Barcelona, Spain – Athletic Bilbao churned out a superb performance in the Europa League midweek, but it may prove costly in La Liga action on Saturday as it heads to Camp Nou to face Barcelona on short rest.
Marcelo Bielsa's men claimed a 4-2 win at Schalke on Thursday, though now they will have just one full day off before facing the reigning European champions in league play.
But Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola played down the influence the lack of rest may have on visiting Bilbao, emphasizing that Bielsa has assembled a formidable squad capable of playing some fine football.
"The timing is what it is," Guardiola said during a press conference. "It's better to have three or four days off, but teams that want to reach the finals must play many matches close together in this kind of situation. And we'll do well not to think that Athletic will arrive here tired.
"I consider [Bielsa] the best there is and it is a pleasure for me to face him," Guardiola continued. "I have so much admiration for Bielsa and I try to learn from him. And Athletic have been the sensation of Europe this season. They deserve the admiration of all.
"In the games I've seen, they have been a pleasure to watch. This will be a complicated game, very tough and very demanding. But I encourage the fans to come to the ground because it will be a very good game to see."
Barcelona once looked completely out of the title race, trailing first-place Real Madrid by 10 points. But that lead has dwindled to just six points over the past few weeks as the Catalans capitalized on two successive draws by Jose Mourinho's men.
Despite a great deal of success in the Europa League, Athletic Bilbao has struggled of late in La Liga.
Bielsa's men conquered Manchester United over two legs and bagged four away goals in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday, but they have managed just one point from their last four league games to drop to bottom half of the table. Bilbao was seen as a favorite to clinch a fourth-place finish, but now it may struggle to even come close.
Real Madrid will hope to extend its lead over Barcelona before the Catalans take the pitch on Saturday. Mourinho's men head to the Reyno de Navarra to face a surging Osasuna side that is vying for fourth place.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Racing hopes to climb closer to safety with three points against Granada, Sporting Gijon and Real Zaragoza square off at El Molinon in a relegation six-pointer, and Malaga looks to jump into third place with a result against Real Betis.
On Sunday, third-place Valencia hosts fifth-place Levante at the Mestalla, Atletico Madrid and Getafe hope to inch closer to a fourth-place finish with three points at the Vicente Calderon, Real Sociedad aims to a avoid a fourth straight defeat when it welcomes Rayo Vallecano to the Anoeta, and Villarreal looks to continue its good run with a result against Espanyol at El Madrigal.
Monday's lone La Liga fixture sees Sevilla go for its third win in a row when it welcomes Mallorca to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.