Luis Enrique has admitted that Barcelona want revenge for their 4-0 Supercopa defeat to Athletic Bilbao when both teams square off in La Liga on Sunday.
Los Leones denied the Catalans of a historic second sextuple at the beginning of the season, and the Coach – while fulsome in his praise of his side’s opponents – made it clear unfinished business was on the agenda at Camp Nou.
“I expect the same Athletic as always,” he said at a Press conference.
“[I expect] a very high intensity, but we’re more than accustomed to playing against them.
“We know them perfectly well and it’ll be difficult for them.
“It’s crucial that we keep up in the title race. The players already know the effort that our opponents demand of us.
“[On three straight games against Athletic], they’re a team whom I’ve admired for many years and that I consider attractive.
“We’re focused on the League match first and then we’ll think about the Copa [del Rey].
“We have a history after what happened in the Supercopa.
“They’re one of the few teams who have beaten us heavily and the team who denied us the sextet, so there’s added motivation for us. I’d have preferred to play another team.
“[The 4-0 Supercopa defeat] had special circumstances. We only had a few days to recover from Tbilisi [the European Super Cup against Sevilla].
“It was a controlled game, in which we could’ve equalised but fell apart in the final stages.
“With Athletic, there’s never an easy ball. They’re a team who work hard and know how to curb our style of play.
“The double pivot could be used again. In a match like against Espanyol, we wanted to rotate the squad and have superiority in midfield to find Messi.
“It gives you more protection when you face teams who play on the counterattack.
“[On Jeremy Mathieu’s absence], Mathieu is doing okay. He’s simply suffering from the effects of our last game. I hope he’s back for the cup.
“I’ve been a fan of Athletic’s philosophy for many years. It’s utopian to think that a club can still [only sign Basque players]. It seems a wonder.
“[On Neymar’s flamboyancy], my advice to Ney is that he continues enjoying his football.
“No-one should be surprised by Neymar’s dribbles. He doesn’t cause offence and understands football well.
“Players are free to stop him as they see fit, but there’s a referee for that.
“[Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia’s absences] are important, but [Athletic] have other options. They’ve never played the same team against us.
“I’m happy with how [Marc] Bartra is training. Unfortunately, he must wait [for his chance], but he must always be ready to play.
“I’ve known Marc for many years and I know we need a Barcelona core.
“[On Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid’s transfer bans], I have the same opinion on the sanction as when it happened to us.
“[On more signings in January], the club know what’s needed, but there are things which influence prices.”