The blaugranes travel to Ipurua for the very first time in their history with the aim of maintaining top spot in the table
After reclaiming top spot in the league last weekend thanks to the 6-1 home win over Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid’s defeat at Athletic Bilbao, Luis Enrique’s side will be in no mood to relinquish the leadership when they visit Ipurua for the very first time on Saturday at 6.00pm CET.
Luis Enrique’s side trained for the final time on Friday before the trip to the Basque Country to take on Eibar. Defender Martín Montoya took part in the session and was named in the 18 man squad after training separately from the rest of the squad on Thursday. Brazilian full back Douglas as also named in the party to travel to Gipuzkoa with both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba missing through suspension. Sergio Busquets is still out after picking up an ankle injury in the Copa del Rey against Villarreal last week and Thomas Vermaelen is also missing as he continues his recovery from surgery. The good news is that Neymar returns to the squad after serving a one game ban last weekend in the win over Rayo Vallecano.
Eibar will be without ex-Barça B man Abraham and former Espanyol defender Didac Vilà due to injury. Striker Ángel is out after a recent bout of appendicitis and midfielder and captain Dani García will also be missing due to suspension after his red card in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat away at Levante.
Barça coach Luis Enrique is not thinking beyond the game this weekend in the Basque Country despite the proximity of both the Champions League last 16 second leg tie against Manchester City and the ‘Clásico’ in the league against Real Madrid. For me there’s only one game, and that’s the Eibar game,” he assured. “Eibar are dangerous, both because of where we’re playing them and their need for points,” warned the Asturian coach.
Rival coach Gaizka Garitano is a former Eibar player and was under no illusions about the challenge facing his side: “We have respect for FC Barcelona but not fear. It will be difficult but we will try. It will be a special game for us that we will talk about for years.”
Since the disappointment of losing at home to Málaga, the blaugranes have put together a run of four successive wins in which time they have reached the final of the Spanish Cup, took a big step towards reaching the last eight of the Champions League and reclaimed top spot in La Liga.
Eibar had been in the top of the table for most of the season before a recent run of seven consecutive defeats in the league which now leaves them in 14th place in the table just three points above the relegation zone. Garitano’s side lost just three times at home in the first half of the season but now they have lost a total of six times in Ipurua, including the last three league games in front of their own fans against Atlético, Elche and Athletic Club.
Ones to watch
Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic celebrated his 27th birthday in midweek and speaking to the press this week he admitted that the squad we’re not taking Saturday’s game lightly: “We respect Eibar and we will prepare it as well as we can.We know it will be a tough game, they are a good team and played well against us at the Camp Nou, so we know what to expect” If Xavi Hernández appears in Ipurua it will be his 750th game in official competition for the club, an amazing achievement for a man who is according to his coach is “ a positive force both on and off the field. He carries enormous weight in the locker room.”
Eibar have three former Barça players in their ranks. Abraham is out injured but both Saúl Berjón and Dani Nieto should be in the squad to face the blaugranes, Both enjoyed spells at Barça B with Berjón playing under current first team boss Luis Enrique.
Eibar are in their first ever season in the Spanish top flight following two successive promotion campaigns that have seen them rise from the depths of the ‘Segunda B’ to the ‘Primera División’ in just two years. The sides only ever previous meeting came back in October when the blaugranes won 3-0 in the league, with Eibar managing to hold out for nearly an hour before Xavi put the home side ahead.
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