5 Key Matchups for Athletic vs. Barcelona in La Liga Week 1 – RantSports

5 Key Matchups for Athletic vs. Barcelona in La Liga Week 1 – RantSports.

My piece for RantSports on Athletic Bilbao vs. Barcelona

Lionel Messi
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Athletic Bilbao host Barcelona in their first La Liga game on Sunday and will be full of confidence. The Basque side beat their visitors in the Spanish Super Cup, winning 4-0 at home and drawing 1-1 at the Nou Camp. Bilbao won many of their individual battles against two underwhelming Barcelona sides. Here we take a look at five key matchups that could decide the opening La Liga fixture for these teams.

5. Thomas Vermaelen vs. Markel Susaeta

Thomas Vermaelen
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Thomas Vermaelen is still fighting his way back to fitness at Barcelona, but will have to step in at left-back due to injuries. He’ll face an intriguing opponent in his first La Liga game for the club. Markel Susaeta may not have the explosive pace to trouble the Belgian, but he is in intelligent player and an important part of Athletic’s attack. Should Vermaelen fail to close him down, then Barcelona could be in trouble.

4. Rafinha vs. Oscar De Marcos

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Another battle on the left side for Barcelona, and the right side for Athletic, sees Rafinha take on Oscar De Marcos. With Neymar out and Pedro gone, Rafinha will be tasked with providing a more direct threat to Bilbao in attack. De Marcos isn’t a natural right-back, but he has enough experience there to put in a good shift. Both players have solid work-rate and will be tasked with helping their partners.

3. Lionel Messi vs. Balenziaga

Lionel Messi
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Lionel Messi wasn’t able to set Athletic Bilbao alight as he did in the Copa del Rey final earlier this year. Part of that is down to two solid performances from Balenziaga. The Athletic left-back got plenty of help, but did a decent job when needed. He’ll have to be at his best again if Athletic is to have a chance at slowing down Messi.

2. Mikel San Jose vs. Ivan Rakitic

Mikel San Jose
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Mikel San Jose opened the scoring and was a solid physical presence in midfield for the home side in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Ivan Rakitic is tasked with providing power and directness in the Barcelona midfield and San Jose will be his main opponent. While the likes of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets can be marshaled from time to time, Rakitic’s all-action presence will require attention for Bilbao to be successful.

1. Aritz Aduriz

Aritz Aduriz
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Marc Bartra will face off with Aritz Aduriz, whether Luis Enrique lines his side up with a four-man defense or a three-man defense. Aduriz used his experience and physicality to unsettle the Barcelona defender in the first leg of the Super Cup and got a hat-trick as a result. If Barcelona are to get the win that’s expected, then Bartra needs to keep the Bilbao forward quiet.

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