FC Barcelona will be aiming to register their third consecutive win on Sunday evening, when they play host to Basque Country minnows, SD Eibar at the Camp Nou. In spite of their tiny budget, tiny fanbase and general status as the third-best team in the Basque Country, Eibar are currently punching well above their weight – and certainly above Athletic Club and Real Sociedad – as they occupy seventh place headed into Jornada 9.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have FC Barcelona. The Blaugrana are easily the largest club in Catalunya, and while they trail Real Madrid in terms of budget and fanbase (by some metrics, at least), Barça are the most successful club over the past decade in world football, conquering virtually all in their path in recent history. Including Eibar, who have never even scored a single goal against the Catalan giants.
Admittedly, they’ve only played us twice – with both fixtures falling in last season’s treble-winning campaign. Barcelona picked up a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou, and also emerged victorious at Ipurua with a 2-0 margin of victory the last time these two clubs met back in March.
Even without the services of star striker, Lionel Messi, one would expect that Barcelona are clear favourites to pick up the win tomorrow, although a closer look at the form book might suggest anything other than plain sailing.
Firstly, Barcelona have struggled in the first-half of their matches this season, largely drawing a blank in the opening 45 minutes of their fixtures, particularly in La Liga. Eibar on the other hand start fast, on average opening the scoring within the first quarter of an hour of play – both home and away. Equally, Eibar are yet to concede in the opening period of play either.
Yes, I know what you’re saying – football isn’t played over the course of 45 minutes; every game is 90 minutes and over the course of that hour and a half, Barça are probably good enough to win. However, we know how anxious and tense the atmosphere can be at the Camp Nou if things don’t go our way, and as such, Eibar must be fancying their chances at causing a shock upset.
Good news everyone! Andrés Iniesta is back in training and could make his return to the line-up tomorrow; and with Messi out of action for another month or so, we could desperately use his leadership and his quality. Oh, and also because Sergi Roberto is injured and we’re therefore pretty much out of alternatives, that too. Mercifully, Roberto’s injury is the only new concern, so Enrique doesn’t have to worry too much about looking to the B team for reinforcements, not that he would be inclined to look past Gerard Gumbau anyway.
What all this means is that Barcelona will probably feature a similar line-up to last weekend against Rayo Vallecano; it’s hard to rotate after all when the majority of your squad is sat on the sidelines, either with an injury or courtesy of a FIFA-imposed ban. Plus, we have third division Villanovense in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday; and travelling to their awful pitch, I want all of our rotation to happen there if possible.
So, expect a strong team tomorrow. Claudio Bravo in goal, with a defense of Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and one other – with my money being on Javier Mascherano, following Marc Bartra’s start in midweek. Either that, or Jeremy Mathieu. Despite his injury problems, I have a sneaking suspicion that Thomas Vermaelen’s first taste of action since his return will be at Villanovense.
The only way that I envisage Mathieu getting the start is if Enrique doesn’t want to risk Andrés Iniesta. Of course, if there’s no Iniesta, then Busquets will have to step forward, just as he did against BATE Borisov, and start alongside Ivan Rakitić. Usually, that midfield trio would leave me a little concerned, but it seemed to work well enough on Tuesday when Rakitić came off the bench to score a brace, so I’ll reserve judgement for now. Still, the thought of seeing Iniesta back in the team after his unbelievable start to the season has me giddy...make it so, Lucho.
Moving forward, we have the attack that selects itself. Or does it? Luis Suarez and Neymar are the clear starters, but I honestly think Enrique flips a coin to choose between Sandro and Munir. The question is: which one is "head" and which one is "tails"? Suggestions or answers in the comments below.
On a more serious note, our Messidependencia has given way to a Neymardependencia, as we’ve often looked to the Brazilian to break the deadlock in our games. How often, I hear you ask? Well, he’s got the first goal in four of our eight La Liga matches so far this season, and in four of our last six. Or three of our last four. Basically, the rest of our team is struggling – and it’s only really the Brazilian superstar who is shouldering the burden.
Or, to phrase this another way: get your head in the game Suarez, show us that you don’t need Lionel Messi to look good on a regular basis.
Eibar have only picked up one win in their last three, but if you consider the two draws that fell either side of a win against Las Palmas, you have to be impressed as they held both Sevilla and Celta Vigo to a draw. Yep, the same two sides that have beaten us so far this season. Away from home, Eibar are on a five game undefeated streak that stretches back to the end of last season, and have I mentioned that their star striker has scored more goals than Luis Suarez so far this season?
Borja Baston is on loan from Atletico Madrid, and at the tender age of 23, he’s perhaps a touch too old to still be considered a real prospect, but he’s playing like a solid La Liga striker at the moment, having bagged five goals already this season. All this after notching 23 goals in the Segunda Division for Real Zaragoza last year, good enough for second place in the race for the golden boot, behind only Ruben Castro.
Barça would be wise to keep an eye out for him tomorrow, and also for Gonzalo Escalante, who with six yellow cards in seven appearances, will probably try to add a couple more names to our worrying injury list.
SD Eibar 0-2 FC Barcelona – 14th March 2015 – La Liga
Lionel Messi helped himself to a brace to secure the three points for the Blaugrana, extending their run of wins to five matches in the process.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Munir, Suarez, Neymar
Eibar (4-2-3-1): Riesgo; Capa, Dos Santos, Pantic, Junca; Escalante, Garcia; Saul, Adrian, Inui; Baston
Another clean sheet, and another victory for the Blaugrana. We’ll have to wait until the second half to break the deadlock, but we’ll run away with it in the end and pick up a 3-0 victory.