Barcelona will be looking to deliver a response when they host Eibar at the Camp Nou on Sunday following their 2-1 defeat at Levante in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie in midweek.
Several of the first team regulars were rested as the Catalans’ hunt for a fifth straight cup crown was dealt a setback.
However, the big names are set to return at the Camp Nou on Sunday as Barca aim to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table.
BARCA TO BOUNCE BACK… AGAIN
It’s been a strange season for Barcelona. A club of their stature is always under the microscope and there’s been no shortage of issues around the team.
The Ousmane Dembele disciplinary saga earlier in the season has since been replaced by the uncertainty around Philippe Coutinho’s future while their defensive woes have been a constant theme as has Malcom’s lack of playing time.
Their form this term leaves a lot to be desired as well and defeat to Levante in midweek was the kind of slip-up that’s come to be expected of them this season.
However, they’re equally capable of dishing out a hammering – particularly when Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez work in tandem – and enjoyed 4-1, 5-0 and 4-0 wins in La Liga and Copa del Rey last month alone.
With Eibar visiting Camp Nou on Sunday, a goalfest may be on offer again. Messi and Suarez lead the league’s goal-scoring charts with 16 and 12 strikes respectively.
It’s hardly been vintage Barcelona this season but with the firepower at their disposal, they still look well on course to win the league title. Go figure.
DENIS THE MENACE
One of the positives Barcelona can take from the defeat to Levante is the performance of Denis Suarez.
The midfielder is largely responsible for making his side’s task in the second leg a whole lot easier having won a late penalty which Coutinho converted late in the game.
His overall play on the night is further evidence that Barcelona need to keep hold of him at least until the end of the season. The 25-year-old has reportedly grown frustrated at a lack of playing time and is angling for a move away from the club this month.
However, with Coutinho struggling for form and falling out of favour, an injury or two in midfield could leave the Catalans extremely light in that department.
Suarez’s performance deserves to be rewarded with a La Liga start and Eibar’s visit presents Ernesto Valverde with the perfect opportunity to afford him one in his efforts to keep him at the club.
BARCA LOVE PLAYING EIBAR
Why are Barca so heavily tipped to win this one and comfortably at that? Well, Eibar’s trips to the Camp Nou since their first promotion in 2014 have ended in 3-0, 3-1, 4-2 and 6-1 defeats.
The fact that they scored in three of those encounters may be a minor source of encouragement but their tally of five away goals this season is the lowest in the division.
Even though the Basque outfit beat Real Madrid recently, they’ve never defeated Barcelona, losing all eight meetings by at least two goals.
Meanwhile, Messi particularly enjoys his encounters with Eibar. Having played the La Liga minnows seven times, the Argentine has bagged 12 goals and goes into this fixture in good goal-scoring form.
Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone has called for calm on the whole Thomas Lemar situation where the Frenchman received flak for underperforming.
The former Monaco man was substituted off against Sevilla after a performance he would like to forget.
However, Simeone believes that the player has great things set in store for him in the future and this is just a rough, adaptation phase.
“Thomas Lemar? He is a very important player for us, that’s for sure,” Simeone told reporters.
“He didn’t play his best game for us the other day against Sevilla and we decided to substitute him, but his performance was certainly improving in that one game too.
“He is a player who we have to be patient with because he has outstanding ability and it is an adaptation process for him, he is a very important player for us.
“We are confident that when it is necessary in the Copa del Rey or the Champions League, we will find the Lemar we need.”
Ernesto Valverde is not taking any comfort from Barcelona’s healthy lead in the La Liga title race after watching his side squeeze past Getafe 2-1.
Lionel Messi notched his 16th league goal of the season and Luis Suarez his 12th as Barca went 2-0 up in the first half, while Jaime Mata pulled one back for Getafe before the break.
The Catalans are now five points clear of Atletico Madrid, with Sevilla and Alaves another two and four points behind respectively.
Real Madrid are down in fifth and 10 points off the pace after losing 2-0 at home to Real Sociedad on Sunday.
However, Valverde told Marca: “We knew about the other results before kick-off and were under pressure to take advantage of the opportunity.
“But I do not think too much about the other teams. We have a lot to do.
“I don’t know if there were similar gaps between clubs at this point last year but I do know that we did not manage to win the league until almost the end of the season.”
Referring to the second half, which saw seventh-placed Getafe fight back admirably to slash the deficit, Valverde said: “It was essential for us to stay focused and not let the game get away from us.
“They are a tough team, with strong players when you go one-on-one, and the game was tight.
“There were times after the break when they were the better side. Towards the end we managed to keep hold of the ball and that’s how we stayed out of trouble.
“We expected a difficult game and they got back into the game with the goal, but we’re happy.”