By 90Min
March 17, 2018

Barcelona return to league action for the first time after securing a place in the Champions League last eight on Sunday when they welcome Athletic Club to the Camp Nou. 

The Catalonians will be looking to stretch their unbeaten league run to 37 games (including last season) when they face the visit of Ernesto Valverde's former side this weekend, and continue to assert the dominance which has seen them evade defeat at home in the top-flight since September 2016. 

Meanwhile, Los Leones will make the over 370-mile trip across northern Spain from Bilbao to the country's east coast on the back of limping out of the Europa League on Thursday and having failed to record a victory at the Camp Nou since November 2001.

So, ahead of Sunday's La Liga clash, here is everything you need to know. 


Classic Encounter


Athletic Club 2-1 Barcelona (January 2017)

ANDER GILLENEA/GettyImages

On a night where the San Mames Stadium paid its tribute to then-22-year-old defender Yeray Alvarez and his battle with cancer, it was fitting that his shirt number had an impact on proceedings. 

After Athletic took the lead through a scintillating counter-attack move which was eventually rounded off by Barcelona's kryptonite Aritz Aduriz, two minutes later the stadium rose to its feet in support of their defender. 

ANDER GILLENEA/GettyImages

And it was halfway through that thunderous applause on the 27th minute; Alvarez's squad number, when Inaki Williams blasted home past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to double the Basque outfit's advantage. 

However, the then-Athletic boss, Valverde, was forced to watch on as Lionel Messi dragged the Catalonians back into the contest with a stunning free-kick all before the hosts were eventually reduced to nine men for the final 10 minutes; after both Raul Garcia and Ander Iturraspe received their marching orders for two bookable offences. 

But Luis Enrique's Barcelona could not make their two-man advantage pay, in a contest that showcased nine yellow cards, and went down 2-1.


Key Battle


Jordi Alba vs Oscar de Marcos

JOSEP LAGO/GettyImages

If passed fit, Jordi Alba will be looking to continue his prominent form this season which has seen him not only remain solid at the back but also considerably influence proceedings in attack. 

The left-back's relationship with Messi this season has blossomed somewhat, and with Athletic posing very little up top throughout the campaign, the Spaniard, along with opposite man Sergi Roberto, will be eyeing any opportunity to join the likes of the Argentine, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele further up the pitch. 

It will, therefore, be the responsibility of Oscar de Marcos to mute the 28-year-old's impact, something that will be no easy feat. 

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/GettyImages

Team News


Although both Alba and Andres Iniesta looked to be struggling in Barcelona's midweek win over Chelsea, Sergio Busquets (toe) and Luis Suarez (suspension) are the only two new confirmed absentees for Los Leones' visit. Nelson Semedo (hamstring) and Denis Suarez (groin), however, both remain sidelined. 

For the visitors, Iker Munain, Mikel Balenziaga, Yeray Alvarez and Mikel Rico all remain injured for Athletic and will miss the clash at the Camp Nou. Meanwhile, veteran talisman Aduriz is suspended.

PAU BARRENA/GettyImages

Prediction

Sunday will see a contest of two sides who are undergoing vastly contrasting seasons. 

Barcelona and former boss Valverde have the chance to inflict further pain onto Jose Angel Ziganda's outfit amid the fallout of their underwhelming Europa League exit and mid-table obscurity. 

And the hosts can take one step closer to the Primera Division crown by claiming yet another victory over opponents who have not won at the Camp Nou for almost 17 years. 

Even without Suarez and Busquets, Blaugrana should have what it takes to comfortably topple the Basque Country side.

Score Prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Club

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