Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou on Sunday in a bid to extend its points to 11 before Atletico Madrid travels to the Ceramica to play against Villarreal later the same day.
Fresh from a brilliant 3-0 home win over the reigning English champions Chelsea some three days ago, Barcelona will be hoping to keep its unbeaten run in the league as it has won 22 and drawn six of the total 28 games it has played so far.
Barcelona simply outclassed Chelsea in the second leg, winning the tie 4-1 on aggregate. The Catalan team was favored by the only goal it got at the Stamford Bridge in the first leg, which meant Chelsea did not had the freedom to sit at the back and defend, it needed a goal at the least. Unlike the first leg, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte decided to go with a target man in Olivier Giroud. Using a high defensive line, they lined up with the same three defenders that it used in the first leg.
Barcelona changed the tactics playing winger Ousmane Dembele, because it properly seemed that the Catalan side required the width that it missed in London. Dembele was on the right wing, because Barcelona was really exposed in the first leg because of the lack of width which saw right back Sergi Roberto handling the pressure by his own. So, playing Dembele was a two-side thing: 1) For the extra width it needed and 2) To deal with Alonso in the right by falling behind on several occasions.
So, when defending, Barcelona formed a back five at times with Dembele in the right back position and Roberto just inside the defensive line and which also helped Roberto stay back at times and not come forward which would create a rift on the right. Roberto was deployed as an inverted fullback.
Iniesta played as a midfielder on the left by dropping back at times and also leading the attacks and buildups. Left back Jordi Alba was the widest player on that side as Barca played a 4-2-3-1 with Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets as defensive midfielders helping in the other position when its shape was a little distorted.
So, coming to Dembele, the Frenchman was really crucial to Barca on that day. He broke the shape of Chelsea on numerous occasions and also when Alonso lost the ball, he led the counter attack helping Messi dribble past the defenders which was seen in the 20th minute when Messi assisted him for his first goal.
Both the teams played high pressure, but most notably Chelsea utilized Dembele’s lack of defensive knowledge exposing him several times. Barcelona utilized the pressure and scored the first goal through Messi.
Now, Barcelona would want to use the same tactics against Bilbao and move closer to the league title on Sunday.
Barcelona will be without Denis Suarez, Nelson Semedo, Busquets and Luis Suarez who are out with a groin strain, a hamstring injury, a broke toe and suspension respectively.
So, Barcelona might as well field Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks, with Roberto, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Alba in the back four. Aleix Vidal might feature as the right back to give rest to Roberto, but it’s highly unlikely.
Barcelona will surely be with Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele in the four-man midfield along with either Paulinho or Andre Gomes to support Rakitic in the middle of the park.
Lionel Messi and Paco Alcacer might feature for the front line, but Dembele might start with Messi, and Vidal as the winger or a wide midfielder in the right.
Bilbao might be without Iker Munain and Mikel Balenziaga who are out with a cruciate ligament injury and a muscle problem respectively, but Minain is back in training, so he might feature in some phase of the game. Likewise, Mikel Rico and Yeray Alvarez are out of the contention with hamstring injuries.
Kepa Arrizabalaga might as well start in the goal for the away side, while he will be supported by Oscar de Marcos in the right, Unai Nunez and Inigo Martinez in the center back roles and Enric Sabroit in the left. With the injury of Alvarez, Inigo Lekue might also feature for Bilbao. The midfield line might comprise of Mikel San Jose and Benat Etxebarria in the center midfield, while Ander Iturraspe might also start for Bilbao. The three-man attacking midfield might be formed by Markel Susaeta, Raul Garcia and Inigo Cordoba. Also, Mikel Vesga and Sabin Merino might also start in the attacking midfield and the right midfield respectively.
The forward line will either be of Inaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz.
Barcelona and Bilbao have played each other 62 times in the past in which Barca has won 41 times, 12 have ended in draws and Bilbao has defeated Barca on nine occasions.
In the last five meetings between these sides, Barca has won four and Bilbao has won one. In the 2016-17 Copa del Rey season, Bilbao defeated Barca 2-1 at home in the first leg, but succumbed to a 3-1 defeat in the second at the Camp Nou.
In the 2016-17 La Liga season, Barca won the first match 0-1 away on August, while the second match at the Camp Nou was a 3-0 win for the Catalan side.
In the 2017-18 La Liga season, Barca narrowly beat Bilbao 2-0 away from home on October.
Messi has been in a red-hot form of late scoring six in his last five matches. He scored two goals against Chelsea in the second leg, while he had also scored the away goal in London.
Barcelona really looks like a team to beat this season as it has not lost a single game in the league or the Champions League so far.
Bilbao is going through a rough phase as it sits on the 13th place with 35 points from 28 games and just eight games won so far.