Thursday, April 18, 2024

Barca look to continue top form


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MADRID, March 2: FC Barcelona looks to maintain their La Liga title hopes alive when they visit Athletic Club’s Sa Mames Stadium on Sunday night.
Barca goes into the game on the back of their best performance of the season as they won 4-0 at home to Getafe last weekend, while Athletic Bilbao is in a state of euphoria after Thursday night’s 3-0 win at home to Atletico Madrid which booked their third Copa del Rey final appearance in five years.
The talk in Bilbao over the past 24 hours has all been about the club’s chance to lift the Copa del Rey for the first time in 40 years, and coach Ernesto Valverde has to get his players focused again for Sunday.
Athletic will miss the pace of winger Nico Williams after his red card against Betis last weekend, although Alex Berenguer has shown he is an able replacement.
Central defender Davi Vivian is also suspended, with Yeray Alvarez returning to the team, while Inigo Lekue will continue at left back as Yuri recovers from a hamstring problem.
The Basque side beat Barcelona 4-2 in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey and Thursday’s game saw them extend their winning run in San Mames to 10 matches.Although Barca’s home form has been poor, they are unbeaten away from home this season.Xavi Hernandez has no new injury worries, with only long-term absentees Ferran Torres, Alexandre Balde, Gavi and Marcos Alonso on the sidelines, and his main decisions will be who to play in central defense and on the right on their attack.
Xavi also has to decide between Raphinha and Yamine Lamal on the right of his attack as he tried to moderate the effort of his players ahead of their vital Champions League tie against Napoli.
Barcelona, though, will bring a six-game unbeaten run in all competitions into this contest, with the Catalan outfit winning four and drawing two of their six matches since Xavi announced that he would be standing down as head coach at the end of the 2023-24 campaign.
The Catalan outfit’s sporting director Deco has opened the door for Xavi to stay on as manager, and it is certainly a situation to watch in the coming weeks, but the head coach said after last weekend’s 4-0 success over Getafe that he stands by his initial decision to move on.
Barcelona drew 1-1 with Napoli in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League contest, putting them in a strong position to qualify for the next round, with the second leg taking place in Spain on March 12.
The reigning Spanish champions have won their last two La Liga matches against Celta Vigo and Getafe, meanwhile, and they sit third in the table, just two points behind second-placed Girona and eight from leaders Real Madrid, with a title challenge still possible at this stage of the campaign.
Barcelona are unbeaten on the road in La Liga this season, winning seven and drawing five of their 12 matches, boasting the third-best away record in the division.The Catalan outfit have won their last four La Liga games against Sunday’s opponents, meanwhile, scoring 10 times and conceding zero, including a 1-0 victory at San Mames last season, and Athletic have just three league wins against Barcelona since November 2001. (Agencies)


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