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Lionel Messi / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

On a rainy evening in the Basque Country, Barça did what they had to do and will go into next week’s Clásico as league leaders. Eibar proved to be a highly resilient opponent, but two goals from Leo Messi were enough to secure three crucial points.

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba were both suspended for Barça’s first ever fixture away to Eibar, so Luis Enrique opted to field an unfamiliar quartet of Adriano, Bartra, Piqué and Montoya at the back. Sergi Roberto stood in for the injured Busquets in midfield. As expected, the home side concentrated on keeping things tight at the back and look for danger on the counter attack and set pieces, and their tactics worked for the first half hour. Despite dominating the possession, Barça were stifled in attack and other than a Rakitic header in the opening minute, there was very little in the way of chances for the Catalans.

Messi on the spot

The deadlock was finally broken on the half hour when Ekiza handled the ball in the Eibar area and the referee pointed straight at the spot. Messi converted to claim his 31st league goal of the season and move ahead of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the Liga goalscoring charts. But the goal didn’t lead to any major change in the script, with half time arriving without either goalkeeper being particularly troubled.

The second half was not the most action packed of affairs either, but it did get off to the perfect start for Barcelona. At a corner, Eibar made the fatal mistake of leaving Leo Messi unmarked on the edge of the area, and the Argentinian headed home his and Barça’s second.

Game 750 for Xavi

From then on, there were few chances for either side. Eibar were forced to be more ambitious and abandoned their five-man defence, but rarely produced any real danger for Claudio Bravo. Presumably with Wednesday’s game with Manchester City in mind, Luis Enrique chose to take off both Rakitic and Neymar, which also paved the way for Xavi to come on and make history with his 750th official appearance in a Barça shirt.

As the game trundled towards its conclusion, there was late drama in the 88th minute when Jaime produced a fine save to deny Pedro at one end, and immediately after Eibar substitute Piovaccari hit the Barça bar from a golden opportunity to salvage a consolation goal for the home side.

And so a workmanlike performance for Barça ended with three well-deserved points that set things up nicely for a crucial week with two massive games at the Camp Nou against Man City and Real Madrid.


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