Two more goals from Leo Messi earned Barça a 0-2 win over Eibar at the Ipurua stadium this evening to guarantee top spot for Luis Enrique’s men going into next Sunday’s Clásico. The victory means Barça open up a four-point advantage at the top of La Liga though rivals Real Madrid can cut the gap back to one point if they beat Levante at the Bernabéu tomorrow.
Luis Enrique rested Jeremy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano to avoid an unwanted yellow card that would have seen either player miss the Madrid game which with Dani Alves and Jordi Alba suspended meant a defence formed by Martin Montoya, Gerard Piqué, Marc Bartra and Adriano. However, the surprise in the Barça coach’s team selection was to see Sergi Roberto starting as the holding man in a midfield trio with Ivan Rakitic and Rafinha. Neymar returned in attack alongside Luis Suárez and Messi.
It was always going to be strange playing on a narrow pitch in a tiny stadium in front of a crowd of just 5,439 but Barça began promisingly with a double opportunity in the first minute but Messi couldn’t get a shot in and then Rakitic at the far post headed against a defender. Eibar responded with a couple of dangerous crosses into the area that earned the home team two corners in the first five minutes.
After quite a frenetic start Barça soon took control of the game but with Eibar playing a defensive 5-3-2 formation a pattern of Barça possession with no penetration developed. Neymar’s free-kick into the wall summed up a frustrating evening from the Brazilian while Messi was relatively quiet until a stupendous run past three including a nutmeg on Raul Navas which came to nothing.
There were competent performances from Piqué, Bartra and Sergi Roberto which meant Claudio Bravo had little work to do as Barça maintained control but there was little connection in attack until a quick move involving Suárez, Rakitic and Neymar in the 30th minute led to a Messi shot that took a slight deflection before hitting Ekiza’s outstretched arm. Referee Del Cerro Grande awarded a slightly harsh penalty and Leo Messi made up for missing his last two spot-kicks by firing to the left of the diving Jaime.
After the goal Eibar had their best spell of the game and Rafinha was fortunate to deflect Errasti’s wide of the post and not in. Javi Lara was then allowed space to try his luck from 25 yards but his shot skidded wide. Barça hit back with two promising attacks just before half time but Messi’s cross was cleared by Ekiza after a nice one-two between the Argentinian and Suárez, then Rakitic chested down Neymar’s cross for Suárez but a defender prevented the Uruguayan from hitting a clean shot.
The first half had not been easy and the pouring rain that greeted the players for the restart suggested there was still some battling to do. The first chance of the second half fell to ex-Blaugrana Saúl Berjón but he sliced his shot wide of Bravo’s near post. Messi then slipped a superb pass through for Neymar but under pressure the Brazilian failed to get his shot in. Then Suárez won a corner in the 54th minute, Rakitic crossed from the right and Messi found space to send a firm header that somehow got past a poor effort to clear off the line from Borja and the ball ended in the net.
With the score at 0-2 it was never likely that Eibar would recover though Bravo had to make his first save soon after Messi’s second. Xavi was brought on in place oif Rakitic for his 750th Barça appearance and it was clear that Barça wanted to keep things simple and reserve energy for the big games with Manchester City and Madrid. Luis Enrique only used one more sub, Pedro in place of Neymar, and the Canarian had a chance near the end but he failed to convert. The final big chance fell to Eibar sub Pioccavari but his shot bounced up onto the crossbar and away. It was unlikely to have made a difference at such a late stage of the game.
It wasn’t very pretty apart from a couple of Messi runs and the combination that led to the penalty, but it was a serious focused performance with few errors at the back apart from a misplaced pass from Montoya and a mix-up between Bartra and Sergi Roberto. However, the youngsters generally did well and it was encouraging to see a solid game with so many changes in the team this week. It is also pleasing to score another goal from a corner which underlines the clear improvement both defensively and offensively at set pieces this season.
Eibar: Jaime; Bóveda, Ekiza, Navas, Lillo, Didac Vilà (Boateng m77); Borja Fernandez, Errasti (Capa m58), Javi Lara; Saúl, Manu del Moral (Piovaccari m69).
Barça: Bravo 7; Montoya 6, Pique 7.5, Bartra 7, Adriano 6.5; Rafinha 6.5, Sergi Roberto 7, Rakitic 7.5 (Xavi m60, 6.5); Messi 8, Suarez 7, Neymar 6 (Pedro m70, 6.5).
Goals: m31 Messi (pen) 0-1, m54 Messi 0-2.
Yellow card: m30 Ekiza