Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona tips: Goals at a premium as Catalans look to cement La Liga top spot
After 24 matches in Spain's top flight, Barcelona came into this weekend with a tasty nine-point lead from a chasing pack that is headed by arch-rivals Real Madrid.
Xavi's side have enjoyed a remarkable season domestically which appears destined to end in more silverware, and despite being relatively fresh on the managerial scene, the former World Cup winner will be keen to ensure his team display no signs of complacency on the home stretch. Barca's defensive unit has proved incredibly difficult to breach so far this campaign, with just eight goals being conceded in 24 matches, while a remarkable 18 clean sheets have already all but guaranteed Marc-Andre Ter Stegen the prestigious Golden Glove award.
Barcelona's capability to deny opponents a goal has proved very useful recently, with 1 or 2 goals frequently being enough for all the three points.
A win to nil for the table toppers looks to be a viable option, while dutching a 1-0 and 2-0 win could provide even greater reward.
The Basque side, who constantly overachieve considering their homegrown recruitment policy, have struggled in recent seasons against Barcelona and will be desperate to halt a miserable sequence which saw them lose 4-0 in both of last season's league meetings.
Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde is still without Unai Simon, Ander Herrera and Jon Morcillo, but perhaps most importantly, top goalscorer Oihan Sancet is unavailable due to suspension following his red card last time out at Rayo Vallecano - the young Spain forward has bagged eight goals this campaign.
On the other hand, Xavi has problems of his own. Versatile defender Ronald Araujo is is suspended after being sent off against Valencia, and likely to be replaced by Eric Garcia, while the creative talents of Pedri and Ousmane Dembele will also be absent through injury.
Pedri (six) and Dembele (five) are behind only the inevitable Robert Lewandowski (15) in terms of goalscoring, whilst Dembele also shares their top assist tally (again with the Polish striker) with five.
Only Real Madrid (47) have scored more goals than Barcelona (46), although the Catalan outfit actually rank relatively low in their goals per game metric (2.25) within La Liga this season.
The hosts have been poor recently with their only point in their last three games coming from a 0-0 draw with Rayo Vallecano. Single-goal losses away at both Osasuna and Atletico Madrid have highlighted an out-of-form attack as the main issue for Valverde, who would love to get one over on his former club.
Yet another hard-fought win for Barcelona is a likely outcome in this clash. Xavi has successfully adapted his line-up to cope without the creativity and guile provided by those absentees, and his stern defence has been consistently brilliant all season.
Without Oihan Sancent available to spearhead the attack, converting chances is likely to prove an issue for the hosts. Barcelona goalkeeper Ter Stegen will be confident of yet another clean sheet, to add to his impressive tally.
Barcelona to win to nil
Paul Bathurst provides football tips as Soccer Sharp on the Tipstrr platform
The article Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona tips: Goals at a premium as Catalans look to cement La Liga top spot appeared first on Planetsport.com.