Miserly Barca face Athletic without key defender Araujo


Ronald Araujo of FC Barcelona runs with the ball during the LaLiga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Spotify Camp Nou on March 05, 2023 in Barcelona, Spain.

Xavi Hernandez’s return to Barcelona as coach indicated a return to the club’s flowing possession game he thrived in as a player, but his team has instead relied on a watertight defence as they close in on the Spanish title.

Barcelona visit Athletic Bilbao on Sunday as they bid to preserve or even extend their nine point lead on Real Madrid, who host Espanyol Saturday – in their last league matches before the Clasico at Camp Nou on March 19.

The Catalans last lifted La Liga in 2019 and after heavy investment last summer, a need to produce instant results has influenced their approach.

Barcelona have conceded just eight goals in 24 matches so far this season, keeping 18 clean sheets in La Liga in that time.

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

Bayern Munich managed 17 clean sheets in the first 24 matches in the 2012-13 season, also conceding eight goals.

By contrast they have scored 46 goals, a lower figure than any La Liga leader after 24 games since Valencia in the 2001-2002 season.

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

The Uruguayan centre-back was sent off last weekend against Valencia, for dragging down Hugo Duro as he ran through on goal.

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

The defender may be replaced by Jules Kounde or Marcos Alonso at the heart of the defence, alongside Andreas Christensen.

During a period the team have been without playmaker Pedri, winger Ousmane Dembele and top scorer Robert Lewandowski, their defensive solidity has helped sustain their title charge.

The Polish striker is set to return against Athletic and credited the defence for their key role this season.

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

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