This Sunday’s contest at the Estadi Olimpic in Montjuic will be the 240th official meeting between these two clubs.
One of the most historic match-ups in Spanish football will take place again this weekend, as Barcelona and Athletic Club face off once more to continue their special rivalry. These are two of the oldest clubs in Spain, founded in 1899 and 1898 respectively, and they have clashed 239 previous times across all official competitions.
The head-to-head balance is in Barcelona’s favour, as Los Blaugrana have won 121 times to the Bilbao-based club’s 79 victories, while there have been 39 draws. Looking solely at their La Liga duels, there have been 93 Barca victories, 60 Athletic Club wins and 31 draws across 184 fixtures. Given that there have been 92 previous seasons of La Liga, a quick calculation makes it clear that these two clubs have faced off twice in every single league campaign. Along with Real Madrid, these are the only clubs to have never been relegated from the top tier.
The kings of cups
There have been some tense moments to this rivalry because of a very simple reason: they’ve long been competing against each other for trophies. In fact, their very first official meeting was the Copa del Rey final of 1920, when Barca secured a 2-0 victory in the final held in Gijon thanks to goals from Vicente Martinez and Paulino Alcantara.
Just over a decade later, the Basques would enjoy some revenge as they achieved several significant results in a row against Barcelona. Those included a 5-1 win in Bilbao in the two clubs’ first ever La Liga meeting in 1929, and a 12-1 victory for Athletic Club in the 1930/31 league season, which remains to this day Barcelona’s heaviest ever defeat. There was also a 1-0 Athletic Club win in the 1932 final of the Copa del Rey, then called the Copa de la Republica, as Bata netted the only goal of that game.
These two clubs have long been called the “kings of cups”, as they occupy the top two spots in terms of winners of Spain’s domestic cup competition. Barca have lifted the Copa del Rey 31 times, while Los Leones have done so 23 times, which is three more than third-placed Real Madrid. On nine separate occasions, the Catalan and Basque institutions have faced off in the Copa del Rey final, with Barcelona triumphing in 1920, 1942, 1953, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2021 and Athletic Club doing so in 1932 and 1984.
That 1984 Copa del Rey final ended with riot police marshalling some of the players off the pitch. For context, the 1984 season saw Athletic Club complete a league and cup double, coming at a time when these two clubs often battled near the top of the La Liga table. That, and a bad tackle from Athletic Club’s Andoni Goikoetxea, which broke Diego Maradona’s ankle in 1983, meant their direct meetings could get fiery, and that was the case on that occasion.
Athletic Club boast the honour of having won the only European meeting between these two foes. That came in the 1976/77 UEFA Cup, when the Basques won 2-1 at San Mames in the first leg before two goals each from Javier Irureta and Johan Cruyff in the second leg allowed Los Leones to progress 4-3 on aggregate.
Barcelona vs Athletic Club in the modern era
Meetings in recent times are certainly more friendly than they once were, although there is no less passion in the stands. The more modern matches have also tended to go the way of FC Barcelona, especially in the most recent Copa del Rey finals. However, it should be kept in mind that Athletic Club’s two 21st century trophies were secured against Barca. The 2015 Spanish Super Cup saw the Basques power to a 5-1 aggregate win thanks to an Aritz Aduriz hat-trick, while the 2021 Spanish Super Cup, which was just a one-legged final, ended with Inaki Williams scoring a winner in extra-time, for a 3-2 triumph.
Currently, Barcelona are on a three-match win streak against Athletic Club, having won 4-0, 4-0 and 1-0 across the past three meetings. At home, Barcelona have been particularly dominant, as Athletic Club haven’t won at the Camp Nou since 2001. They won’t be able to change that record this weekend, as the match is being held at the Estadi Olimpic in Montjuic, but the Basques would certainly love to get one over their old rivals in their 240th encounter.
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