Fabregas expects Barca to bounce back

Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas urged his team-mates to react to the first defeat of the season by breaching Athletic Bilbao's seemingly impregnable San Mames Barria base.


The Catalans have won 13 from 14 Primera Division games to top the table from Atletico Madrid - the champions only dropped points in a goalless draw at Osasuna - while convincingly dominating Champions League Group H, until Tuesday night.

A one-sided 2-1 loss to Ajax finally gave detractors of new Barca boss Gerardo Martino a tangible reason to criticise the team, who are struggling to perform at their best during an injury crisis that has most worryingly claimed star striker Lionel Messi and several key defenders.

Next up for Martino's men is Sunday's tough trip to the recently-opened San Mames Barria.

Five of seven visiting teams have left the 53,000-seater stadium empty-handed this season, with two teams - Elche and Valencia - lucky to force draws in the Basque fortress.

Barca could, of course, do without the added pressure of snapping such a fine run to get their campaign back on track, but Fabregas feels the challenge offers a perfect opportunity for redemption in the wake of the Amsterdam loss.

"Anywhere you go offers you a good scenario to prove yourself again," the Spain midfielder told reporters.

"And I hope the team comes out playing at 100 per cent of their ability and that our reaction is a brilliant one.

"We still have to improve a lot but we should not dramatise everything so much when the club suffers a defeat.

"It's not possible for this team to spend their time obsessing over results."

Winger Adriano and right-back Dani Alves are back in training, but left-back Jordi Alba is still recovering while long-serving goalkeeper Victor Valdes remains sidelined.

The club's talisman, Messi, has flown home to Argentina to undergo an ultrasound scan on the hamstring injury in his left leg that has ruled him out for months.

Seventeen-year-old forward Adama Traore could therefore make his third appearance for the Barca first team after appearing from the bench against Ajax.

The personnel problems do not overly concern Fabregas, though.

"We are missing a few players but that's no excuse," he added. "We have a comprehensive squad bursting with quality.

"You have to be self-critical and from there you can see how things can improve."

Athletic's enviable home form has boosted them into fifth place, with surprise package Villarreal only one point better off in fourth.

Midfielder-cum-defender Carlos Gurpegui is Athletic's only real injury doubt as coach Ernesto Valverde looks to exploit the weak links in a depleted visiting squad.

However, Bilbao midfielder Ander Iturraspe shares Fabregas' optimistic assessment of Barca's strength in depth.

He told Marca: "(They're weak) in several areas, yes, but Barcelona still have a great squad.

"They can put Cesc in as a second striker and Neymar or Pedro on the left and dazzle you.

"Clearly they've lost something at the moment but they have substitutes that can make a difference."

The 24-year-old is confident his club can clinch their first win over the Spanish champions since 2006.

Twenty subsequent meetings in all competitions have ended tied or in Barca's favour, but Iturraspe told Marca: "We have matched them well on many occasions.

"I remember in the Copa del Rey (in 2010-11), we held them to a goalless draw there and then got a 1-1 draw at the San Mames.

"It is true that I have not been on a winning side against them yet, but I am convinced we can do it this time."

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