3 reasons why Barcelona beat Eibar (3-1)

Barcelona survived an unlikely early scare from minnows Eibar to clinch a 3–1 win at the Camp Nou last night. Three Luis Suarez goals cancelled out Borja Baston’s opening salvo for Eibar, as the champions moved up to second in the standings, level on points with first-placed Real Madrid.

Luis Enrique went with his template 4–3–3 set-up with the strongest available line-up. The injured Sergi Roberto was replaced by Ivan Rakitic in midfield, while Sandro came in for Munir in attack and Claudio Bravo replaced Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal; the only changes from midweek’s Champions League win over BATE Borisov.

Eibar manager Jose Luis Mendilibar made three changes from last weekend’s draw with Sevilla as Aleksandar Pantic, Keko and Simone Verdi all made the starting line-up which set up in a 4–2–3–1 formation with Borja up front, and the double pivot of Dani Garcia and Gonzalo Escalante.

1. Eibar’s Energetic Start And Just Deserts

Eibar started the match with greater energy and allowed little time on the ball to Barca to build up from the back. They employed a 1–2 pressing from the front; centre-forward Borja closed down goalkeeper Bravo in possession, while their three-man advanced midfield zonally covered the passing options of Barca’s two centre-backs, Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra.

The visitor’s high energy approach caught out Barca early, which led to Borja’s goal in the 10th minute. Eibar created an overload on the right touchline which forced Rakitic to thread an uncomfortable backwards pass to Bartra. The Catalan youngster, under pressure, lost the ball in his own half and facilitated Eibar’s counter, which led to the deserved opening goal for the minnows.

Bartra, who is normally assured on the ball but tends to panic in tight spaces, failed to recover from his loss of possession and it was Eibar’s energetic pressing starting from their left flank that led to the first goal. However, as the game progressed, their energy tailed off which allowed Barca far more time on the ball to play their usual, passing football.

2. Eibar Fail To Maintain Starting Momentum, Allowing Barca To Gradually Grow Into The Game

Eibar were good value for their initial approach, and offered little space in the central areas for Barca to operate and build play centrally. Their double 6 of Garcia and Escalante continually pushed up to remain compact with the advanced midfield of Keko, Verdi and Takashi Inui which in turn allowed little to no space for Busquets and Rakitic to play forward passes or receive passes from the back.

After going a goal down, Barca were desperate to open up Eibar through the middle but they were allowed little leeway in their centre-oriented approach. Neymar from an outside left position started dropping shorter, a move to draw three Eibar players towards himself to open up space in the centre. It was clear when Neymar dropped short on the left flank but Jordi Alba stayed shorter instead of overlapping; when Keko closed in on the Brazilian, Neymar and Alba tried to move the ball centrally in triangulation with Busquets.

Eibar had trouble keeping up their approach, and with Barca pushing up after going behind, their double pivot sat closer to the back four. It was interesting how a set-piece from Eibar near the centre circle which had eight players ahead of the ball allowed Barca to equalise. With the tired legs of Eibar not in sync with play, Sandro’s movement beyond left-back David Junca was the key to Barca’s first goal.

Barca gradually grew into the game, while Eibar sat back defending against a somewhat toothless Blaugrana attacking unit. There were occasional bursts of pressing from the away side, but most of their attacking involved solo runs or players running into cul-de-sacs against Barca defenders’ superior ability in 1v1 situations.

Javier Mascherano tucked in between Pique and Barta, allowing the full-backs to motor forward, as Barca morphed into a 3–4–3 in the final quarter hour before half-time. One instance of Eibar’s occasional attacking burst was when Keko forced Bartra into an almost goal-line clearance before half- time.

3. Neymar’s Influence, Defensive Mistakes From Eibar Costly

Once again, Neymar was heavily involved in Barca’s patterns of attacking play last night. The Brazilian, who worked hard in the opening periods to break the shackles of Eibar’s pressing, gradually offered better penetrative movements and roamed the breadth of the pitch drawing defenders with him and attracting fouls. Neymar suffered five fouls in the Eibar half of the pitch.

Neymar had a hand in all three Barca goals; the first came after he dribbled past two defenders while cutting inside from wide left leading Eibar’s defenders to indent towards him which allowed Sandro space behind the back line, whereas for the second, Neymar recovered possession in the attacking third before embarking on another of his characteristic mazy runs into the box before squaring for Suarez at the perfect moment. The third goal, too, was the result of a Neymar pass.

As the game progressed, defensive mistakes crept into Eibar’s game. There were fouls aplenty in the middle third during the second half. Left-back Ander Capa’s mistake in possession early in the second half allowed Neymar to capitalise as the right centre-back, Mauro Dos Santos opened up space for Suarez inside the box while trying to cover for Capa.

Capa was once again at fault for Barca’s third goal as he vacated his right-back zone completely as Eibar tried to push forward after Mascherano’s dismissal. This allowed Suarez ample space in the void created by Capa, and Neymar’s pass was expertly taken down and finished with aplomb by the Uruguayan who celebrated his first anniversary at Barcelona with some style.

By Abhijit Bharali, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter here

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