preview | 2017-01-20
Match Preview - La Liga Round 19 - Eíbar vs Barcelona
Fresh from Thursday night’s Copa del Rey victory at Anoeta over Real Sociedad, Barcelona return to the Basque Country on Sunday evening to take on Eibar in La Liga
Barça should come into the game in high spirits after what has been an excellent week for the club. Last Wednesday they overcame a first leg deficit to eliminate Athletic Club and seal a quarter-final spot in the Copa before beating Las Palmas 5-0 at Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon in La Liga. That win became all the more important on Sunday when table topping Real Madrid were beat by Sevilla which gave Culés renewed optimism of a third successive league title. As if that wasn’t enough the club rounded the week off with their first win at Anoeta since 2007 thanks to a first half Neymar penalty.
Eibar won’t be coming into the game with quite as much confidence after a 3-0 defeat against Atlético in the Copa on Thursday evening. That said Eibar are doing reasonably well in La Liga and find themselves sitting ninth despite having gone four games without a win until they beat Sporting Gijon last weekend. José Luis Mendilibar’s side have a good home record and will undoubtedly make things difficult for Barcelona at a ground they have conceded just eight goals at. 17 of Eibar’s 26 points in La Liga have come at Estadio Municipal de Ipurúa and Mendilibar will be hopeful that his side can pick up their first league points against the Catalan giants.
If Eibar are going to get a result against Barça they will have to do so without Iván Ramis, Asier Riesgo, Kike García, Anaitz Arbilla and David Junca who are all listed as injured at the moment. Eibar’s key players for the game will be Antonio Luna and Florian Lejeune who have been excellent in defence for Mendilibar’s team. If Eibar are going to provide an attacking threat in the game, the men Barcelona will have to look out for will most likely be Pedro León (6 goals) and Sergi Enrich (5 goals, 2 assists).
Barcelona aren’t without their injury problems and Luis Enrique has a little mini crisis in midfield with Andrés Iniesta and Rafinha both ruled out due to injury. Javier Mascherano is also out due to suspension although he has primarily been utilised as a defender in recent seasons. Iniesta and Rafinha’s absence will pose a problem for Lucho as both had been in good form prior to picking up their recent injuries. The manager does have plenty of options but the lack of continuity in midfield has been a big problem for Barça this season. The obvious contenders to join Sergio Busquets in midfield will be two of Ivan Rakitic, André Gomes or Denis Suárez but Arda Turan or even Sergi Roberto could also fill the role if Lucho decides to try something different. The most likely outcome will be Gomes and Rakitic but Rakitic in particular has often disappointed this season and Suárez perhaps deserves a chance to stake his claim, particularly with the two most creative midfielders ruled out.
Apart from the midfield woes there aren’t too many selection headaches for Luis Enrique with the vast majority of the team picking themselves unless of course the manager decides to rotate which he has done a few times. Marc-Andre ter Stegen should return in goal behind Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti in defence. Jordi Alba will most likely be back at left back in place of Lucas Digne but the one position everyone will have an eye on will be who starts at right back. Sergi Roberto has been the preferred option this season but the player has struggled at times in a position that isn’t his natural one. The other option is Aleix Vidal who started last weekend and even scored a goal in the 5-0 win over Las Palmas. Vidal was excellent and was even awarded Man of the Match on this very website which was perhaps the reason at the discontent among fans when Luis Enrique decided to completely leave him out of the matchday squad for the trip to Anoeta. It remains to be seen whether he will be recalled for this game but this writer is of the belief that he has earned a chance at staking his claim for the right back slot on a regular basis. In attack, barring some surprising decision from Lucho it should be MSN starting as usual although Neymar was rested last weekend with Arda getting the nod.
This is Eibar’s third season in the top flight since winning promotion in 2014 and as yet they have lost four out of four against Barça, scoring just once in the process. Their biggest claim to fame in the tie was an 11 minute period when they led at Camp Nou in 2015 before three goals earned the three points for Barcelona. Mendilibar will be quick to point out to his team that records like that are made to be broken and Eibar will be well up for one of the biggest games in their season. That said the difference in status and budgets between the two clubs is gargantuan and Barça should have more than enough in their locker to beat the Basque side. There’s a new found optimism amongst Culés after what feels like a turn in the clubs fortunes over the last week to ten days and with Real Madrid and Sevilla in action before Barcelona this weekend it is of the utmost importance that Barça don’t let their good work go to waste by slipping up here. Eibar will undoubtedly make things difficult for Luis Enrique’s side but if Barcelona are going to be serious contenders for a third consecutive title then the winning run needs to be sitting at four in a row when the final whistle blows on Sunday night.
Sunday’s referee will be José Sánchez Martínez. He has only refereed Barcelona three times, (one win and two draws) and in those games he booked five Barça players and awarded the team one penalty. In Martínez’s last five games refereeing Eibar they have won three, drew one and lost one. In those games he booked 14 Eibar players and gave them one penalty.
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WRITTEN BY: Gerry Johnston
Gerry Johnston is a 31 year old Civil Servant from County Antrim, Ireland. Gerry has been writing about football for various websites since Euro 2012 and he has been a Barcelona fan since the mid 90s.