Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona – San Mamés Stadium at 19:15 live on Sky Sports 1
One of the Spanish newspapers ran with the headline ‘Frightening’ to describe Barcelona’s opening day 6-2 success over Real Betis at the Camp Nou.
Leo Messi was simply sublime, grabbing two goals, but it was Luis Suarez who hit the headlines. The Uruguayan netted a hat-trick to take his tally to 17 league goals in his last six outings and Barca did it all without Andres Iniesta and Neymar.
Betis scored with their only two shots and Luis Enrique’s team could easily have scored more on Saturday evening. But now attention turns towards a potentially tricky trip to Bilbao to face Athletic.
Throughout last season I felt Barcelona could be fallible. More often than not the back-to-back La Liga and Copa Del Rey champions were not but the Blaugrana’s pre-season form was characterised by inconsistency and doubts persist over the back-four.
Sure, the Blaugrana managed 112 La Liga goals in 2015/16 – the fifth highest tally in history – and racked up a +83 goal difference – not far off Real Madrid’s 2011/12 record of +89 – but fairly often on their travels, Barca just failed to completely convince.
Barcelona did W13-D3-L3 in games as guests but only five of those triumphs arrived by a margin of two goals or more and during Luis Enrique’s reign, the visitors have won just four (22%) of 18 visits to top-half teams by more than a solitary strike.
These two clubs met on six occasions last term with the Catalans claiming a superior W4-D1-L1 head-to-head. And although Barcelona have W4-D0-L1 in their past six visits to the San Mames across all competitions, their last past La Liga trips to Bilbao have returned a reasonably healthy W4-D4-L1 since 2007/08.
However, what stands out is the lack of clear-cut victories for Barcelona. Only twice in those nine encounters have the Catalans beaten a one-goal Asian Handicap hurdle. It’s a trend that just reinforces our earlier note that Barca have managed just a 22% success rate in overcoming a-1 Asian Handicap betting mark in away fixtures at top-half clubs during the Luis Enrique era.
Hosts Athletic enjoyed a successful season last time out with veteran striker Aritz Aduriz in spectacular form up front. Having never finished lower than seventh under head coach Ernesto Valverde, Les Leones have set their sights on a top-four finish this term.
Bilbao have kept hold of stars Inaki Williams, Aymeric Laporte and Iker Muniain and although they opened their account with a disappointing defeat at Sporting Gijon, the hosts will relish their return home. At San Mames, Athletic W11-D4-L4 in 2015/16 with three of those defeats coming against the top-three.
The hosts picked up a solitary point in eight games against top-four teams last year but under Valverde’s tutelage the Basques have W2-D3-L5 when welcoming Barcelona or Real Madrid – only three of those matches ended in a margin of defeat greater than one goal.
So taking Athletic’s ability to withstand heavy defeats alongside Barcelona’s penchant for picking up narrow victories on the road, it should pay to support Bilbao with a +1.25 start on the Asian Handicap betting line.
This selection will see us make full-stakes profit should the home side avoid defeat and a half-stakes profit should Athletic only lose by a one-goal margin. The only way in which we’ll lose our stake is if Barcelona run out winners by two or more goals.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Athletic Bilbao +1.25 at 1.80
Prices correct at time of writing.
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