Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the La Liga meeting between Eibar
at Ipurua Municipal Stadium. The Catalan giants have finally found a run of form in recent weeks with three victories on the bounce in all competition, but they desperately need to keep that streak going this evening if they are to keep the pressure up on top-two sides Sevilla and Real Madrid.
The visitors head into this match sitting four points adrift of Sevilla and a further point off Real Madrid, with both those sides picking up maximum points this weekend - just! Los Blancos ensured that their recent blip is now very much behind them by claiming a 2-1 win at home to Malaga on Saturday afternoon, while the Andalusian outfit won a thriller against Osasuna a little earlier to keep their run going.
EIBAR XI: Yoel, Capa, Dos Santos, Lejeune, Luna, Garcia, Escalante, Pedro Leon, Adrian, Inui, Enrich
BARCELONA XI: Ter Stegen, Mathieu, Umtiti, Alba, Roberto, Busquets, Turan, Rakitic, Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Starting with a look at the visiting team, manager Luis Enrique
has made four changes from the 5-0 win over Las Palmas last weekend - a match that saw the Barca boss taken the chance to rotate a few players ahead of the more challenging cup tie against Real Sociedad five days later. Neymar is the headline act to come back into the side and, a tad surprisingly, Luis Suarez
and Lionel Messi
also start this evening.
There had been a few suggestions that Suarez may have been left out; a chance to gain a bit of a breather after finding himself on the periphery against Sociedad up the road a few days ago. That is not the case, however, as each of the 'MSN' trident start at Ipurua. Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic also come into the side - the latter a big call by Enrique, with the Croatia international struggling to hold down a spot in the side and being linked with a move away in recent weeks.
Jeremy Mathieu is also a surprising recall in the heart of defence, with Gerard Pique starting on the bench, while Sergio Roberto is now back to full fitness and takes over from Mascherano. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is another who has struggled with injury of late, though he has fully shaken off his recent knock and is selected in goal tonight. Plenty of discussion points in this Barca side, then - a Barca side without the services of the injured Andres Iniesta and suspended Javier Mascherano.
While Enrique has a strong squad to choose from, opposite number Jose Luis Mendilibar
will be casting an envious glance this evening. Eibar have a string of injury problems to contend with, including the absence of their first-choice keeper, as Asier Riesso, Ivan Ramis, Anaitz Arbilla, David Junca and Kike Garcia all miss out for the visit of the reigning league champions.
Just a couple of alterations made by Mendilibar in all, with Pedro Leon among the starters on the back of his latest impressive display in the 3-2 win over Sporting Gijon last weekend. The former Barcelona ace found the net in that high-scoring affair, and no other player in the division has put more balls into the box this term than him - 154 in all prior to this weekend's matches. More of those dangerous deliveries and some serious questions will be asked of Mathieu.
EIBAR SUBS: Areitio, Galvez, Rivera, Pena, Rico, Nano, Josue
BARCELONA SUBS: Cillessen, Pique, Denis, Alcacer, Digne, Andre Gomes, Vidal
Andre Gomes came off the bench to replace hamstring injury victim Iniesta at Anoeta on Thursday night, but he did not make much of an impact in that second half and is only on the bench tonight. Paco Alcacer was in the running to fill in for Suarez had he been rested tonight, but the Uruguayan remains in the starting lineup alongside Messi and Neymar. Lucas Digne, Aleix Vidal and Gerard Pique are among the defensive back-up options for the visitors, while Denis Suarez
is also among the subs.
Luis Suarez has scored four goals in his last five league outings and also bagged a treble in this fixture the last time they met at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi is on an even more impressive run, meanwhile, having found the net in each of his last four La Liga matches - never before has he gone five, which I find hard to believe. Twenty-seven in 25 for the little maestro this season in all competitions - yet again he has proved the star man in this side.
The pressure is on Barcelona to claim victory at Ipurua this evening, then, having seen Real Madrid and Sevilla extend the gap in those top two places. Even with victory tonight the Catalan giants will remain in third, as they continue to pay for their sluggish run either side of the winter break. They also have Atletico Madrid hot on their heels, so while finishing top will ultimately be the target, another slip-up or two and all of a sudden finishing fourth will be a task.
Enrique talked in the build-up to tonight's game about the importance of putting a string of wins together, which they have managed to do over the past week or so with three in a row in all competitions now. Two of those came in the Copa del Rey - a second-leg win over Athletic Bilbao and first-leg triumph over Real Sociedad in the next round - and there was also that thrashing of Las Palmas eight days ago at Camp Nou. More of the same is now required in this final match of the weekend.
The nadir for Barca may well have been that 1-1 draw with Villarreal a fortnight ago, coming hot on the heels of another disappointing display in the defeat away at Bilbao. In the end the loss at San Mames counted for little, as they soon recovered in the return leg to ensure that they remain on track for a domestic and European treble - the second under Enrique's watch - despite all the recent doom and gloom. Not too dissimilar to Enrique's first season here, in fact!
Barcelona also picked up that aforementioned rare win at Anoeta in their last outing, ending a run spanning just short of a decade without picking up three points in their most-hoted venue on the continent. That was a major boost for Enrique, who knows that his side still have work to do next Thursday if they are to book their place in yet another cup semi-final. Atletico and Real are also still in the competition, so they will likely have to overcome one or both of them.
In terms of their league aspirations, Barca's 5-0 win over Las Palmas on home soil made it three victories in their last four outings - enough to ensure that Real and Sevilla still remain pretty much within touching distance. They have been far from their best this season, though, with four draws in six either side of the short winter break - including a goalless home draw with Malaga - potentially costing them the chance to retain their title.
Barca do have a nice run of games ahead of them in the league, though, with the odd slightly daunting trip including - this game at Eobar very much falling into that category. Their next major challenge comes in the meeting against Atletico Madrid on February 26, but before that they also take on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and face Sociedad in the second leg of the Copa del Rey next week. We are approaching make-or-break time in the campaign, with every match now pivotal.
Barcelona have scored in each of their last 12 away games in La Liga, netting 37 in total at a rate of a little over one a game. Going further back, they have not lost in the Spanish top flight in any of their last 11 games, either, but a run of draws has seen them slip off the pace. Real Madrid themselves dropped points at long last recently, but they got back on track - by any means necessary - in the 2-1 win over Malaga on Saturday.
DID YOU KNOW? Barcelona have lost two of their last four games against Basque opposition - vs. Real Sociedad in April 2016 and Alaves in September - but they did overcome La Real when they faced off just a few days ago. Neymar's penalty was the difference in that match; one that was far from a classic but very much job done as far as Enrique is concerned, with the return leg to be played next Thursday at Camp Nou.
Neymar's 21st-minuet penalty against Real Sociedad on Thursday evening helped Barcelona to a 1-0 win. Not only did that make it three victories on the spin for the Catalan giants, it also ended their incredible Anoeta hoodoo that was just a few months short of hitting a decade without a win there. A timely triumph, indeed, and now Luis Enrique has challenged his players to push on and rack up win after win at this crucial point in the season.
Eibar head into this match sitting in the top half of the La Liga table and just five points off a place in Europe next season. That will be one almighty ask to claw back points on the sides above them between now and the middle of May but, with their cup aspirations as good as over following a 3-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in midweek, all focus can now be on returning to form in the league and potentially finishing in one of those top six spots.
Los Armeros had picked up just two points from a possible 12 prior to last weekend's 3-2 win over Sporting Gijon, which was enough to take them back into the top half of the division. As touched upon a few moments ago, they also made it into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, but a heavy loss to Atleti in the first leg at the Vicente Calderon leaves them requiring something close to a miracle in the reverse fixture a few days from now.
Eibar are now winless in their last two matches here, losing to Atletico in the league and drawing with Osasuna in the previous round of the cup, but they have not gone three without a win since April 2016 - the omens are good for them to put that right tonight. All focus is now pretty much on their La Liga aspirations, then, with Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia and Granada to play over the next month - a nice run of fixtures than could well help them to cement a top-half finish.
This venue may only hold around 6,500 spectators but it has grown a reputation as a tough place to visit. Many big teams have struggled here and are often restricted to altering their tactics, so do not be surprised to see Barcelona become frustrated at times this evening. Eibar are the smallest of the Basque sides in the top couple of tiers, but they are enjoying a fine season and, as mentioned a little earlier, could pull off a huge shock by finishing in the top six.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Barcelona have won all four of their top-flight matches against Eibar, averaging three goals a game and keeping a clean sheet in three of them. The last encounter finished 4-0 to the Catalan giants here in March - so much for that 'difficult' tag given to Ipurua! - with Lionel Messi scoring two more to make it five in four for him in this fixture.
With kickoff at Ipurua Municipal Stadium now exactly 10 minutes away, let us turn attention to some pre-match thoughts from both camps.
Jose Luis Mendilibar: "When you come up against Barca you've got two options. You can either go out and put them under pressure or hang back and wait for them in your own box; we'll be going with the first option. I don't want us to go and get the ball off them; that would be virtually impossible. What I want us to do is to have a lot of the ball in Barcelona's half."
Luis Enrique: "They will be loyal to the style that has got them to where they are at the moment in the league. They always make it difficult for you and we need to be at our best with the ball and well positioned to find a way through. We have been looking for a long run of good results since the start of the season but we haven't managed it yet. Let's hope now we can put a good run of results together because we need."
Enrique pretty much expecting a gritty display from the hosts this evening, then, claiming that his side will "need to be at our best" if they are to leave the Basque Country with maximum points. The Catalan also discussed the importance of putting together a run of wins, with too many draws in this current 11-match unbeaten run in La Liga. That has allowed Real Madrid to pull ahead and Sevilla to usurp Barca into second, though you get the sense that will not last for much longer.
Mendilibar insists that his side will look to attack Barcelona tonight, meanwhile, rather than sitting back and perhaps holding out for a goalless draw. Good luck, I say, because there is no other side like the Catalans when they are given room to get in behind. We saw Barca dominate possession in their last outing but struggle to create too many clear-cut opening - could that prove to be the case once more over the next couple of hours?
PREDICTION! Barcelona have a perfect record in league meetings with Eibar, winning four out of four and scoring an average of three a game during that run. It is difficult to see anything other than an away victory tonight, but I believe it will be one that they are made to work hard for by the odd goal. I'm going to back Enrique's men to take it 2-1 with goals from Messi and Suarez.
Both sets of players are now out on the field of play, with kickoff in the Basque Country just a couple of minutes away. This is one of the most unique grounds anywhere in the top tier of Spanish football, with a little over 5,000 cramped into the stadium. Umtiti and Mathieu start together for the first time in the heart of defence this evening, so it will be interesting to see exactly how they fare against the so-called minnows.
© Getty Images
KICKOFF! We are up and running at Ipurua Municipal Stadium. From performing in front of 90,000 fans to 5,000 odd tonight, how will Barcelona - in their changed away kit tonight - cope with the tight surroundings?
A good start to the match for Eibar, as they get a couple of early balls into the box to challenge that makeshift duo of Umtiti and Mathieu. Suarez was the man who got his head to a flat free kick, which he helped behind for a corner.
Alba looks for Turan - Barca's most advanced player - with a ball over the top that has a little too much on it. It was a bright opening for the hosts, but the Catalan giants have seen more and more of the ball over the past few minutes.
SAVE! First attempt of the evening comes via the boot of Ander Capa, who sees his shot from outside the box easily kept out by Ter Stegen. Neymar was bundled off the ball at the other end but it was a fair challenge.
Busquets went down a minute or so ago, but he has not yet got up and the stretcher has now been brought on to the pitch. An early change likely to be required for the visitors here, with Denis Suarez the most obvious candidate to come on.
BARCELONA SUB! Sergio Busquets last just 10 minutes or so of the game before being stretchered off. Suarez, a different type of midfield player, comes on in his place. Messi sends the subsequent free kick over the bar.
A decent delivery into the box is well handled by Ter Stegen, who was then quick to recycle possession. Barca's rhythm has been disrupted by that early injury blow, so they just need to get their foot on the ball once again.
SAVE! Arda Turan is proving to be Barcelona's liveliest player so far in this match, getting forward once again and directing a header on goal from a tight angle. He was never going to score from there, though.
Mendilibar certainly was not lying when he said his side would not sit back this evening. Eibar are happy to get the ball forward when they have the chance to do so, with former Barca player Pedro Leon a particular threat when picked out.
Alba forced to halt Pedro Leon's charge down the right by illegal means, but from the free kick Eibar fail to capitalise. A balanced game so far with nearly a quarter of it played; one shot on target apiece at Ipurua.
CHANCE! Barcelona only marginally edging the possession stats over these opening 21 minutes, highlighting just how little has been between the two sides. Messi looked to change that by lifting the ball over the top, but Suarez hammered over the bar when through.
SAVE! A decent enough attempt from range via Takashi Inui, which deflects over Ter Stegen's bar. I'd say the hosts are now edging this match, with the Barca keeper also needed to deny Gonzalo Escalante and Pedro Leon moments later.
YELLOW CARD! Gonzalo Escalante is shown a yellow card for pulling back on Neymar. A fair call from the referee, who reaches into his pocket for the first time tonight. More than a quarter of the match played and Barca still yet to get going.
Suarez attempts to play the ball in behind for Neymar, but he frustratingly puts too much on the pass and Yoel is there to collect. Still no sign of the Catalan giants clicking into gear anytime soon - it has been a real slack display from them.
SAVE! First serious attempt on target from Barcelona in this match, as Messi takes on an ambitious free kick from 30 yards out. Yoel got across well to push it aside and Turan was unable to do anything with the loose ball.
GOAL! EIBAR 0-1 BARCELONA (DENIS SUAREZ)
A superb strike from substitute Denis Suarez gives Barcelona the key breakthrough at Ipurua. A first senior goal in the Barcelona ranks for the 23-year-old, as he unleashes into the bottom corner from 20 yards out - Yoel given no chance.
Messi has moved up a few gears over the last 10 minutes or so and so nearly had his team in on goal again, only for the offside flag to go up. Now that they have an opener you would fancy the visitors to build on their lead in the Basque Country.
Mendilibar will have been very happy with what he saw from his side in the opening 25 minutes or so, but Barcelona just about stepped things up and found a way through. Still defending for them to do, with Umtiti helping a dangerous cross behind.
Half time fast closing in now, and there has not been too much since the Barcelona goal to suggest that they are going to add a second before the interval. A couple of teasing balls, the latest from Messi towards Suarez, but nothing too testing.
YELLOW CARD! Ander Capa becomes the second Eibar player to see yellow, following on from Gonzalo Escalante's caution a little earlier. The guilty party was upset by a corner decision going against him and was booked for punching the ball.
SAVE! Turan goes into the book for a studs-first challenge on Escalante - no complaints. Prior to that Neymar was through on goal but got the ball stuck under his feet and was then denied by Yoel with a stop down low.
Los Armeros have given another good account of themselves in the opening 41 minutes of this match and, if it does remain this way at the break, it will be all to play for in the second period. That said, Neymar could well have made it two a few moments ago.
CHANCE! Barcelona do not want half time, as they are dominating for the first time tonight. Messi with a sublime over the top for Turan, who could only chest it on goal rather than converting past Yoel - great chance!
OFF THE POST! A huge slice of fortune for the hosts - Suarez picking out the post with his shot, with the ball then bouncing back into the welcoming hands of Yoel. Not quite sure how Barca have not got a second goal.
HALF TIME: EIBAR 0-1 BARCELONA
For large parts of that first half Eibar looked very bright; restricting their opponents at one end and creating a couple of half-chances of their own up the other. Barcelona stepped things up and found a breakthrough 32 minutes in, however, and since then they really should have added another couple. As it is, we have it all still to play for in the second half.
Three days after picking up a Copa del Rey win over Real Sociedad, Barca were back in the Basque region but this time they took their time to find their rhythm in the compact 5,500-capacity stadium. Home boss Jose Luis Mendilibar promised that his side would not sit back against the defending champions, and he was true to his word as Ander Capa was denied by Marc-Andre ter Stegen with seven minutes on the clock.
The high press was working against Barca, who were also dealt a blow early on when Sergio Busquets was forced off the field to be replaced by Denis Suarez - the man who would go on to score the key breakthrough goal later in the half. Prior to that, Luis Suarez blasted high over the bar when picked out by a scooped Lionel Messi pass from deep, while Ter Stegen was required to block attempts from Gonzalo Escalante and dangerman Pedro Leon in quick succession.
It took until the half-hour mark for the Catalan giants to register their first serious attempt of the match - Messi's free kick from 30 yards out being pushed aside by Yoel, whose next involvement in the match was to pick the ball out of the net. Substitute Suarez was given time and space to blast a first-time shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box - his first senior goal in the Blaugrana strip.
Barcelona had a few good chances to extend their lead prior to the interval, with Neymar getting the ball stuck under his feet when through on goal, Arda Turan chesting into the arms of Yoel when spotted by another sublime Messi ball, and Luis Suarez hitting the post from a one-on-one position. That means Eibar are still in with a shout of picking up a first-ever point against their opponents.
EIBAR SUBS: Areitio, Galvez, Rivera, Pena, Rico, Nano, Josue
BARCELONA SUBS: Cillessen, Pique, Alcacer, Digne, Andre Gomes, Vidal
RESTART! We are back up and running at Ipurua Municipal Stadium. News has emerged that Busquets suffered a likely sprained ankle, so he will join Iniesta on the sidelines. Mascherano also suspended, making this a makeshift Barca midfield.
Enrique will want that second goal to arrive sooner rather than later, with one eye on the upcoming second-leg tie with Sociedad. Paco Alcacer is among the subs - will he be brought on for one of Suarez or Neymar as this one transpires?
GOAL! EIBAR 0-2 BARCELONA (LIONEL MESSI)
Right on cue, Lionel Messi scores his 28th goal of the season in all competitions. The little maestro has been providing for his teammates for most of the night, but Luis Suarez this time picked him out with an inch-perfect cross for Messi to sweep home on the half-volley.
Eibar put up a good fight in the opening 25 minutes or so of the match, but since then we have not seen a great deal from them bar the odd shot. Still around 35 minutes of the match left to play, so it is not over just yet.
The hosts seeing plenty of the ball over the past five minutes or so, without doing a great deal with it. Enrique will be delighted with the way this potentially tricky trip is turning out, with a fourth win in succession now looking a certainty.
Not the most testing of evenings for Mathieu and Umtiti, who have been paired together in the heart of defence for the first time. Both managers may be thinking of a change or two as we approach the hour mark in the Basque Country.
SAVE! Eibar finally get a shot away at goal in this second half, with Adrian Gonzalez pouncing on a poor Umtiti clearance to send an effort right down the middle. Simple enough for Ter Stegen in the end, but a stop nonetheless.
This is turning into a rather scrappy game, with Barca sitting comfortably on their two-goal advantage. Surprised that Enrique has yet to alter things slightly, particularly up top with Suarez perhaps in need of a breather.
EIBAR SUB! First change of the match from Mendilibar, who turns to Nano for the remaining half-hour or so; Florian Lejeune is the man to make way. Barcelona appear to be readying an alteration of their own.
BARCELONA SUB! He looked to be on his way out of the club not so long again, but Vidal is handed another appearance from the bench. Sergi Roberto is the player to make way as Enrique gives the full-back a little rest.
SHOT! Ter Stegen has been a little busier over these past few minutes. Having dealt with a horrible back-pass, the German then kept out an Adrian effort. A goal for Los Armeros changes everything, but it does not look like arriving.
GOAL! EIBAR 0-3 BARCELONA (LUIS SUAREZ)
Denis Suarez opened the scoring and namesake Luis may well have just rounded it off - if Eibar are lucky! The Uruguayan was temporarily halted by Florian Lejeune when looking to race in behind, but the referee played advantage and he smartly tucked the ball home at the near post.
SAVE! Almost a fourth for Barca, as Messi picks out Suarez who very nearly picks out Neymar with his square ball. Good defending in the end, even if the looped clearance did not helping over the crossbar by Yoel.
Neymar is clean through on goal and gets the beating of Yoel, but before he can tap the ball into an empty net the offside flag is raised - incorrectly, in my opinion. Barcelona the side more likely to score the fourth goal of this game, which is now over as a contest.
EIBAR SUB! Fran Rico is on for Adrian Gonzalez, who came closest to pulling one back for the hosts at 2-0. Had he got the better of Ter Stegen it would have been game on, though that did not prove to be the case.
BARCELONA SUB! A little later than expected, and with a goal now under his belt, Luis Suarez is replaced by Paco Alcacer. A good chance for him to truly ignite his Barcelona career in these final 12 minutes of the game.
EIBAR SUB! Play disjointed now, which is likely Eibar boss Mendilibar's wish, as Ruben Pena comes on for Inui in attack. Ivan Rakitic was denied by Yoel prior to that with an attempt down the middle of the goal.
This result keeps up Barcelona's average of scoring three a game in their top-flight meetings with Eibar - this is certainly a fixture that they like. No disappointment in the Basque Country this time around in La Liga.
SAVE! Neymar desperate to join Suarez and Messi on the scoresheet, but he is perhaps trying a bit too hard. Pedro Leon forces a fine stop out of Ter Stegen up the other end, with Barca keen to make it back-to-back clean sheets in the league.
We are now into the final four minutes of the contest, which Barcelona are in no risk of losing. Neymar, without a goal from open play in an eternity, is unable to convert from inside the box as another half-chance passes him by.
SHOT! Escalante with a bullet attempt, which Ter Stegen appeared to help over the crossbar. Clearly not, though, because a goal-kick has been given. Alba has picked up a knock but is OK to see things through.
GOAL! EIBAR 0-4 BARCELONA (NEYMAR)
Neymar in absolute acres of space to add a fourth for Barca. Suarez left a right-sided cross for his better-placed teammate to latch on to, and the Brazilian tucked it past Yoel for his first La Liga goal in 12 games from open play.
FULL TIME: EIBAR 0-4 BARCELONA
The referee is quick to put Eibar out of their misery following a dominant second-half showing from Barcelona. It seems like a long time ago now, but the hosts actually edged things in the opening quarter of the match before fading away. The Catalan giants' forward trio all registered in the second period, adding to Denis Suarez's opener 32 minutes in.
That concludes Sports Mole
's live text coverage of events at Ipurua Municipal Stadium. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here
, while the La Liga table as it stands at the midway point is also available here
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