La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 24: Eibar vs Barcelona– Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Unbeaten Barcelona face a tricky challenge in their visit to seventh-placed Eibar this Saturday.
15:15 GMT, Saturday 17th February, Municipal de Ipurua (Eibar, Spain)
The title race was supposed to be over by Christmas. Barcelona have not yet won the league, however, and Atletico Madrid have not given up the chase.
The Catalan giants remain unbeaten this season and still maintain a healthy seven point lead at the top of table. Two draws in their last two games have cost them and the gap between themselves and their title-challengers is no longer looking unassailable.
Eibar continue to impress in La Liga this season and are currently occupying seventh-position, having lost only once in their last six games.
The Basque minnows have so far exceeded all expectations and are only one point behind sixth-placed Sevilla. If they can keep up their impressive recent form then Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men will be able to make qualifying for European competition an achievable goal.
Last Time Out
Leganes 0-1 Eibar (La Liga)
Eibar completely outclassed their opponents last week and were unlucky that their scoreline was not more emphatic.
Mendilibar’s side looked comfortable on the ball throughout and created numerous opportunities whilst restricting the home team to only two shots on target.
The visitors were frustrated for most of the game as they struggled to convert possession into goals, but a sending off for Dimitris Siovas with six minutes to play opened the game up.
A header is stoppage time from Ivan Ramis provided Eibar with a just reward for their enterprising play.
Barcelona 0-0 Getafe (La Liga)
The league-leaders produced plenty of eye-catching attacking phases against Getafe, but came up against a resolute defensive unit.
The home side had almost 80% of possession and had many good chances to take the lead, often denied by the imperious Vicente Guaita in the opposition goal.
Things almost got even worse for Barcelona in the dying moments as they began to look vulnerable to the counterattack and a fine late save from Ter Stegen was required to maintain their unbeaten record.
Jose Luis Mendilibar is unlikely to make any significant changes to his side as they have looked impressively coherent in recent weeks.
Striker Sergi Enrich (meniscus tear) is not expected to return until late next month and midfielder Fran Rico has not yet recovered from a knee injury.
Influential defender Paulo Oliveira (muscle fibre) is another injury doubt.
Ernesto Valverde will be pleased that his recent defensive crisis is coming to and end.
Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti should be fit to start at the back on Saturday. Only Thomas Vermaelen is a doubt to start this weekend.
Key Battle: Fabian Orellana (Eibar) vs Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona)
Winger Fabian Orellana joined Eibar on loan from Valencia in December and has recently begun to show signs of becoming an integral part of this ambitious side. The Chilean international has had a rather mercurial career which has set him back somewhat, yet his attacking threat has never been in doubt.
The 32-year-old has scored three goals in his three starts since signing, including a brilliant display in Eibar’s 5-1 home win over Sevilla a fortnight ago. The home team are unlikely to see much of the ball on Saturday and Orellana will be relied upon to kick start the counterattack.
Philippe Coutinho has made a steady if unspectacular start to life as a Barcelona player. The 25-year-old has made three starts, most often being used in a wider role than he has become used to at Liverpool.
That two of his starts have come in games where Barcelona have dropped points against opposition they would have expected to beat comfortably, does not suggest that he has made his new side weaker. He must, however, settle quickly into the setup at Camp Nou, as Barcelona are slipping back into a title race.
Will Mendilibar’s 100th game be something to shout about?
Basque-born Mendilibar has had astonishing success in his second period in charge of Eibar. Having guided his side to two comfortable mid-table finishes in his first couple of seasons, he now has his ambitions set upon an unlikely European qualification.
Eibar have lost only once in their last 12 La Liga fixtures, with the only defeat coming at the hands of second-placed Atletico Madrid. Only Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have a better record in this period.
The middle of the pack is highly congested this season and a run of good form has seen Eibar rise as high as seventh. There is little pressure on the Basque side in comparison to the likes of sixth-placed Sevilla and if they continue in their current vein of form then they may just break into the top six.
Can Barcelona keep their focus ahead of the return of the Champions League?
Only a month ago it appeared that Barcelona would head into the Champions League knockout stage with the league title effectively sealed already. Two draws later and they have allowed Atletico Madrid to reenter the title race.
Barcelona cannot afford many more slip-ups in La Liga and will not be able to rest as many key players for this fixture as they would otherwise have hoped. Tuesday’s match against Chelsea will provide Barcelona with a real marker of how well they compare to the club’s previous great sides.
There is a great deal of pressure on Barcelona to perform in the Champions League this season. They cannot, however, allow a shift in focus to the European stage to come at the cost of throwing away a healthy lead in the league.
Prediction: Eibar 1-2 Barcelona
Barcelona will have their minds set on their upcoming tie against English champions Chelsea. Eibar will hope to take advantage of their opponent’s distraction and secure an unlikely result. In their recent run of form, the Basque side have shown their quality against the bigger teams in the league, including a 5-1 victory over Sevilla. Ultimately Barcelona should have the quality to take all three points, though it may prove a tougher challenge than expected.
Will Barcelona maintain their unbeaten run?
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