Traditionally, Barça have struggled in the past in matches just like the one at Ipurúa: smaller pitch dimensions which make it easier for the local team to reduce the spaces, a crowd very close to the turf which increases the pressure coming from the stands, adverse weather conditions and the commitment by the opponent players who, realizing their technical inferiority, hope to compensate it with a display of enthusiasm which combined with the previous aspects could enable them to steal the show and becoming for one day the David who beats this league’s Goliath.

But this Barça doesn’t resemble their previous versions. The Blaugranas changed the sluggishness they showed in other times while facing this kind of clashes for an extra dose of motivation to put the match on the right track, the sooner the better. And they achieved so indeed: on the seventh minute, Messi froze the ball near the line for a couple of seconds until, visualizing Suaréz was attacking the space, the number 10 launched the long pass to the Uruguayan who from the goal line assisted Munir for the goal in the far post.

There had been barely enough time to analyze the approach proposed by both coaches. Luis Enrique kept the classic 1-4-3-3 scheme trusting the La Masia graduate to replace a suspended Neymar and placing Arda in the left midfield in order to provide Iniesta some rest. Meanwhile, Mendilibar made it his own the 1-4-4-2 formation which has allowed several teams lately to threaten Barcelona in some phases. Taking advantage that the pitch dimensions reduced the space to be covered by his players, Eibar’s coach asked them to alternate a halfway defense with plenty of high-pressure episodes where Borja Bastón and Enrich closed in on Piqué and Mascherano to avoid the two finding Busquets with easiness.

So far Barcelona used to answer to such challenges by making two adjustments: Busquets, by placing himself between the center backs to gain superiority against the opposite strikers and Messi, by moving to the central lane in order to create the spaces where only he can see them. But in Ipurúa Luis Enrique’s men had prepared a different solution: instead of attacking by the flanks, the full backs didn’t progress, letting the wide open interiors be the ones who face Eibar’s exterior midfielders. In this way, Piqué always found a free-of-mark Alves to his right and the Brazilian combined with an open Busquets beyond the opponent strikers’ first line of pressure.

If Barça allow themselves to bet for such a high-risk move in any football handbook, it is because Sergio Busquets’ outstanding intelligence enables him to know every time where the rival is closing in on his back and so he always correctly chooses when he must turn, when he shouldn’t, when he needs to hold on the ball or when he needs to pass it quickly with a change of pace which overcomes the rival pressure. Eibar’s pressure was perfectly executed but the accuracy and swiftness in the ball circulation by the culés managed to surpass it and generate scoring chances on the opposite side.

Despite this, the second goal didn’t arrive until the last seconds of the first half, right when, for an instant, the local players seemed on the verge to tie the scoreboard. Barcelona had chained a couple of lost possessions in a row which allowed Eibar to steal the ball and counterattack, without success, though. In this give-and-take, Messi received the ball in the central circle with an Eibar squad out of place, he progressed up the central lane waiting for Munir to lose his mark but the youngster didn’t read his move, so Messi feinted with the body until he unbalanced the two rival center backs and beat Riesgo with a crossed shot.

The second half didn’t have the rhythm of the first one. The physical attrition and the low morale produced by the 0-2 made sure that the local team couldn’t push longer on the pressure. Mendilibar played his last card with the substitutions proposing a line with three playmakers which allowed him to always have someone near Busquets, but it was already too late to change the match dynamics. Meanwhile, Barcelona started to temporize the match, giving another example of how to douse the efforts on the pitch without losing their competitiveness. Risks were reduced, yet even so, some danger was generated when they managed to surpass the rival pressure. In this way, two more goals arrived. A clear and involuntary foul for handball by Ramis was punished with a penalty executed by Messi almost Panenka-style, with a medium-height centered shot when Riesgo had already dove to a side. The fourth goal was a perfect summary of the combined qualities of the amazing forward that is Luis Suárez: the persistence to fight for a disputed ball, the class to nutmeg the defender inside the area, the physical power to endure the rival’s tackle, and the coolness to send the ball to the back of the net.

In the end, it was a complete match for a Barcelona squad who is sailing smoothly with all odds in favor in the league. They won, performed a good game, some important players rested (Neymar and Iniesta the entire clash; Piqué and Busquets at the end of it), Arda Turan advanced in his integration with the team, they scored a penalty and Suaréz ended his small slump with a great goal which joins his nice streak as an assistant. And besides, we witness again a wild Messi, creating superiorities where he plays, sublime with the dribbling and the finishing but above all highly involved in the game and discerning in the passing. If last season was the one with the alley-oop passes to Neymar’s and Alba’s attacks on the left flank, this season looks like it is going to be the one about the interior passes to Suaréz’ attacks between the center back and the full back. You never know what tomorrow will bring but it’s evident that what we watched in Ipurúa makes the Blaugranas face the future with optimism.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Xavier Codina.