Athletic take a 2-1 lead into this 2nd Leg thanks to an excellent display at San Mames last week. Goals from Aduriz and Inaki Williams put them 2-0 up and they briefly had the Catalans on the racks before a brilliant Leo Messi free-kick gave Barcelona a priceless away goal that ensures they head into this match as favourites to progress.
Backing Barcelona to win used to be one of the safest bets in football but the picture has been a bit more complicated this season. Again they needed Messi to provide a moment of magic to rescue a point at Villarreal on Saturday but it sill leaves them with a large amount of ground to make up in La Liga, which only adds to the significance of this game for under-pressure coach Luis Enrique. Messi right now is the only major bright spark for Barcelona and if they are going to turn their season around, you sense he will be the inspiration. He certainly is likely to be the key man on the night and backing Messi to score twice or more could be a decent punt here.
What makes this tie even more intriguing than it might have been is that despite their lead, Athletic really can’t afford to just sit back and try to protect it. A 1-0 home win would see Barcelona through on away goals and given the prospect of Barcelona not scoring in any game is always an extremely slim one, Athletic’s best hope will be if they can find an away goal or two. They do have some tools that can hurt Barcelona as we saw in the 1st Leg, with the pace of Williams one major threat. They also have an aerial advantage in set-piece situations and both teams have scored in 7 of their last 10 matches.
Barcelona’s defending hasn’t been that convincing at times, with their problematic midfield as much a source of that as anything. Even Andres Iniesta made a sloppy pass last week, which led to one of Athletic’s goals and they are making too many mistakes all over the pitch for a team of their quality. They’ve conceded exactly 1 goal per game in La Liga this term and they are up against one of the best forwards in the division here and a team that has genuine reason to chase a goal.
That should lead to a fairly open game and backing both teams to score at 19/20 looks to offer value.
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