FC Barcelona will be looking to extend their record-breaking unbeaten streak tomorrow when they take a trip to the Basque Country to face SD Eibar at the Ipurua. With a midweek win over Rayo Vallecano in the capital, Barcelona eclipsed the long-standing Spanish record set by Real Madrid although they remain someway off equalling AC Milan’s run of 58 matches without defeat, which stands as the de facto record for clubs in Europe’s top five divisions.
Although in truth, now that the record has been broken, perhaps we can move forward with a different narrative; less about the streak, and more about Barcelona’s unrelenting progress towards further success? Or perhaps their steady ascension towards all-time greatness? Because while the streak has been undoubtedly impressive, in itself it takes the headlines away from the wider picture – journalists and fans have been so focused on this one sub-plot that they have lost sight of the other things that make this side so special.
For instance, there has been far less coverage of the 8 and 12 point leads that Barcelona has established over Atletico and Real Madrid respectively as a result of the streak; the differential has been mentioned as an afterthought – a "by the way", when it should be front and centre, because in essence it has ended the La Liga title race just over two months in 2016.
With a vastly superior head-to-head record over Atletico Madrid, and head-to-head advantage all but secured over Real Madrid, both clubs are left hoping that Barcelona drop points in about five matches between now and end of the season. Or in approximately half of their remaining domestic matches.
So let’s consider how this club has already progressed to the final of the Copa del Rey, has one foot in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, and realistically, has already won the La Liga title, barring perhaps the most stunning collapse in Spanish football history.
At least that’s what I’d focus on, ahead of the streak.
Neymar is suspended for this one as he picked up his fifth yellow card of the campaign at Vallecas, in a move that certainly seemed pretty premeditated to me. With stories surfacing that the Brazilian has been granted the weekend off to travel back to Brazil to attend his sister’s 20th birthday party, it certainly seems like Neymar intentionally got himself booked – but I don’t really mind, as he clearly needed a bit of a rest.
A tired mind has led to some strange decision-making in recent matches, as if he doesn’t quite trust his weary legs to deliver what they might have done a few months ago. A week off will do him good, and he’s the most "expendable" of the fabled triumvirate for a match like this. We will likely need a moment of Messi magic to break down a disciplined Eibar defense, and fortunately he’s back into habit of supplying these moments on numerous occasions throughout each of our recent matches.
And perhaps above all else, this is a match tailor-made for Luis Suarez; the most old-fashioned striker in our squad who serves as the wrecking ball option in our more direct attack.
Aside from Neymar’s suspension, Luis Enrique had a full selection of players to choose from and there really have been no surprises in his squad. Nor should we expect many surprises tomorrow; while we’re likely to see two changes in defense as Dani Alves and Jordi Alba replace Aleix Vidal and Jeremy Mathieu respectively, there’s a chance that we will not see any changes in midfield and only the one enforced switch in attack.
If Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic continue in midfield, my choice to replace Neymar would have to be Arda Turan, who opened his Barcelona account with a headed goal as a substitute against Rayo. The Turkish international featured heavily on the left during his time at Atletico Madrid, and this could be a perfect opportunity for him to display some of the form that earned him his dream transfer to the Camp Nou.
The hosts will be missing defender Lillo through suspension, while forward Keko misses out through injury alongside long-term casualties, goalkeeper Jaime, former Athletic centre-half Borja Ekiza and midfielder Jota. In their place Eibar can welcome back Ander Capa, and Luna, the latter of which is likely to feature on the bench.
As per usual, the bulk of the attacking burden will fall on Borja Baston, who has experienced something of a dry spell in front of goal as of late, as he is goalless in his last three appearances.
FC Barcelona 3-1 SD Eibar – 25th October 2015 – La Liga
While the visitors took an unexpected early lead through Borja Baston, the hosts responded well and picked up the three points courtesy of a hat-trick from their star Uruguayan striker.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Arda
Eibar (4-2-3-1): Riesgo; Capa, Dos Santos, Pantic, Junca; Escalante, Garcia; Inui, Adrian, Berjon; Baston
It’s going to be a tough one; I think we’ll edge it 3-1 with the final goal coming late on.