FC Barcelona look to continue their improved form under Xavi Hernandez when they entertain Athletic Club Bilbao in the Camp Nou Stadium at Barcelona on Sunday night.
Barca go into the game with their morale high after a 4-1 win in Valencia last Sunday, followed by an impressive 4-2 victory away to Napoli on Thursday, which saw them qualify for the last-16 of the Europa League.
Those wins imply that the team is starting to show the consistency that has been lacking in some of their displays, while the January signings, Adama Traore, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ferran Torres and Dani Alves (although he didn’t play in the last two matches) have certainly improved the side.
Playing on Thursday may leave the Barca players a bit tired, but Xavi has options to rotate his side with Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Ousmane Dembele all options after watching much of Thursday’s game from the bench.
Although Barca sit 15 points behind Real Madrid in the table, club president Joan Laporta said on Friday that he still doesn’t rule out the chance of winning the title, although assuring a place in next season’s Champions League looks like a more realistic goal, reports Xinhua.
Athletic Club travel to the Camp Nou after thrashing local rivals Real Sociedad 4-0 last weekend and they need points to strengthen their own hopes of playing in Europe next season.
The Basque side also have one eye on Wednesday’s return leg of the Copa del Rey in Valencia and the club have publicly complained that Valencia, who play on Saturday, have 31 hours more to prepare for a season-defining game (as they also had in the first leg).
That lack of preparation means coach Marcelino Garcia Toral will make some changes to the side likely to start in the Cup with Oier Zarraga, Nico Serrano, Inigo Lekue and perhaps Mikel Balenziaga all starting, while regular starters such as Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain are rested.
Athletic knocked Barca out of the last-16 of the Cup after outplaying them in January and this should show just how much Barca have improved since that match.