On 16 October 2004 a fresh faced 17-year-old called Leo Messi made his debut appearance in Barça’s first team, coming on as a substitute for Deco against Espanyol at the Olympic Stadium on Montjuic. Ten years on and for those of us lucky enough to have witnessed Messi’s brilliant career there will never be any doubt about his extraordinary talent, for those who missed it, the huge list of trophies, individual awards and records speaks for itself.
Tomorrow night (Saturday 8pm) Barça play hosts for the first time ever to Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, and Messi has one of La Liga’s most prestigious records in his sights: that of the league’s top ever goalscorer which is currently held by the legendary Telmo Zarra with 251 goals. Messi is currently on 249 so a brace tomorrow will see the Argentinian equal the record while he needs a hat-trick to beat it. Given that the following league fixture is against Real Madrid on October 25 there may be some culés who hope Messi doesn’t break the record this week in order to give him the chance of doing it next Saturday at the Bernabéu.
Two seasons ago, opponents Eibar were in the Segunda División B but two successive promotions have seen them reach the top flight for the first time. Given that the town of Eibar has a population of just 27,000 many expected the Basque side to struggle but they have started strongly with nine points from seven games while scoring eight and conceding seven. A look at their three away games suggests they will be no pushovers, they started with a narrow 2-1 defeat at Atlético where they came close to a late equalizer, they then won 0-2 at Elche and drew 0-0 against Athletic at San Mames. Thirty-nine-year-old coach Gaizka Garitano has few big names at his disposal as Eibar exist on a budget this season of just €18 million which is about 30 times less than Barça’s. However, Luis Enrique will at least know Saul Berjón and Abraham Minero who both played under the new Barça boss in his time in charge of Barça B, while Dani Nieto who played for the Barça B last season, is also now in Eibar’s ranks.
Luis Enrique will of course be fully aware that Barça face Ajax at Camp Nou on Tuesday in the Champions League and his first Clásico as coach next Saturday, so he is unlikely to risk anybody who isn’t at 100% tomorrow. The Barça coach has his entire squad at his disposal except for Luis Suarez who will finish his ban next week. However, Douglas trained apart from the group today while Pedro missed two days training earlier this week, with a stomach problem if the rumours are true.
Now that internationals are being played earlier in the week than in the past, it means the so-called FIFA virus is having less effect. Neymar has had the furthest to travel so he could be reserved tomorrow, but the Brazilian is in such scintillating form at the moment, as demonstrated by his four-goal haul against Japan, that Lucho may find it impossible not to play him again.
It will also be interesting to see if Gerard Piqué features or not. News broke this week of a night-time argument between Piqué and the local police with Piqué allegedly acting like a dickhead star. Whether or not there will be any internal discipline applied is not known but one recalls Piqué being left out of a Champions League game at Bayer Leverkusen in 2012 when he nearly missed the flight after a traffic incident in the centre of Barcelona. Piqué’s behaviour may not be great for the club’s image but one has to give him credit for his apology. the player tweeted – “I’m sorry, I made a mistake, it won’t happen again” – a word for word replica of the apology offered by retired king Juan Carlos after the public outcry for his hunting of elephants!
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Munir, Messi, Neymar.
Eibar: Irureta; Boveda, Albentosa, Raul Navas, Abraham; Errasti, Dani Garcia; Capa, Arruabarrena, Saul Berjón; Angel Rodriguez.
Prediction: Barça 3 Eibar 1
Date: Saturday 18 October 2014. Kick-off 8 pm local time.