Hallelujah! Real football returns tomorrow, as the international break comes to a thankful end with the resumption of La Liga, as FC Barcelona prepare to host newly-promoted SD Eibar at the Camp Nou. One could be forgiven even after this international break for looking ahead to next weekend’s highly-anticipated Clasico, as every other headline during the past week has seemingly involved the rivalry or the imminent return of Luis Suarez from his FIFA-enforced suspension.
In spite of that, Barça actually have two games scheduled before their trip to the Santiago Bernabeu, and it’s imperative that we maintain our momentum headed into El Clasico; first by extending our unbeaten La Liga record by beating Eibar tomorrow, and then by beating AFC Ajax in midweek to get our UEFA Champions League campaign right back on track.
Thankfully, I’m neither a player nor a coach at the club, so I can continue looking right past this week and daydream about how I’m going to spend the rest of my weekend in Madrid.
Alas, back to the topic in hand – that being tomorrow’s match against SD Eibar. We’ve made the point on our Twitter account: coming off an international break, in such close proximity to El Clasico, against an unfancied opponent in great form; this is the ultimate trap game. It’s a banana skin placed perilously in our path, just waiting to make fools of us. We can’t let that happen.
The familiar surroundings and generally favourable conditions at the Camp Nou should tip the scales even further in our favour, but make no mistake: this is far from a "gimme". That being said, it still could be – provided we put in the effort.
Neymar is in the form of his life; Lionel Messi probably isn’t, but remains better than just about every other player on the planet and indeed the history of the game, while the supporting cast – Ivan Rakitić, Jeremy Mathieu, Gerard Piqué et al – are all firing on all cylinders as well.
The only question is, with the Clasico just a week away, will Luis Enrique opt to field his strongest line-up tomorrow, or will he rotate and give the big guns a little more game-time against Ajax in midweek?
We’re less than 24 hours away from kick-off, and we’re still none the wiser as to Lucho’s plans for the match. However, rather unusually, we do know the identity of one of the starters as Enrique confirmed that Pedro will start tomorrow, squashing rumours that the Spaniard was suffering from fatigue. In truth, we know a few more players will also start tomorrow with near certainty – so let’s run through those names:
Claudio Bravo – the Chilean does not need an introduction; we know what he’s capable of and at present, we know that he is the best option for the club. Lionel Messi – because why not, and of course Sergio Busquets. That’s probably Barça’s core right now; while the others can be rotated in and out pretty easily, these are the three mainstays, at least where La Liga is concerned.
The defensive selection however has been far from consistent, although curiously, that’s had a positive impact on our record as through seven matches, we are yet to concede a single goal. We must be doing something right anyway – and each player gets a share of the credit.
Dani Alves is oft-criticised but has been crucial in more than one match this season, while Martin Montoya has proven himself to be a capable back-up, if not an outright challenger for that right-back berth. Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu and Gerard Piqué have all excelled and Marc Bartra is playing well too – even if he’s probably receiving more recognition at the international level than he is back at the Camp Nou under Enrique. Jordi Alba and Adriano have been solid; everyone has been great and in that sense, it’s pretty much impossible for Enrique to get the selection wrong.
If pushed, I’d opt for Dani and Adriano on the flanks, with Mascherano and Piqué in the centre but trying to second guess our dear leader is practically impossible – so your picks are just as valid as mine. Unless they include Douglas – he’s been both frighteningly mediocre and surprisingly fragile/injury prone since his shock arrival so we’ll leave him out. Then again, if he can’t play in a home fixture against Eibar...
Ahead of Busquets, Ivan Rakitić will start. And I’m torn between Andrés Iniesta joining him in midfield as per usual, versus a start for the rested Xavi Hernández. My gut tells me that Xavi would probably lead the midfield against Ajax in midweek with a Rafinha or a Sergi Roberto in support, but it seems odd to leave him on the bench after a week or so "off".
Or I might be wrong entirely, and Busquets might not start at all, in which case we could see Mascherano at pivote, with Xavi and Rakitić the standout choices to join him in the engine room. Again, who knows – your guess is as good as mine.
Lionel Messi is a few goals off another record, so expect to see him start and probably break that barrier; or maybe he’ll start and save it for next week and take up a creative role for the out-of-form Pedro, or (hopefully) for the muy en fuego Neymar? Then again, I half-expect to see Neymar lead the line against Ajax, so I’m tipping Lucho to opt for a Pedro-Messi-Munir frontline.
Four points. Five points. That’s the respective distance separating Eibar from Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao – the Basque Country heavyweights might have started the season slowly, but just as much as they have struggled, Eibar have thrived. Against all the odds, the plucky little side sit in the top-half after seven fixtures, boasting a better defensive record than Real Madrid.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – that’s not difficult. Well, no, it isn’t. But for context, Eibar have conceded as many goals as reigning champions Atletico Madrid – impressive, huh?
The downside is that Eibar are on the slide. They shipped three goals against Levante UD in Jornada 7, and they have picked up just one win from their last six matches. Not ideal form before a trip to the Camp Nou. Admittedly, Eibar’s squad is chocked full with La Liga experience despite their small budget, but even so – will it be enough to challenge the Blaugrana juggernaut? It seems very doubtful indeed.
There’s a first time for everything...
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Rakitić; Pedro, Messi, Munir
Eibar (4-2-3-1): Irureta; Boveda, Navas, Albentosa, Abraham; Errasti, Garcia; Lara, Piovaccari, Saul; Angel
No contest. 6-0 Barça.
- La Liga Picks - Jornada 8
- Barcelona vs Eibar: Pick the Lineup
- FC Barcelona News: 17 October 2014; Full Squad Prepares to Face Eibar, Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic Nominated for Award
- FC Barcelona News: 16 October 2014; Luis Suarez Receives Golden Shoe, Tenth Anniversary of Lionel Messi's Debut
- FC Barcelona News: 15 October 2014; Neymar Scores Four in Friendly Win, Lionel Messi Scores Brace in 30 Minutes