The battle for Champions League places in La Liga looks set to be one of the stories to follow throughout the campaign’s second half. Barcelona currently holds the advantage after an incredible run of form, but they come up against one of the potential dark horse contenders this weekend in the form of Athletic Bilbao in this Barcelona vs Bilbao match.
When Xavi was appointed as Barcelona manager, the club was languishing in ninth place in the standings. However, a run of just one defeat in their previous eleven fixtures means that they are now in pole position when it comes to the fourth qualifying spot for the Champions League this season.
The Catalonian giants have strengthened their hold on the spot with three wins from their last four games, which sees them sit just above Atletico Madrid on goal difference.
Barcelona has clearly improved since the arrival of its legendary midfielder, and examples of that have been evident over the past seven days. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang marked his full debut for the club with a hat-trick for Barcelona last weekend in La Liga, as Barca thumped Valencia 4-1 at the Mestalla.
The former Arsenal striker was once again on the scoresheet in midweek, as Barcelona cruised through to the next round of the Europa League with a famous 4-2 success in Italy against Napoli. Jordi Alba, Frenkie de Jong, and Gerard Pique also scored in the win. However, building on their performances in recent weeks will now be the aim.
Athletic Bilbao are typically one of the most exciting sides to watch in La Liga at a neutral. They will be looking for a strong finish to the season this term, as they chase down the sides in the Champions League places. However, they will be relying on the sides above them in the standings to drop points in the second half of the season, as they sit five behind Barcelona.
A victory this weekend is integral to their chances of finishing in the top-four, and their recent form coming into the fixture couldn’t be much better. The Basque club has picked up three victories in their previous four games and has the third-best defensive record in La Liga this season.
Bilbao’s confidence should be extremely high coming into this fixture at the Nou Camp, as they hammered local rivals Real Sociedad, 4-0, last weekend. All four goals were scored in the final 22 minutes, by Inaki Williams, Iker Munian, Dani Vivian and Oihan Sancet.
I am not completely convinced by the spread option for this Barcelona vs Bilbao fixture at the weekend. Barcelona -1 at +160 does look good value based on the Catalonian’s recent scoring record, but whether they will have as much joy against one of La Liga’s best defenses remains to be seen. Bilbao +1 at +125 is a much safer option, as the majority of their defeats this campaign have come by a one-goal margin.
Bilbao has a poor record at the Nou Camp, having not won at the famous stadium for over 15 years. However, they have won two of the previous three home matches that they have played against Barcelona.
But, that strong advantage that the Catalonian giants have at the Nou Camp is hard to ignore. Therefore, I like the chances of a Barcelona win this weekend with Aubameyang scoring first at +400.