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Athletic Club host Barcelona in a La Liga match rescheduled from the start of the season on Wednesday night.
A victory against Elche on Sunday was not enough for Gaizka Garitano to maintain his position as Athletic coach. With the Basque team ninth in the table, former Valencia coach Marcelino García Toral quickly replaced Garitano, taking over his first training session just 48 hours before the visit to Barcelona.
Ronald Koeman was a new appointment for the Catalan team in the summer and has been threatening to build a hot streak of form in recent weeks. Barcelona enters the competition in the unknown position of fifth, but would rise to third with three points.
When does it start? Wednesday 6th January
What time does it start? 20:00 (GMT)
Where do you play? San Mamés Stadium
TV channel / Live broadcast? LaLiga TV (UK), fuboTV (US)
Referee? Carlos Del Cerro Grande
Athletic will not have midfielder Unai López, who is still recovering from a knee injury, and center-back Yeray Álvarez, as he continues to struggle with a muscle problem that has left him out of the game for the last two games.
Those at the Barcelona treatment table are away for extended periods. The Catalans saw Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto limping against Atlético de Madrid early in the campaign, joining Ansu Fati in rehab. Philippe Coutinho will be out of action for three months after undergoing knee surgery.
Athletic Club: Simon; Capa, Núñez, Martínez, Berchiche; De Marcos, Vesga, García, Muniain; Williams, Villalibre.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet, Alba; De Jong, Busquets; Messi, Pedri, Dembélé; Griezmann.
Athletic Club 1-0 Elche (3/1)
Athletic Club 0-1 Real Sociedad (12/31)
Villarreal 1-1 Athletic Club (12/22)
Athletic Club 2-0 Huesca (18/12)
Real Madrid 3-1 Athletic Club (12/15)
Huesca 0-1 Barcelona (3/1)
Barcelona 1-1 Eibar (29/12)
Real Valladolid 0-3 Barcelona (22/12)
Barcelona 2-2 Valencia (19/12)
Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad (16/12)
While Athletic has the intangible quality of a ‘new coach rebound’ on its side, the upcoming contest can be crudely framed as a meeting of two teams whose strengths lie at different ends of the field.
Athletic can boast of having the third best defensive record in La Liga based on expected goals (xG) against, but Barcelona can aim for the number one attack in the division based on their xG going forward, according to FBRef. Basically, Barcelona creates very good chances and Athletic doesn’t offer many up front.
However, in the battle between Barcelona’s attack and Athletic’s defense, the Catalans can boast of the game’s ultimate trump card: Messi.
Prediction: Athletic Club 0-2 Barcelona