Fresh from more headline-grabbing Champions League exploits, Barcelona will this Sunday head to the Basque country to meet a confident Athletic Bilbao side unbeaten in eight games.
While Leo Messi’s hat-trick in Plzen saw the revered forward further enhance his status as a football legend (with 200 goals for Barca), it is the European champions’ strong defence that is arguably most impressive at the moment.
Albeit with the help of the stranglehold on possession that their precision passing going forward gives, the Catalans have not conceded a single goal over the past nine matches in all competitions.
Barcelona are priced at 22/25 to make it ten clean sheets on the bounce in Bilbao, an attractive price compared to 1/4 for the win.
While there can be no arguing that Barca are worthy favourites for Sunday’s match, it is worth considering that they have taken just two wins in their four away league fixtures this season.
Both of those away wins were with a slender 1-0 victory margin.
While three wins on the trot and their recent move to second in the table suggests Barcelona are starting to recreate their ominous form of last season, there can be no doubt that they face a very stern test in Bilbao.
The Basques are continually improving this season as they familiarise themselves to the coaching of experienced tactician Marcelo Bielsa.
They have looked confident on the ball and solid at the back in recent games, and can be backed by brave punters to beat Barcelona at 19/2.
Barca have won on just one of their past four visits to Bilbao, and were twice held to 1-1 draws on these recent trips.
The draw can be backed at 19/4 but odds of 10/1 are offered on the 1-1 scoreline being repeated.
And it is this latter outside bet that makes the most sense in a clash between two sides in good form but facing the unpredictable disruption to their preparations of longish journeys back from central Europe.
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