Sunday, 23 August 2009

Preview: Athletic Bilbao

Venue : Camp Nou, Barcelona


The Spanish Super Cup concludes on Sunday with the second leg of the two legged affair between the Treble winners and the beaten Copa del Rey finalists. These two teams are probably sick of each other by now having met late last season in the Cup final and already early this season in the first leg of this final.

Bilbao have it all to do as they surrendered a half time lead at the San Mames to go down by two goals to one to Barca. The damage is double as Barca have 2 away goals and can now approach the game with a much more comfort knowing that a draw will be good enough for them to claim their 8th Spanish Super Cup drawling level with Real Madrid in the process.

PREVIOUS GAME

Barcelona followed up their first leg victory over Bilbao with the Joan Gamper Trophy match against Manchester City. Despite dominating the game and hitting the post twice Barcelona went down by 1 goal to 0. What made the performance all the more impressive was that the team was missing missing midfield generals Xavi and Iniesta and youngsters like Jonathan Dos Santos Thiago and Gai were able to step in and add creativity and flair to the performance. The team had more than 20 shots while City had less than 5 and also dominated in terms of possesion and corners of which they had 15 to City's 2. Barcelona will take a lot of positives from that performance and should be high on confidence going into the 2nd leg.

Athletic Bilbao Meanwhile took part in the UEFA Europa league qualifying round midweek and came away with another close win against opposition from a smaller league. They had to rely on two late goals from De Marcos and Llorente to beat Norway's Tromso IL by 3 goals to 2. Not exactly the most inspiring of performances again from Bilbao who have struggled against opposition from a smaller leagues in their attempts to qualify for the new verion of the UEFA Cup, the Europa League. Bilbao will take some positives from winning the game but given their shaky start to the pre-season they will have to lift their game significantly if they are to get anything from the Camp Nou.

THE KEY MEN

Ibrahimovic vs Iraizoz

Barcelona's marquee summer signing is expected to make his official debut in the second leg after coach Pep Guardiola said "I think he's ready to play an official game." Ibrahimovic made his Barcelona debut in the midweek friendly and showed a few glimses of the form that has made him one of the most feared strikers on the planet. He is still lacking match fitness however and will need time on the pitch with Messi ,Xavi, Iniesta and Henry before he can show the world what he can do with some of the best creative players in the world behind him. One thing is for certain the era of Ibra has arrived, whether it will be as succesful as the Rijkaard/Ronaldinho/Etoo era will be determined over the course of the next 5 years.

If Athletic Bilbao are to get a positive result in the Camp Nou they will need more than likely to keep a clean sheet. The man charged with that difficult task is first choice goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz. Iraizoz is on his second stint with the club having begun his career there. Wanting to get more first team football he moved to Espanol where he was a part of the team that won the Copa del Rey in 2006 and was instrumental to Espanol reaching the UEFA Cup final in 2007.

He played in the final against Sevilla that Espanol lost on penalties despite Dani Alves missing one penalty. Iraizoz moved back to Athletic in 07/08 as the number one goalkeeper but suffered an injury that limited him to just 13 league games. Last season Iraizoz resumed goalkeeping duties at Bilbao and had his work cut out as the team struggled to 13th spot in La Liga and conceeded 60 goals. It could have been so much worse had Irazoz not made his 104 saves in 36 games. Expect Iraizoz, who is fluent in Catalan from his time at Espanol, to have a busy night on Sunday.

FORMATIONS AND TACTICS

Athletic used a 4-4-2 system in the first leg and the fact that they are trailing suggests that they will need to go after goals. Despite this the Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros has apparently given up on the Super Cup final choosing not to call up to the squad key players Ocio, Yeste and Amorebieta and several other first team regulars before their second leg Europa League qualifying match against Tromso. Barca coach Guardiola meanhwile intends to go all out as he has stated that not trophy is more important than another.

Predicted lineups

Barcelona : Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Xavi, Yaya, Keita, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry

Athletic : Iraizoz, Iraola, Ustaritz , San Jose, Koikili, David Lopez, Orbaiz, Gabilondo, Gurpegui, Llorente, Ion Velez

HEAD TO HEAD

Mar 05 : Barcelona 2 - 0 Athletic
Jan 06 : Barcelona 2 - 1 Athletic
Feb 07 : Barcelona 3 - 0 Athletic
Sep 07 : Barcelona 3 - 1 Athletic
Mar 09 : Barcelona 2 - 0 Athletic

Barcelona have not lost a home game to Bilbao in the last 5 attempts in La Liga scoring 12 goals and conceding just 2. Bilbao with a weakened team will have their work cut out for them.

CONCLUSION

Expect a route. A weakened Bilbao coming up against a hungry Barcelona with Ibra set to make his official home debut and Messi and Xavi eager to get the team back to winning ways. This could get ugly and we could see as we did last season the team surge into an unassailable lead before half-time if Bilbao are stunned by an early goal. Expect Barca to try to make a statement in repsonse to Real Madrid's 5-0 mauling of Dortmund in mid-week.

Prediction : Barcelona 4 - Athletic 1

7 comments:

Etsp said...

Just pointing out a small error: You wrote up Toure and Yaya in the lineup instead of Xavi and Toure Yaya.

barca4life said...

Oh my bad. Yeah it should be Toure, Xavi. I seem to be having problems with the lineup. LOL. Last week i wrote Puyol Marquez i think.

zos said...

Toure is a beast with many heads:P... He can easily cover the whole starting eleven.... GO almighty YAYA:P

barca4life said...

Oh pep changed it thanks pep.

Anurag said...

rout, for sure. bilbao have not brought their best players. hope ibra scores his first goal tonight!

Marws said...

Awesome lineup, just put another yaya in midfield instead of Keita and Athletic won't stand a chance :D

groga said...

Don't think Zlatan will already start this one. Second half would be good for him.

Seems like Athletic has several injuries and rested some other because of their Uefa Cup games, so in theory this looks like a winner.

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