Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao preview: Leaders eager to extend unbeaten run in La Liga
Runaway leaders Barcelona will look to extend their unbeaten run in La Liga, as they take on visitors Athletic Bilbao this Sunday afternoon.
Following their emphatic 3-0 (4-1 on aggregate) victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League last-16 in midweek, they continued to showcase their dominance at the Camp Nou after a tricky first leg in west London.
However, the same cannot be said for Bilbao - who were knocked out of the Europa League by Ligue 1 side Marseille at the round-of-16 stage.
Injury news and form
Despite sealing their progression into the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Barcelona suffered a frustrating loss as influential midfielder Sergio Busquets is set to be sidelined for three weeks with a fractured toe. Andres Iniesta, who himself returned from an hamstring injury recently, is likely to not be risked - as Ernesto Valverde will be keen to keep the creator fresh, not least after his display against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Barca have been excellent across all competitions but their league form, has been something else this term. 22 wins, six draws and no defeats alongside their 72 goals and only 13 goals conceded, justifies just how they have dominated in Spain's top-flight this season.
Athletic Bilbao meanwhile, sit in mid-table and will be keen to earn a result of some sort, despite how heavily fancied Sunday's hosts are.
Despite only winning eight league matches this season, they are comfortably away from the relegation zone at present and will have an eye on potentially challenging for the European places during the business months of the campaign, not least now they're out of the Europa League and can solely focus on their league performances.
In their last ten, Bilbao have only recorded two victories and drawn five - their lack of consistency is why they're not higher in the table at present. It'll be interesting to see how they line up and approach this game, especially given the underdog tag on this occasion.
Barcelona have won 11 of their 13 home fixtures so far this season and a win could extend their lead at the top, with Atlético Madrid set to face sixth-placed Villarreal away from home in a tough challenge for Diego Simeone's side.
What to expect
Defence will be the key for the visitors if they are to halt Barcelona's rampant attacks, from an in-form frontline at present. Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams, two of Bilbao's mosts prominent attackers, will be tasked with provide additional defensive support out of possession before attempting to create chances of their own in and around the final third.
Lionel Messi and co will want to make easy work of this encounter, potentially looking to kill the game off as early as possible before dominating possession and goalscoring chances too. Philippe Coutinho (cup-tied), Ousmane Dembélé, Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer could feature from the start as Valverde is likely to rotate and keep his squad fresh with tougher challenges to come.