On paper, Barcelona vs. Athletic Club is no more than a clash between one of La Liga’s best and one of the many mid-table teams with no reason to fear relegation, but no legit top-4 hopes, either.
This match-up, however, is nothing short of must-see considering A) both teams’ current form and, more importantly B) the way their last few meetings have gone.
Before we get into the details of the third battle of January between those two (not making that up!), below are the lines on that one, as well as everything else on tap this week for Spain’s best:
- Eibar (+300) vs. Sevilla (+106) Saturday, 8 a.m. Eastern
- Real Madrid (-295) vs. Levante (+700) Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
- Villarreal (+140) vs. Real Sociedad (+215) Saturday, 3 p.m.
- Cádiz (+850) vs. Atlético Madrid (-225) Sunday, 10:15 a.m.
- Barcelona (-250) vs. Athletic Club (+600) Sunday, 3 p.m.
My biggest question on those games? Why is Sevilla only +106 on the road at 15th-place Eibar?? Sevilla has won three of its last four in La Liga. Julen Lopetegui’s team finds ways to win even when the offense is subpar, and it’s been anything but in recent weeks.
With Youssef En-Nesyri posting hat tricks vs. Real Sociedad (January 9) and Cádiz (January 23), goals are not hard to come by at the moment. In fact, these guys have scored eight times in their last three matches, including Wednesday’s 3-0 Copa del Rey win over Valencia. That makes La Liga’s fourth-place team a great bet at +106 to handle Eibar, which has won just one of its last five in La Liga.
Barcelona Seeks Revenge Against Familiar Foe
The Catalans edged Athletic Club in La Liga on January 6 in Marcelino’s first game with Athletic Club, but lost the Supercopa final to the Basque side on January 17.
That one delivered on everything we’ve come to hope for from a Supercopa final, as Athletic Club scored in the 90th to tie the match at 2-all before adding the winner in the 93rd.
The drama didn’t end there, though. Lionel Messi was shown a rare red card – his first-ever with Barcelona — for shoving Athletic Club’s Asier Villalibre just before the final whistle.
Lionel Messi Red Card pic.twitter.com/HjC23gszvR
— MESSI IS THE BEST (@bestismessi) January 17, 2021
Barcelona also lost two of three match-ups with Athletic Club in ’19-20:
- August 16, 2019: Messi-less Barcelona drops its ’19-20 La Liga season opener, 1-0, on a last-second stunner by Athletic Club’s Aritz Aduriz.
- February 6, 2020: Athletic Club bounces Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey thanks to another late game-winner, this one from Iñaki Williams.
So yeah, Messi and Co. will be up for this one – and come the waning minutes, Barcelona fans will likely be pouring sweat every time an Athletic Club player crosses midfield with possession.
Can Barcelona Stay Hot?
The Catalans have not lost (other than in the Supercopa) since they dropped back-to-back matches vs. Cádiz (La Liga) and Juventus (UCL) in early December.
Messi is in form, and added another goal vs. Rayo Vallecano in a Copa del Rey round of 16 win on Wednesday. The truly scary proposition for Athletic Club is that he’s got more help right now than he has had in quite a while.
Antoine Griezmann is locked in (four goals, three assists in his last six games in all competitions). Frenkie de Jong has had his best month since signing for the Catalans before the ’19-20 season (four goals, two assists in his last seven games).
Barcelona’s even getting contributions from Riqui (what doghouse??) Puig in recent weeks. The promising young midfielder who’s spent most of this season waiting for an opportunity scored two minutes after coming on for Pedri in his team’s 2-0 win over Elche last weekend. He then (finally) got a start vs. Rayo Vallecano in the Copa earlier this week. Could he start again, for the first time all season in La Liga, this weekend?
Can Marcelino Lead Athletic Club To Yet Another Upset?
Under Marcelino, Athletic Club has won one (they beat Getafe 5-1 last Monday) and lost one (his debut vs. Barcelona) in La Liga. But this team has won five of six including the Supercopa and Copa del Rey under its new manager, splitting two vs. Barcelona and upsetting Real Madrid in the Supercopa semifinals.
That form has earned them some respect from oddsmakers in the top-4 race (their +6,600 odds are seventh-best in Spain, despite them sitting in ninth place). They remain a massive long shot to knock off Barcelona this weekend, though, at +600. I don’t think Ronald Koeman’s team will lose to the same opponent for the second time in a couple weeks – especially not in their current form – but I’ll go out on a limb and say this game will once again feature plenty of goals, and more last-second heroics.
Rolling the dice on the over 3.5 total goals at +130 seems advisable, and I’d also be shocked if either team is held scoreless, which makes “both teams to score” (-143) an even better bet.