There are times when familiarity can breed contempt as the saying goes, but in the case of Athletic Club Bilbao and FC Barcelona, who kick off the season in the San Mames Stadium here on Sunday, it is more likely to breed rivalry.
The two sides faced each other in last season’s Cup final and have already played each other twice this season as Athletic defeated Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate in the Spanish Supercup.
That Supercup triumph featured a 4-0 win here nine days ago and a 1-1 draw in Barcelona on Monday night in a game which saw each side have a player sent off, so Athletic’s Kike Sola and Gerard Pique will miss out this time around.
Barcelona also have Jeremy Matthieu suspended for the return to Bilbao, while left back Adriano is struggling to be fit. So Javier Mascherano will partner either Marc Batra or Thomas Vermaelen in central defense.
Athletic were brought down to earth following their Supercup win, which was the club’s first trophy in 31 years and celebrated in fine style in Bilbao, when they surrendered a 0-2 lead away in Zilnia to lose a Europa League qualifying tie 2-3 on Thursday.
Tiredness could well be a factor for the Basques who have an even lengthening injury list with Inaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Ander Iturraspe, Mikel San Jose and possibly Xabi Etxeita all missing on Sunday.
Coach Ernesto Valverde will have to once again revamp his side with several players such as Javi Erraso, Aritz Aduriz (who scored a hat-trick against Barcelona last week) and Oscar de Marcos, all returning.
It promises to be tense and tough as Barcelona return to Bilbao still licking their wounds and knowing anything other than a win would see them start the season in crisis.