Barcelona set for ‘one of the most difficult games’ of the season at Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is expecting another gruelling game at Athletic Bilbao when the Primera Liga champions visit San Mames on Sunday.

Luis Enrique has warned his Barcelona players of the threat Athletic Bilbao pose. Lluis Gene / AFP
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Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is expecting another gruelling game at Athletic Bilbao when the Primera Liga champions visit San Mames on Sunday.

Barca scrapped a 1-0 win in the fixture last season thanks to a second-half strike from Luis Suarez after Lionel Messi missed a penalty.

Enrique’s side were also thrashed 4-0 at San Mames in the Spanish Super Cup, the only domestic competition they failed to win last season.

Athletic only field players who were born in or brought up in the Basque Country but finished fifth in the Primera Liga last season, missing out on Uefa Champions League football by two points and reaching the Europa League quarter-finals.

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Although Barca won four of six meetings with Athletic last season, winning both legs of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie as well as both league games, Enrique is prepared for another testing game against Ernesto Valverde’s side.

“It is one of the most difficult games you can play away from home,” Enrique said on Saturday.

“The fact Athletic have a limited market to choose from, and the fact they have the same coach, means it will be the same as always.

“We are excited to play at San Mames, a stadium we love with an atmosphere you get at few other grounds in the league.

“We’ll focus on the problems Valverde will cause us, pressuring us when we’re on the ball and giving us problems on the counter.”

Barca lead the Primera Liga table on goal difference after thrashing Real Betis 6-2 in their opening game and are boosted by the return of Javier Mascherano and Marc-Andre ter Stegen from injury.

Neymar, meanwhile, has been given an extended break after helping Brazil win their first Olympic Gold medal in football.

Germany goalkeeper Ter Stegen will make his eighth league appearance for Barca following the departure of Claudio Bravo to Manchester City, and Enrique hailed Bravo for his service to the club.

“I would like to praise the work of Claudio Bravo over the last two seasons, he did a unique and exceptional job and gave the club a lot, with performances of the highest level,” he said.

“I want to highlight the attitude shown by our three goalkeepers, who recognised that the most important thing is collective success.”

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