Miserly Barca meet Athletic without key defender Araujo

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernandez’s return to Barcelona as a coach hinted at a return to the club’s fluid possession game, which he excelled at as a player, but his side have instead relied on a watertight defense as they get closer to the Spanish title.

Barcelona visit Athletic Bilbao on Sunday in a bid to maintain or even extend their nine-point advantage over Real Madrid, who host Espanyol on Saturday, in their last league games before the Clasico at the Camp Nou on March 19.

The Catalans last won La Liga in 2019 and after heavy investments last summer, the need to get instant results has influenced their approach.

Barcelona have conceded just eight goals in 24 games so far this season and have kept 18 clean sheets in La Liga in that span.

The latter is a better record than any other club in any of Europe’s five major leagues at the same point in the season in the 21st century.

Bayern Munich kept 17 clean sheets in their first 24 games of the 2012/13 season and also conceded eight goals.

In contrast, they have scored 46 goals in 24 games since Valencia in the 2001-2002 season, a lower number than any La Liga leaders.

However, the Catalans will have to travel to San Mames without centre-back Ronald Araujo, the key to their excellent defensive record this season.

The Uruguay centre-back was sent off against Valencia last weekend for bringing down Hugo Duro on a shot on target.

Araujo’s decision helped Barcelona to a 1-0 win – their eighth win by the same result in La Liga this season.

The defender can be replaced alongside Andreas Christensen with Jules Kounde or Marcos Alonso at the heart of defence.

At a time when the side were without playmaker Pedri, winger Ousmane Dembele and top scorer Robert Lewandowski, their solid defense has helped them claim the title.

The Polish forward will return against Athletic and credits the defense as their key role this season.

“It’s good to have a defense like ours for the strikers, we have more security, we can take more risks because we have backup,” Lewandowski told Barca Magazine on Thursday.

“Safety makes it easier to score goals and the first step in any team has to be great defence.”

The Poland forward said the team’s style also depends on the type of players Xavi has at his disposal and how the game has changed since he was a player.

“Barca’s DNA is to play good football, but you have to understand that football is changing,” Lewandowski added.

“The way Barça played ten years ago, for example, may not work today. You have to find the perfect fit for your location and the players you have.”

Athletic Bilbao manager Ernesto Valverde might have his own thoughts on the subject of Barcelona’s style.

Despite winning two league titles, Valverde was sacked by the La Liga squad in January 2020, partly due to concerns about the team’s unconvincing football.

Valverde’s Athletic started the season well but has lost momentum in recent weeks and sits in ninth place despite having reached the Copa del Rey semi-finals like Barcelona. –AFP

https://www.thesundaily.my/home/miserly-barca-face-athletic-without-key-defender-araujo-BF10733424 Miserly Barca meet Athletic without key defender Araujo

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