For an hour SD Eibar bravely held Barça at bay on their first ever visit to Camp Nou, but class showed in the end with Xavi, Neymar and a brilliant Leo Messi scoring in a 3-0 victory for the Catalans. The win means Barça go into next Saturday’s Bernabéu clásico with a four-point advantage over Real Madrid while Messi’s latest golazo takes him to within a goal of equalling Telmo Zarra’s all-time record of 251 league goals. Claudio Bravo extended his record to eight games without conceding though Eibar had two clear chances before half-time with the score still at 0-0.
With a Champions League game with Ajax on Tuesday Luis Enrique decided to rest his first-choice midfield of Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta, meaning a start for Xavi and Sergi Roberto while Mascherano played the holding role. The rest of the team was more or less as strong as possible with Piqué partnering Mathieu in defence and Pedro starting up front with Messi and Neymar.
Eibar coach Gaizka Garitano brought in an extra defender to employ a 5-3-2 formation which Barça struggled to penetrate. There was plenty of possession early on but the only moment of danger came after a neat underfoot roll from Sergi Roberto to Messi but the Argentinian’s cross whizzed across the goalmouth without finding a finisher. The first decent chance came in the 20th minute when Messi moved out to the right and then played a splendid one-two with Alves which sent the Argentinian into the area but his attempt to slip the ball through Irureta’s legs just failed as the ball caught the goalkeeper’s heel and flew out for a corner.
Messi came close again five minutes later. Attempting to play a one-two through the middle, he was quickest to react when a defender put a foot in, pouncing on the loose ball and flashing a 20-yard shot narrowly past the post. Barça kept pushing forward but Eibar stayed well organised and worked hard to leave few spaces. Barça were reduced to sending in crosses with no luck but with nothing seen from Eibar in attack the feeling was there that Barça would eventually break through.
This feeling began to change around the 35th minute after a risky back-heel from Piqué led to the first dodgy moment at the back. Then in the 41st minute Alves missed a long ball up the left and Capa got away from a hesitant Piqué. The Eibar forward then skipped past Bravo’s lunge and although the angle was tight he really should have done better than firing his shot into the side-netting.
It was a big let-off but Barça quickly responded at the other end with Xavi’s low drive turned past the post by Irureta. Then in the 44th minute Pedro’s cross found Messi who leapt superbly but could only send his header straight at the Eibar keeper. Eibar came straight back with a long ball through the middle that again caught Piqué unaware and Bravo had to come out quickly to make a fine stop from Saúl Berjón. Barça had created four decent attempts in the first half but the two best chances fell to the visitors, and the second half would surely have proved more difficult had Capa or Saúl taken their chances.
Considering Eibar’s limited budget, reaching half-time on level terms was an achievement in itself. The Basques continued to defend solidly at the start of the second half and despite a couple of headers over from Piqué it was beginning to get frustrating for Barça. Things changed in the 55th minute, Iniesta was already warming up when Sergi Roberto collided with Lillo and hurt his ribs. Luis Enrique didn’t hesitate and Iniesta came on to speed up the midfield.
The ball began to circulate more quickly and five minutes later Barça took the lead. Xavi played the ball square to Messi 25 yards out and continued his diagonal run into the area to receive the Argentinian’s splendidly threaded pass and clip the ball over the advancing keeper and inside the far post. Pedro almost volleyed in a second soon after but Irureta made a good diving save as Barça increased the pace. Eibar showed they were not out of it yet when substitute Piovaccari robbed Mathieu and held off Piqué but he then lacked strength with his shot to trouble Bravo too much.
Luis Enrique brought on Sandro in place of the disappointing Pedro and again the Barça coach’s substitution brought quick rewards. Alves sent in his umpteenth cross from the right, Sandro’s run created space and Neymar got away from Lillo to volley the ball low past Irureta. The second goal gave Barça room to breathe and a couple of minutes later Messi had added a third after a splendid move. Alves played the ball infield to the Argentinian who skipped away from a couple of opponents before playing a quick ball forward to Neymar who allowed the ball to glance off the outside of his right boot which sent the ball back into Messi path and Irureta stood no chance with the low shot inside the far post.
With the points now decided there was little more of note though Messi and Xavi offered the public a few more moments of class. In one instant Messi was running away from the Eibar goal with Errasti closely on his back, then a lightning quick turn saw him heading for goal with poor Errasti in his wake, Irureta was needed again to keep the score down. Then in injury time one opponent gave up the chase as if he realised the futility of trying to catch the Argentinian who played the ball to Iniesta and then ran in to meet the cross with a header which produced another good save from Irureta.
People will say it was only Eibar, but the Basque side gave a showing which suggests they could stay up quite comfortably in their first season in the top flight. Barça showed patience with the score at 0-0 and class came through in the last half an hour. There were disappointing games from Piqué, Pedro and Sergi Roberto but Messi’s talent and insistence supported by decent performances from Xavi, Mascherano, Neymar and Iniesta won Barça the points in the end.
Barça: Bravo 7; Alves 6.5, Pique 5.5, Mathieu 6.5, Alba 6.5; Xavi 7.5, Mascherano 7.5, Sergi Roberto 6 (Iniesta m55, 7); Pedro 5.5 (Sandro m71, 6.5), Messi 8.5, Neymar 7 (Munir m77, 6).
Eibar: Irureta; Bóveda, Lillo, Albentosa, Ekiza, Abraham; Errasti, Dani García, Javi Lara (Piovaccari m57); Capa (Boateng m75), Saul Berjón (Dani Nieto m77).
Goals: m60 Xavi 1-0, m72 Neymar 2-0, m74 Messi 3-0.
Yellow cards: m39 Neymar, m45 Lillo, m53 Lara, m82 Iniesta.