Barça face two massive games at Camp Nou in the coming week with the Champions League return game against Manchester City on Wednesday followed by a possible title-decider with Real Madrid the following Sunday. First, with three more vital points at stake, there is a trip to the Basque Country for a first ever game at the tiny Ipurua Municipal Stadium tomorrow against Eibar (Saturday 6 pm).
Suspensions and the threat of suspensions have given Luis Enrique a problem in forming a defence for the Eibar game. Both first-choice full-backs, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, are suspended and there was a scare yesterday when Martin Montoya missed training though he was fit enough to take part in today’s session. Added to this, both Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu are just one booking away from a ban which makes their selection tomorrow very risky. Busquets and Vermaelen continue on the injured list which further limits the options.
Taking a gamble tomorrow with Mathieu, and especially Mascherano, might seem unwise while reserving the pair would leave the option of playing a defence of Montoya, Bartra, Piqué and Adriano with Ivan Rakitic taking the role of defensive midfielder. Xavi and Iniesta would then continue in midfield though Rafinha can’t be ruled out, while up front the in-form Suárez and Messi should continue while Neymar will return after missing the 6-1 victory over Rayo last Sunday through suspension.
In the first ever meeting between the sides back in October at Camp Nou Eibar demonstrated they can be difficult opponents. Coach Gaizka Garitano played an extra defender for that game and Barça failed to break through the five-man defence until the 60th minute before eventually winning 3-0. Eibar have surprised quite a few in their first season in the top flight but a run of seven straight defeats leading up to tomorrow’s game has seen them slip down to 14th in the table, making the threat of relegation very real.
Despite Eibar’s recent poor run, tomorrow’s game could prove to be more complicated for Barça than expected. Trips to the Basque Country are never easy and playing at a unknown venue in a stadium that holds a maximum of only 6,000 people will be strange to Barça’s superstars. Eibar need to break their negative run and their players will surely be up for a game that will be massive for them. The changes in Barça’s defence adds to the difficulty of the task but probably the biggest danger is the distraction of next week’s big games. If Luis Enrique can make sure the players are sufficiently motivated and focused, then, barring awful luck, Barça should be good enough for the three points that will guarantee going into the Clásico as leaders.
Barça’s 18-man squad for the game: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Montoya, Douglas, Piqué, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano, Mascherano, Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Xavi, Rafinha, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez, Neymar, Pedro.
Eibar: Jaime; Boveda, Ekiza, Añibarro, Navas, Lillo; Capa, Errasti, Lara, Saúl Berjón; Lekic.
Barça: Bravo; Montoya, Bartra, Piqué, Adriano; Xavi, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
My bet: correct score: Eibar 1 Barça 3 (current odds: 12.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Saturday 14 March 2015. Kick-off 6 pm local time.