team from another position. I run the same as I always did, but in a different way.”

Messi has certainly racked up the assists in La Liga this season, he leads the way with 12 assists in 27 league outings.

He also has 24 goals, as well as hitting the woodwork countless times, in what has been another stunning campaign for the little genius.

Valverde talks Roma, injuries and Iniesta future ahead of Athletic clash

Ernesto Valverde has faced the press ahead of tomorrow’s game with Athletic and has been talking about the Champions League draw and Andres Iniesta’s future amongst other things.

Here’s a look at the best bits…

Valverde on Roma

In the Champions League quarter-finals any team you have to face is tough. You have to look at the team you’re going to play. We didn’t want to play Real Madrid or Sevilla because we know them and they’re in our league. But Roma are going to be very tough, you never know what’s going to happen. Roma beat Chelsea, who were tough here, 3-0. They played well against Atletico, our top rival in La Liga. Anything can happen. We have a lot of work to do because we know the potential they have.

They have a great coach, they have Monchi who knows us very well, you only have to see them play at Stamford Bridge, they scored three, we only scored one there and we suffered. I have a lot of respect for them. All this about Roma being the best draw for Barcelona – I don’t believe that one bit. For us it’s a very tough rival I have no doubt about that.

Valverde on Paco Alcacer

He looks good, he’s training well, there’s a lot of competition for places in these positions. Some have played more, some have played less, but I see him ready to go.

Valverde on injuries

Vermaelen ran into Cuenca during a taining session and he was in a lot of pain. But after a few medical tests we think he’ll be ok soon. Denis and Semedo we think after the international break they’ll be back with us and we have to see about Busquets. We have a squad ready for tomorrow and we’re confident going into the game.

Valverde on facing Athletic

The countdown is on. After the international break we have a tough April, in which it is make or break time for our season. That’s why it is important to start out by winning against Athletic. If people had said we’d be in this situation at the start of the season I’d have signed on the dotted line and I’ve have done it in my own blood.

Valverde on Andre Gomes’s reception against Chelsea

I think it was good, it was nice to see the people there behind the player, not just Andre Gomes but any player. It’s good to see that kind of reaction and out on the field that’s where he has to produce

Valverde on whether Alena is Iniesta’s heir

Iniesta is one of a kind. You can’t compare him for the most part with anyone. Alena is a player with a bright future at this club without any question

Valverde on Rakitic

I think he’s had an extraordinary season, he’s completely reliable. He helps you bring the ball up the field, he gets into the final third, he played central midfield, attacking midfield with Sevilla and he looks good there. Players do move position in their careers, they don’t always stay in the same position they started with. Rakitic is a very important player for us.

Valverde on being without Suarez and Busquets

It’s always bad news to lose players of their calibre. Busquets is a player who is totally necessary for our team and Suarez brings pressure way up the field, non-stop and he’s very good at moving around and staying with the defenders as they try to bring the ball up the field which is great for us. Athletic are very strong, they have very strong central defenders and not having Luis up there for us is a little bit of a problem. But we have to work around it.

Valverde on Iniesta’s future

It’s up to him, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m not thinking about next season. You always want to think about things coming up but I’m not thinking about next season yet and who might be here and who might not be. I don’t want to have to think about Barcelona without Andres.

Valverde on Neymar

I dont have anything to say. I wouldn’t say don’t come here. He’s a great player everyone knows it. He’s a good player that’s the truth

FC Barcelona News: 17 March 2018

FC Barcelona squad named for Athletic game | FC Barcelona
Just a few days on from a great victory for FC Barcelona against Chelsea in the Champions League, the side are in weekend action against Athletic Club at the Camp Nou (Sunday, 4:15pm CET). Barça continue to top the LaLiga table coming into Matchday 29 of the season.

The day that Valverde won and scored at the Camp Nou | FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona have a game against Athletic Club at the Camp Nou this weekend, in one of LaLiga’s most historic clashes. It’s also a special fixture for the coaches of both sides: Ernesto Valverde and José Ángel Ziganda. Both were successful strikers at Athletic during the 1990s.

The three most recent precedents between Barça and Roma | FC Barcelona
The matches between Barça and Roma are not a regular occurrence, as only five have been played before now. Four have been in official competition; the group stages of the 2001/02 and 2015/16 Champions League, and another in the 2015 Joan Gamper Trophy, its 50th edition.

10 things you should know about AS Roma | FC Barcelona
Take a look at Barça’s opponents in the Champions League quarter-finals.

16 Barça players called up for their national teams | FC Barcelona
Spain and France have called up the most Barça players. Lopetegui has chosen Iniesta, Alba and Piqué for the two confrontations against Marc-André ter Stegen’s Germany and Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Ter Stegen, will also play against Brazil, meaning he will face Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho. Cillessen (Holland) is up against André Gomes (Portugal) on the second Matchday, whilst Yerry Mina (Colombia), will travel to France to play a game against Dembélé, Digne and Umtiti.

Magic Messi ‘less selfish’ but still closing on another 40-goal season for Barcelona | Goal
Lionel Messi believes he has become more of a team player than he was earlier in his career. The Barcelona superstar has been in typically incredible form this season, scoring 34 goals in all competitions for Ernesto Valverde’s La Liga leaders.

When Messi found Dembele: Barcelona’s new striking partnership | Goal
After an inauspicious, injury-hit start to life at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is finally finding his feet. His budding partnership with Lionel Messi, in particular, is one that will give the Blaugrana great hope as they enter the decisive phase of the 2017-18 season.

Andre Gomes’ honesty about his “hell” met with warm reception | ESPN
When Andre Gomes ran onto the pitch Wednesday night, the Camp Nou erupted. There were cheers and clapping, they started chanting his name and every time he got the ball, there was applause. Every successful pass and every move was greeted with appreciative cheers.

A blaugrana test for Marc Márquez | FC Barcelona
The 2018 MotoGP season begins this Sunday, March 18th, starting with the Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail circuit. One of the riders lining up on the grid will be Marc Márquez, a diehard Barça fan. On the occasion of his last visit to the Camp Nou to see the big match between FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, the reigning MotoGP World Champion was put to the test on his knowledge of all things Blaugrana.

How will Barca line up against Athletic?

Barcelona are back in La Liga action on Sunday, their final fixture before a short international break. The team will be in good spirits after a big Champions League win over Chelsea but will be missing a couple of key players due to injury and suspension.

Let’s have a look at how they might line-up:


Malaga v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Ernesto Valverde has a few injury concerns in defence and is already without Nelson Semedo who remains sidelined through injury. Sergi Roberto picked up a knock against Malaga and missed training ahead of the Chelsea clash but seemed to come through the game unscathed.

Jordi Alba also looked to be struggling towards the end of the Champions League game, but the suggestion is it was only cramp and he should be fine. Gerard Pique’s knee seems to be OK as he put in a fine display alongside Samuel Umtiti.


Barcelona v Espanyol - Spanish Copa del Rey
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Barcelona will have to cope without Sergio Busquets who is out for a few weeks with a foot injury. Either Andre Gomes or Paulinho should come in and take his place alongside Ivan Rakitic.

Andres Iniesta’s fitness is also unclear, he returned against Chelsea but was replaced after 56 minutes and we might well see Philippe Coutinho take his place in the team.

Ousmane Dembele could continue on the right after impressing in recent weeks and bagging his first Barcelona goal against Chelsea.


FC Barcelona v Sporting CP - UEFA Champions League
Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Valverde will have to make changes in attack as Luis Suarez is suspended and will sit this one out. Paco Alcacer could be the main beneficiary and may well come in and replace the Uruguayan up front.

Lionel Messi who was brilliant again against Chelsea should also return to La Liga action after missing last weekend’s clash against Malaga due to the birth of his third son.

Possible starting XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Dembele, Rakitic, Paulinho, Coutinho; Messi, Alcacer.

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

Messi magic takes Barca to another level

Camp Nou was the location, Chelsea the opponent and Lionel Messi the hero. As often as the last part of the sentence occurs, it never makes for tiring viewing. The Argentinian, who will soon be required to have a wand accompany him to the pitch due to the magic he often creates, contributed with two sublime finishes to lead Barcelona into the Champions League quarter-finals. And with him looking as hungry and healthy as ever, the Catalans’ chances of wrestling the holy grail of European football away from their arch-enemies in Madrid has increased tenfold.

It’s hard to bet against Messi in these types of contests, his taste for the big moments only matched by a certain Portuguese international who plies his trade in the Spanish capital. The 98,000 in attendance had barely taken to their seats, the millions watching at home hardly having switched their televisions on by the time Suarez’s deflected pass fell into the path of the waiting Messi. His slick right-footed shot squeezed through the gaping legs of Thibaut Courtois, and with just two minutes on the clock, the 30-year-old had announced his arrival into the highly-anticipated match-up.

FC Barcelona v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

As comfortable as the final result turned out to be for Ernesto Valverde’s side, the opening 75 minutes in the first leg at Stamford Bridge produced a much different feeling. Barca struggled to break down a stubborn Chelsea defence, inspired by their tactically astute manager Antonio Conte. The Italian’s sturdy strategies led to Italy’s dispatching of possession-devotees Spain in the 2016 European Championship, and Conte was keen to replicate the performance. The Blaugranes were bemused, unsure how to crack such a solid backline, until their saviour appeared to spare their blushes. Andres Iniesta reacted the quickest to a misplaced Andreas Christensen pass to set up the oncoming Messi for a simple but effective finish. Barca had grabbed the all-important away goal, and there wasn’t much surprise with who attained it.

The second leg was always going to be more open for Messi and Co., with Chelsea at some point required to push forward in the hope of snatching an away goal of their own. That would leave space for the Barcelona forwards to enjoy the attacking freedom they crave, a pleasant change from the suffocation they suffered at the Bridge three weeks ago. No-one could have guessed they would receive such an opportunity in the opening minutes, however. Messi’s goal didn’t change much in terms of what Chelsea had to do in order to level the scores on the night, but letting them know he was prepared for battle will have certainly affected the opposition.

The English side actually played well, holding much more possession than expected and often creating several half-chances as Barca happily sat back, inviting pressure while they awaited another Chelsea error. That mistake came soon after, as a loose Cesc Fabregas pass was picked up by Messi, his presence garnering a level of attention that allowed for a slick pass to the unmarked Ousmane Dembele on the edge of the area. The former Borussia Dortmund man rifled his effort into the top corner, leaving Chelsea with a mountain to climb. Barcelona were in a comfortable position heading into half-time, and they had their iconic No.10 to thank for such a luxury.

FC Barcelona v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The second half contained many desperate Chelsea attacks, searching for a goal that would have made Barca sweat over their lead. Had they been successful, the tie would certainly have opened up, the nerves in the Camp Nou swelling up with flashbacks of 2012. However, before such a scenario could happen, an Antonio Rudiger mishit pass, followed by poor Christensen defending, opened up space for Messi to fire home his second of the night, once again at the expense of Courtois. It was a carbon copy of the opening goal, as Messi absorbed the plaudits of the Camp Nou during the celebrations. His two magic moments this time around, combined with the left-footed finish in London three weeks prior, had been the difference, acknowledged as much by Conte during his post-game embrace. Conte’s a passionate character, no doubt left disappointed by his team’s early exit at this stage of a competition which still eludes him. But even he found the time to admire the greatness he had just witnessed.

FC Barcelona v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Barca played well defensively, awaiting individual errors to create momentum offensively, as they felt safe with the lead they held heading into the contest. Valverde set his side up to be organised in their half of the pitch, and punishable on the opponents’ side. It proved a successful strategy, and one which makes the Liga champions-elect appear as one of the legitimate favourites for Europe’s premier competition.

Yet, there’s no denying that Messi places this team on a whole other pedestal. That, of course, is stating the obvious. However, the more he does it, the more it becomes apparent, and the constant moments of wizardry he provides Barca with offers them the capability of beating any side they meet from here on out. You’d think we’d have gotten used his brilliant performances by now.

WATCH: Messi guide Dembele through Chelsea match

Lionel Messi was not only Barcelona’s match-winner against Chelsea, he also helped guide Ousmane Dembele through the vital clash.

Some interesting footage has emerged of Messi instructing Dembele throughout the game, check it out for yourselves.

Messi can be seen encouraging and cajoling the youngster throughout the game as well as appearing to instruct him on where he needed to be on the pitch.

The two combined beautifully for Barcelona’s second goal but it seems that Dembele needs to thanks Messi for more than just his assist.

Barcelona vs. Chelsea – Tactical Review

Barcelona simply had better finishing

Barcelona won the second leg of their encounter with Chelsea by a very imposing margin, 3-0, but the game was much closer than the scoreline suggests. It’s reductionist to say one team had Lionel Messi and the other didn’t, but it’s not too far off from the truth. This was a game where finishing did play a huge role in how it went down, but you know… that’s football. The team that finishes better is much more likely to win, obviously. So when judging a performance we have to judge that as part of it.

Still, Chelsea took 7 shots in Barcelona’s box. Meanwhile Barcelona took 6 in Chelsea’s penalty area. The biggest difference though, is that all 6 of Barcelona’s shots were on target (and 3 were goals). Of Chelsea’s 7, 2 were blocked, 4 were off target, and only 1 was on target. That’s a huge difference and it goes a long way towards explaining the result.

Ernesto Valverde bravely – and probably correctly – put his faith in Ousmane Dembélé to start, and he repaid the manager with a goal and a good performance. The winger took up an advanced position, giving Messi someone to link up with in the attacking phase. Still, the fact that he was high up the pitch meant Chelsea could counter, and Sergi Roberto struggled to contain the threat. On the other flank, Andrés Iniesta was more conservative, which allowed Jordi Alba to go forward a bit more. Still, Dembélé gave the team more width than Paulinho did, and it was especially noticeable as the Camp Nou is a bigger pitch as well.

Chelsea, knowing they needed a goal, dropped Pedro to the bench in favor of Olivier Giroud as a true #9 upfront. Chelsea were probably better in attack here than at Stamford Bridge, despite the fact that they scored one there and zero at Camp Nou. That’s because they looked more threatening, whereas at Stamford Bridge their one card was Willian trying to score worldies.

Marcos Alonso made many dribbles down that Dembélé-Roberto flank but he almost never was able to find a forward option or a cross for someone to get onto. In fact, Valverde’s team seemingly adopted a “bend but don’t break” philosophy, defending very deep. This is not something normal to see from Barcelona, but in a way it’s reassuring. Past versions would have been in a panic seeing the opposition marching forward so often, but this team is much more confident in repelling attacks.

Paulinho was brought on for Iniesta, who was lacking fitness, in what was probably a pre-planned substitution. Though 5 minutes later Valverde had to bring in André Gomes for Sergio Busquets due to an unforeseen injury. Paulinho actually went into the middle, into Busquets’s position, with Gomes taking Iniesta’s. Paulinho actually did a good job covering in this deeper position, and Gomes also gave the team a bit more steel than Iniesta.

And 3-0 up, Valverde brought on Aleix Vidal for Dembélé to fully shut up shop and particularly to close down that flank that Chelsea was getting some amount of joy on. With Vidal and Gomes, the team had a more symmetrical look, as opposed to Ousmane more advanced as a pure winger and Iniesta more of a midfielder. Vidal was clearly instructed to hang back more than Dembélé had, and he’s also a more natural defender.

The match was closer than the 3-0 would suggest, and clearly there was a difference in how good each team was at finishing. Despite Chelsea having chances to shoot at goal, Marc-André ter Stegen was not usually troubled. And please remember even 0-0 would have been enough for the Catalans. Oddly enough, Chelsea’s lone goal in two legs was a long shot, not the various close-up shots they had. They did hit the post 4 times, but 3 come from outside the box. I’m not convinced that’s unlucky, exactly. The argument usually goes that if you’re hitting the post, you were close to scoring, and normally you would have actually gotten the ball into the net at least 1 of those 3 times. But when they’re shots taken from difficult situations, the chances are not actually that high that you’d score. Thus I don’t think that’s unlucky, really.

I think Barcelona over two legs were slightly better ignoring finishing, and obviously much better if you take finishing into account. Of course the result is what it is, and when finishing is so markedly different, you can’t ignore that. On the other hand, I think it’s fair to say the 4-1 aggregate flatters Barcelona. Chelsea were probably better than that implies. But I would avoid going too far and saying the Blaugrana were lucky to progress, or were outplayed over two legs. Not really. Chelsea are a strong team and they put up a fight, but in the end they were still second-best in too many aspects.

De Rossi: Roma would have preferred one of the others

Roma captain Daniele De Rossi has given his reaction after his side were drawn with Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,

“There were only great sides left in the draw. Maybe we would have preferred one of the others but we are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and already showed how proud we were about that,” he said.

“We were going to face one of the best seven sides around, maybe it’s a shame we ended up with arguably the best, but that’s the draw.

“So enough about luck or bad luck, we will focus on the two league games ahead of us and then, when the time comes, we will prepare and prepare very well for two huge nights, two big European occasions for Roma. We’ll get ready, be very prepared. Never say never.”

Source | AS Roma

Roma have two Serie A games before they head to Camp Nou. They head to Crotone on Sunday and then to Bologna after the international break.

Eusebio Di Francesco’s side are on a decent run having won their last three games on the bounce, including a 4-2 victory at Napoli.

Roma the dream draw for Barca

Barcelona have discovered their fate in the Champions League and can be forgiven for viewing Roma as the dream draw for a number of reasons.

Ernesto Valverde’s side faced a tough test in the last 16 as they were paired with Premier League champions Chelsea, but they showed their quality to win 4-1 on aggregate.

Their victory meant there were three Spanish teams in the last eight and Andres Iniesta admitted they did not want to face a Liga rival, explaining: “Not the Spanish sides because we know each other too well.”

Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Barcelona probably also wanted to avoid a reunion with Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. The Premier League leaders are seen by many as the top team in Europe currently and would certainly provide stiff competition.

So too Bayern Munich and Juventus who top their domestic leagues and will expect to go deep into the tournament. Barcelona may have got the better of Juve in the group stages this year, but were knocked out by the Italian giants in last season’s quarter-finals.

And then there’s Liverpool who have won the European Cup five times and have already proved this season they can score goals against just about anyone.

Which just leaves Roma, who are third in Serie A but a distant 18 points behind leaders Juventus. Barcelona will also need no reminding that the last time the two sides met in the competition they were comfortable winners.

Yet while they might be their preferred draw, Barcelona must not underestimate Roma. After all this is a team that topped Group C ahead of both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. They lost just once in the group stages, a 2-0 defeat at Atletico, but also picked up some impressive results.

They are also yet to concede a goal at home in the competition. Atletico were held to a goaless draw, Chelsea beaten 3-0, Qarabag 1-0 and Shakhtar Donetsk also went down 1-0.

A key part of their defensive prowess has been goalkeeper Alisson who has attracted admirers from all over Europe, including both Liverpool and Real Madrid if rumours are to be believed. Up front Edin Dzeko is the danger man with four goals in the tournament so far, including the one that secured their place in the last eight.

AS Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Barcelona will play the first leg at home on Wednesday April 4th before heading to Italy for the second leg on Tuesday April 10. A good result will be needed at the Camp Nou in order to set up Ernesto Valverde’s side for the return leg.


The Blaugrana will head into the two matches as favourites given their form this season both domestically and in Europe. Barca haven’t made it to the last four of the tournament since 2015, which is also the last time they lifted the famous old trophy.