Primera Liga weekend preview: Aritz Aduriz's says Bilbao are ready for Barcelona showdown
Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz has denied talk Sunday's opponents Barcelona are weaker now than in recent years.
Last Updated: 29/11/13 9:48am
New Barca boss Gerardo Martino has guided the Catalans to the top of the Primera Division with a record of 13 wins and a draw from their 14 games, yet he has failed to completely win over the Nou Camp faithful.
The Argentinian suffered his first defeat in charge in midweek, when his side lost 2-1 to Ajax in the Champions League, but Aduriz believes that was just a blip and dismissed the notion Barca are not as strong as they were under Martino's predecessors Tito Vilanova and Pep Guardiola.
"To me they seem just as good as ever. So far, he has won almost every game. They are of the same level or even better than in previous seasons," he told Marca.
"They are one of the best teams in the world, if not the best. It is difficult to compete against them.
"But we are at home and we will try to go out and enjoy it."
Barca go into the clash without injured key men Lionel Messi and Victor Valdes and Aduriz is hoping that will be significant.
"They are very important to them and we will see if we can take advantage," he added. "That said, they still have plenty of other good players."
Aduriz is hoping to be available to face Barca with the Spanish Disciplinary Committee for Sports expected to rule on Friday whether he must serve the second match of a two-game ban for abusing the referee after being sent off against Granada.
"I expect a resolution on Friday," he said. "Let's hope it's favourable. It is necessary to be optimistic."
Barca head into round 15 three points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, who thrashed Getafe 7-0 last weekend before a 1-1 Champions League draw at Zenit St Petersburg.
Diego Simeone's men visit Elche on Saturday.
Real Madrid are third, a further three points behind, but in fine form ahead of their home clash with Real Valladolid having won their last four league games, scoring 20 goals in the process.
They also proved they can perform without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo by beating Galatasaray 4-1 in midweek despite the early dismissal of defender Sergio Ramos.
In Ronaldo's absence, Gareth Bale continued to shine, netting his team's opener with a trademark free-kick.
"We showed character and a good team spirit when playing a man short," the Wales forward told the club's official website.
"There are no limits to what we can achieve in the competition. We have a good chance of winning the Champions League this year.
"I am happy about the match and the goal. I've been practising free-kicks and was lucky that this one came off. It is one of the best goals of my career."
The weekend action starts on Friday with Getafe hosting Levante and Malaga visiting Villarreal.
Saturday's action is highlighted by the Madrid clubs with the other games seeing Almeria go to Celta Vigo and Espanyol taking on a Real Sociedad side who were thrashed 4-0 by Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek.
Barca go to Athletic in the Sunday late game, before which Granada host Sevilla, rock-bottom Real Betis meet Rayo Vallecano and Osasuna make the trip to Valencia.