Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona: Alba wary of dangerous hosts

Athletic Bilbao have struggled in front of goal, but Jordi Alba feels they could provide a stern test of Barcelona's title credentials.

Jordi Alba has warned Barcelona's defence to be wary of the threat posed by Athletic Bilbao when the Catalan club visit the San Mames on Sunday.

Barca travel to the Basque region in blistering form having suffered just one defeat - which came at Real Sociedad in December - since November, though they are four points adrift of leaders Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

By contrast Bilbao are mired in mid-table and have struggled for goals in the league so far this season, netting just 18 times.

Despite Bilbao's failings going forward, left-back Alba is taking nothing for granted and expects a difficult encounter with Ernesto Valverde's men.

"They're a young team that likes to play football," Alba said. "On offense they're very dangerous in the air. We have to watch out.

"We'll take the same approach as always: keep the ball, play our game, dominate the wings. They are very strong when they play up and when crossing the ball. They're dangerous.

"After the match against Real Sociedad, we found our game. Despite this, we don't think we're superior to any team. Any team can win these days. You have to be very careful with every opponent."

Defenders Douglas and Thomas Vermaelen remain Barca's only absentees, while Andoni Iraola is suspended for the hosts.

Barca forwards Neymar and Lionel Messi have netted 54 goals between them this season, and Bilbao defender Mikel Balenziaga is keen to ensure the latter is not given an easy ride this time around.

"There's more variations to their play [under Luis Enrique]," Balenziaga said. "We've also seen that they can also create a lot of danger on the counter, so we'll have to show plenty of concentration and try to make them uncomfortable.

"We'll be trying to pressure them higher upfield, so they can't get forward so easily on the counter. That sort of pressing suits us fine, it's our way of playing and it's what we'll also do against Barcelona.

"Both teams will be trying to press the other and playing our own kind of game, we can give them a good fight.

"Both Neymar and Messi are important players for Barcelona, but I think Messi is a more dangerous player.

"We'll be trying to ensure he sees as little play as possible, so he gets as few touches of the ball as possible and that he doesn't have a good day."

Barca won the reverse fixture 2-0 in September, when Neymar scored both goals.