Guardiola lauds Bilbao, Raul
© AFP

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola insists that unheralded Athletic Bilbao were the surprise team of the Spanish season despite Marcelo Bielsa's team languishing in 11th place in the table.

Bilbao have reached the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals, beating Manchester United on the way, and are handily-placed for a semi-final spot after beating Schalke 4-2 in their last eight, first leg tie on Thursday.

"Athletic are the revelation this season," said Guardiola, whose side tackle Bilbao on Saturday. I admire Bielsa enormously and I try to learn from him. Bielsa could manage any team in the world and make them better."

Guardiola also saluted veteran striker Raul after the former Real Madrid player took his European goals tally to 76 with his double for Schalke on Thursday.

"He is the most important Spanish player of all time," said Guardiola.