La Liga Betting: Expect goals galore when Bilbao host Barça



The end of an era? The death of tiki-taka? Few individual matches give the sense of being historic, but the way Bayern Munich took Barcelona apart seemed to demonstrate something more than simply an off day. It had been coming: they had lost the last two matches with Real Madrid and won only one of their previous four games in the Champions League. Against the best Europe has to offer, the team are stumbling and struggling to reach the incredible heights they're used to.

It's not simply down to the system. There are a number of mitigating factors: Víctor Valdés's recent poor form, injuries to an already bare defence, wingers not pressing at the desired level and badly short of confidence, the world's best player unfit and two serious health problems within the club, mental tiredness... all have contributed to this slump.

But still, on the verge of winning the La Liga title and six Champions League semi-final appearances in a row, it's hardly a complete fall from grace. "I think it is unfair to talk of a cyclical change," remarked Andrés Iniesta this week. "It makes no sense to analyse five years in the one match in Munich. For me the end of an era is when years go by and you don’t win any titles." Athletic manager Marcelo Bielsa concurred with the midfielder's view: "It is a time when interpreting an episode of football is unjust." The golden period ended when Pep Guardiola left last summer, but a fully-fit Tito Vilanova he will be given the chance to show what he can do next term. Only then can he be fairly judged.

Team news

Athletic centre-back Aymeric Laporte has been ruled out for reminder of the season, so Borja Ekiza should partner Carlos Gurpegi once more. Fernando Llorente will probably pip Aritz Aduriz to a starting berth.

Reports suggest Vilanova might field a stronger team than expected, with Xavi and Gerard Piqué amongst those to feature. Christian Tello and Thiago Alcañtara will probably start, with Cesc Fábregas and David Villa up front.

Form

Athletic stopped the impressive Deportivo from making it five straight victories, ending a two-match losing run themselves. If you forget the nightmare of the Champions League, Barcelona has won five of the last six domestic matches since losing to Real Madrid.

Recent head-to-head

In Bielsa's first match with Barcelona the team received a number of plaudits for an entertaining 2-2 draw. The last time the champions elect were at the Basque ground, the game was over after half an hour as Pedro grabbed a brace.

Goalscorer betting

David Villa will be keen to show why he should have been introduced earlier on Tuesday night, and is 5.50 to open the scoring. Cesc Fábregas is excelling when Lionel Messi is not on the pitch; he is 2.55 to grab another within the 90 minutes. Fernando Llorente seems to have patched up his differences with Bielsa, starting the last three matches and scoring against Depor. You can get 2.80 for him to capitalise on Barça's flailing defence.

Verdict

Having been humiliated in the week, there isn't the opportunity for Barça to feel sorry for themselves in their last ever visit to San Mamés. Whether they like it or not, Athletic will suck them into a high-paced and frantic match. If Barça respond, they will be in a good frame of mind for next Wednesday's mission impossible. The Catalans are 1.65 to win.

Bonus bet

Expect a quick start to the match as both teams look to surprise their opponents, pressing high up the pitch and trying to force mistakes. Over 2.5 goals in the first half is a decent 5.50.

Score prediction: Athletic Bilbao 2-4 Barcelona (32.00)