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FC Barcelona recorded an eleventh consecutive league victory at Eibar on Sunday, extending their unbeaten run to 36 matches and temporarily increasing their lead at the top of the table to eleven points.
Two goals in each half were the difference between the two sides on a wet afternoon in the Basque country.
Replacing the suspended Neymar Jr in the lineup was young Munir El Haddadi, whose last first team appearance came away at Malaga in Week 21. And in almost identical fashion to the start at La Rosaleda, the 20-year-old was on the end of a generous Luis Suárez assist to tap the ball home inside ten minutes.
Just as he did to find Suárez for the first goal, Leo Messi scooped the ball over the Eibar defence to pick out Munir on the half-hour mark, who then attempted to return the favour to the Uruguayan but applied too much power on the pass.
Eibar rally back
Eibar, however, did not buckle after going down early. In their familiar style of play, the Basques looked menacing from wide situations and came close to a leveler through Ivan Ramis who headed the ball just over.
Escalante then had a golden chance for the home side while unmarked at the far post but skewed his volleyed effort well wide.
After some uncomfortable moments at the back, Barça would have been the keener of the two sides to hear the half-time whistle due to Eibar’s pressure. But as so often is the case when a side misses chances against the big clubs, the hosts were made to pay.
A lay-off from Munir set Messi on a mazy run which tends to have an inevitable outcome. The Argentine coolly slotted the ball into the far corner at the ideal time to dampen the Basques’ hopes.
With a two-goal lead in hand, Barça looked more content to dictate the pace of the game in the second half than lay siege on Eibar’s goal. The home side, for all of their intensity in the first period seemed dejected by that Messi strike at the end of the first 45.
Messi on the spot
In a scrappy second period with very few chances for either side, Barça were given a chance to add gloss to the victory from the penalty spot as Ramis was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball in his attempt to block Messi’s cross.
Barça’s problems from 12-yards this season have been well-documented, after missing seven spot-kicks this campaign. But there were no signs of nerves from Messi, who cheekily chipped the ball down the middle for his 21st league goal of the season which moves him up to third in the scoring charts.
100 up for trident, and Bartra
After missing his second penalty in four games against Rayo on Thursday, Suárez looked desperate to get onto the scoresheet and eventually got his reward with six minutes left. The Uruguayan wriggled his way past one defender then shrugged off another before a ruthless finish into the bottom corner which puts the front three onto 100 goals for the season.
Javier Mascherano’s late booking means he will be suspended for next week’s game against Getafe, while Marc Bartra’s introduction moves him onto 100 appearances for the club.
The latest victory for the Catalans puts them eleven points clear of Atlético Madrid before their tricky trip to Valencia on Sunday night.
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