Eibar 0, Barça 2, aka “Illusion and calm”

Appreciating this Barça team is to appreciate a certain kind of luxury, an ease that makes it necessary to see, not just watch. Barça visited Eibar, a cabbage patch with chunks of turf missing, a quite actual ground that was only watered when a downpour visited.

Eibar, seventh in the Liga table and not patsy Eibar any longer, was at home and in the midst of a compelling run of form, sniffing around European spots. And they came at Barça. They ran, and pressed, and gave everything that they had, running, passing and fouling, battling and engaging in the kind of physical play that works against Barça for a while, until the luxurious moments come.

The quality of Barça is such that they can let teams huff and puff, and do what they do. And a fanbase can get distressed, talk about form and endeavor to draw inferences for a big Champions League match coming up.

But if you watch, if you really watch, you have to wonder if Barça didn’t work harder in training this week. There was an ease to the match that the team played, a match in which points were never going to be dropped. Possession was ceded, defenders did what they had to do. The only real chance Eibar had at goal was a blast from distance, off the bar by Orellana. If it was on target, Ter Stegen would have pushed it over. The only stress was among the fanbase. “Eibar has the ball! What is going on??!!” It felt in many ways like the 4-0 beatdown of Rayo Vallecano in the Martino days, that was apocalyptic because Rayo won the possession battle. People watched, but didn’t see.

Barça had to relax, had to be calm, had to conserve energy for the match to come. And they had to do it on the pitch, while ensuring that they didn’t drop points. So the defense had to do a bit more work than we usually see, the opponent got to run around with the ball more than usual. The luxury of the quality that Barça boasts is that the team can play that kind of match, keep a clean sheet, extend its Liga unbeaten run to 31 matches and be nice and rested for Chelsea.

There were moments. Early in the match, Messi played Suarez in with an absurd pass, one of those moments that make you think Messi is a clairvoyant, as there is no other explanation for matters. Suarez, so stunned at the arrival of the ball, checked to see if he was offside before letting the chance go begging due to hesitation. And Eibar kept coming, brave and crazy, deciding to press the better team at home, to ride its excellent form and get in faces.

And Messi did it again. His second pass to Suarez was even better than the first, a crazy bit of geometry with the exact amount of pace and guile to eke its way past the outstretched leg of the desperate defender, right into the path of Suarez, who made no mistake. He rounded the keeper and slotted home. It was a moment, like when a pro soccer player visits a local pub league and kicks around with the group, every now and again showing some skill to remind the punters of the state of things.

It is difficult to watch pragmatic Barça, because of expectation. Running, gunning, dancing, possession, the slice and dice of the blaugrana maelstrom, the beauty. Pragmatic Barça isn’t interested in that, breaking the rules by looking ahead, even as coaches such as Valverde say, “We aren’t looking ahead.” Yes, they are, which explains why the team was in sashay mode, extending enough to get it done against a difficult opponent. If you watched the match and saw what was happening, you went away impressed with just how good this team is — good enough to half-ass the seventh-placed team in Liga and win with a clean sheet.

Valverde started Paulinho, and people snarled. When he made an error, Barça Twitter reacted with scorn. When he did the things Valverde needed him to do, put him in the lineup for, the interceptions, the work, the midfield holdup play and defensive work, there was silence. There is still the notion that Barça doesn’t need that kind of stuff, even as a pair of stories, one from Sid Lowe and the other from Samuel Marsden, both discussed the value of the defensive structure and solidity that Valverde has brought to the team. Because life ain’t all champagne.

Sparkles. Busquets hit Messi with a exquisite ball, which Messi slotted through to Suarez before continuing his stealth run. As Suarez in the box set off the alarm bells, there was Messi. He got the ball, and spanked a shot that already had the Eibar defender gesticulating in exasperation. SPANG! Post. The 33rd post of the season for Barça and the 16th for Messi, the most of his career, setting records even when he isn’t trying to.

To understand Barça and what it did yesterday, find the 40:42 mark of the first half. Eibar played a searching ball forward that fell to Umtiti. He let it run, looking for passing space, then slid it to Alba, who slid it to Iniesta who, pinned in by the sideline and a pair of Eibar players, volleyed a pass into space for Busquets, who played a deft, quicksilver 1-2 with a scurrying Alba. Then it was, in open space, Suarez to Paulinho to Rakitic to Messi, who played yet another diagonal slide rule ball through a sliver of space to Alba, who was (incorrectly) called offside, the official with the flag like a party-pooping parent. It was the most dazzling sequence of the match, an end-to-end display so beautiful it deserved a goal.

It wasn’t commented on by many in the Barça social media world, but it was stunning. It was also one of the few times that the team stepped on the gas to get out of third gear. The team you support is good. Really good. And they got it done, even as more Liga opponents will wonder about the futility of pressing Barça, of not just sitting in a deep block and parrying. Because what’s the point? Eibar, in the top quarter of La Liga, tried to play Barça like something approaching an equal, and got sashayed to death.

Some will say there was a time when you didn’t have to apply context as you watched Barça, who have forgotten those dour away Champions League setups from Pep Guardiola, where the team drew and people screamed, craving champagne and getting fizzy water. Pragmatism over the course of a long season works.

Coutinho came on for Iniesta and lit up the pitch, even as the quality of his effort was noteworthy for its zeal, as he almost looked at his teammates like, “Hey, guys! Why so casual?”

Before the match, Valverde spoke of the team needing a mental break as much as a physical one, something manifested in the lack of precision on display in the recent run of dropped points. The team looked stressed. Against Eibar, it looked controlled and ready. What does that mean for the upcoming Chelsea match? Who knows. But watching them against Eibar, if you watched and really saw, should leave you a lot more confident than at the end of the Getafe slog.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

31 Comments

  1. Dar_vincy
    February 18, 2018

    Accurate review of the match, as usual, Kxevin. Had no qualms with the team operating in 3rd gear; the game against Chelsea obviously necessitated that. No one would remember a gaudy scoreline with an impressive display against Eibar if we go ahead and underwhelm terribly against Chelsea. That said, it seemed to me that we became overly complacent when we got the first goal and seemed contented to hold on to it. I would have expected a determined approach to get the second goal in the first half and revert to sleepwalking mode through the rest of the match. It makes more sense considering that we would have expended more energy to get a winning goal had Eibar equalized. Glad that we played with fire and didn’t get burnt.

  2. Jim
    February 18, 2018

    Yeah, you could see that we were trying our best to conserve energy and avoid injury but like usually happens when you do that in football you end up expending just as much if not more as you’re chasing the ball a lot more. The way to do that is quick ball movement which was difficult on this pitch.

    For me, it was a hard game, especially for the defence. Pique was knackered by the end. You could see it in his face. This was no picnic. I have to agree, because the defence was playing so well, that I never really felt in danger but they were working their butts off and not saving anything. More than slightly worried that Pique had a bandage round the area just above his knee. What could that be for and what was it hiding ? You don’t put a bandage like that on a hammy ( didn’t look like a compression bandage) so was it to support ligaments ? It looked too high for that or knee stability. Whatever, this not good news Btw, he was absolutely immense, the whole defence was, but he barely put a foot wrong in a difficult match. The whole defence was great though, and that’s no bad thing before Chelsea. They covered well for each other.

    If I have a worry it’s the midfield. I’m sure we’ll go for four in the middle but they are all so slow. Iniesta gets away with it because you can’t get the ball off him and Busi is, well , Busi so his reading of the match keeps him out of bother but we couldn’t move the ball well or fast enough to wear Eibar out and we were second to far too many balls. That will cost us in London. I hadn’t realised Paulinho was so slow. When the press was at its height in the first half he and Rakitic looked lost.

    We were fortunate we got a relatively early goal or things would have become pretty tense the way they were playing. Just as normally happens against us we profited from being the goal ahead and not having to chase. Another crucial goal from Suarez although I’d have liked to see him getting a rest in the last twenty or so. He’s going to have a hard shift on Tuesday up front essentially on his own. We need his intensity and movement to cause them problems and take attention away from Messi.

    I’d agree Coutinho looked lively when he came on but without the cutting edge I was looking for. It’ll come. Can’t wait for Tuesday. It’s the first really meaningful match in terms of the result being immediately crucial for our season. No reason not to be confident ( ish), though.

  3. PPos
    February 18, 2018

    I’m not surprised at all that Dembele didn’t play at all. I don’t know if he will play against Chelsea, because if he makes big errors against them, it could cost us the entire tie. I think Valverde is going to be conservative with his approach, and pick this very same side against Chelsea. Ter Stegen, Sergi, Pique, Umititi, Alba, Iniesta, Rakitic, Busquets and Paulinho, Messi and Suarez.

    Messi was definitely off, and you can tell he’s frustrated at going on a 5 game drought now. We really need him to shake it off by the time he comes to stamford bridge. My worries is that our secondary line just doesn’t provide any sort of impulse. Alcacer has been poor since he got back from injury, which is understandable. Denis Suarez hasn’t played since January, Gomes, well he sucks, Semedo, has barely featured, Vidal is ok but never has been incredibly impressive.

    My problem with our current midfield, is that it is pretty slow, Busquets, Rakitic and Paulinho aren’t the fastest guys, and that could be exploited by Chelsea, but i trust in Valverde and the way he’s going to set up the team. I’m praying that this is the game that Dembele gets his first Barcelona goal, because an away goal is worth double.

    • Dar_vincy
      February 19, 2018

      With the way Eibar was set up against us, it would doubtedlessy have been beneficial for us if Dembele had featured especially as he thrives against teams who are so generous with space like Eibar were. I’m afraid EV not playing him on Saturday may have inflicted further damage to his confidence as that would have been a good opportunity to overwrite his understandably abject display against Getafe.

  4. Jim
    February 19, 2018

    I know it’s not about us but the good lady refuses to show any interest so I’m taking my need to talk about it into this place!

    Wow! Wigan knock City out of the FA Cup. City with 82% of the possession even with ten men after Delph sent off. Pep in scuffles in the tunnel with the Wigan manager at half time and Aguero goes after a Wigan fan at the end while the City fans confront the police at one end of the ground and throw stuff. Exciting viewing.

    I have no idea how City lost that. They moved the ball quickly and well yet didn’t really create an awful lot, at least until De Bruyne came on. Awful goal yo lose. Walker claiming offside on the half way line but let’s the ball run on. Their CF who should have been marked by Stones sees a chance and goes for it and of course he’s not off . Stones meanwhile does nothing to alter my low opinion of him by loitering without intent. How slow is he ?

    For what it’s worth it was a red card all day for me. The speed of the tackle, throwing himself recklessly at the Wigan player and studs up out of control. Ref quite rightly took time to think before making his mind up. Mind you, didn’t help that he wrote Delph’s name on the yellow card first. Just trying to make my mind up if this makes them more dangerous in the CL.

  5. luisthebeast
    February 19, 2018

    Reports from Brazil that Arthur will be a Barca player.
    Another great transfer,one for the future.
    This season it is good until now,who knows how it will end up.
    But next with Dembele and Coutinho fully adapted,Semedo and Mina hopefully more ready and maybe a new LB and a FW,Barca will be a different beast.

  6. luisthebeast
    February 19, 2018

    Chelsea game will be difficult,the fact that Coutinho cant play in CL is a disvandage for Barca.Slowly he will be a crucial part of the team but only in LL.
    We lost there vs a worse Chelsea team than now in 2012,we were lucky in 2009,we lost in 2007 and 2005 and 3-1 in 2001.
    Valverde would like to control the game after last years thrashing in Paris and Turin.
    Not easy in English stadium vs a very good team.
    I hope the players be ready for a hard battle.

  7. =EQUALIZER=
    February 20, 2018

    I think they’ll equalize late to make it a 2-2 scoreline at the Bridge, a result I’ll happily take to Les Corts.

  8. Jim
    February 20, 2018

    You have to say that’s not an unexpected eleven for us. Keep it tight and rely on Messi and Suarez to nick something. Would never have happened in Pep’s day but gets my approval ! Not sure about their lineup. There isn’t a recognised CF, is there ? Are they really going to play us on the break at home ?

  9. Rivaldo
    February 20, 2018

    Actually JIM, we never won many (if any) away ties with Pep. For me it used to be frustrating during those away knockout CL ties; it was as if we just wanted not to be beaten.

  10. Jim
    February 20, 2018

    That was what i was getting at, Rivaldo. My recollection is of us not playing well very often and not coming home with results because we didn’t set up tightly enough.

    My only worry for tonight is their front players. All nippy and up against Pique and Umtiti. Maybe a good idea for them not to put a big player like Morata or Giroud up against Pique to give him something to mark.

    • Rivaldo
      February 20, 2018

      Unfortunately I can’t watch -I’m at work.

      Currently following the written commentary which isn’t as detailed as I would like. Seem like they are getting quite a few chances while we “dominate possession”. In my head this means lots of sideways movement from us and quick counters from them when they break.

  11. February 20, 2018

    This is going to be hard. Fasten your seatbelts, people, it’s time to earn the stories.
    All in.

  12. georgjorge
    February 20, 2018

    Chelsea came out of their slump a little too early for this to be an easy match. Very tough.

    Willian hitting the post twice in the first half, and Messi just thinking “I know that feeling very well”.

  13. Víctor
    February 20, 2018

    Hahaha, yes, Messi surely knows what Willian is thinking.

    Chelsea has been a bit better in this 1st half. Barcelona is playing slow… not sure that we can get a goal or something at that pace. Rakitic is risking getting a second yellow, warning there. Paulinho seems a little bit off, gotta step it up, man. So far I think that Umtiti and Messi have been our best players so far.

    However, I am still optimistic about this. Yes, they have been better, but not that better. Valverde can surely make the required changes for the 2nd half.

  14. PPos
    February 20, 2018

    We have no penetration within the lines. Paulinho has played like garbage. There was a chance when he took 8 touches and killed the counter. Chelsea are just sitting deep wanting to hurt us on the counter and their lack of target makes it hard for the defense to structure themselves.

    It’s a tricky tie. We have to start testing their keeper. We have 0 shots on goal. They have hit the post twice. I’m really frustrated. Well at least we aren’t down 2 at the half like last year in Paris

  15. Jim
    February 20, 2018

    Are we playing just a little too safe ? Need to mix it a little. At the moment they’re standing back off Rakitic and Paulinho because they always pass back the way and are blocking the middle in front of their area rather quickly and well. I’m wondering if we might see Dembele at some point after all. Plus another 90 minutes for Iniesta.

  16. Rivaldo
    February 20, 2018

    Wow… sounds like same old Barca vs Chelsea- albeit each time with different coaches. Their scouting team must have cameras at our training ground or something.

    As i type we are a goal down.

  17. lala10
    February 20, 2018

    Valverde sometimes lacks imagination.

    Its dour risk averse football.

    The team needs to step up.

    An away goal is precious but this is atrocious stuff.

  18. Víctor
    February 20, 2018

    Well, we got a bit lucky there. Barça scored thanks to a big Chelsea mistake, credit to Iniesta for doing that run and good play.

    1-1, not a bad result. Forces them to look for the goal at Camp Nou, an scenario that favors Barcelona… but man, do they need to take things up a notch? Not really a great display tonight. Suarez started like doing something on the second half and then he started giving away possession easily. Alba and Sergi Roberto had OK performance. Iniesta did just OK as well, he was a bit off until that run…

    • TITO
      February 20, 2018

      Exactly my reaction.
      So, so , so familiar situation against Chelsea away. So much possesion with no penetration at all. Luckily we got the much needed goal.

  19. Rokke
    February 20, 2018

    That was decent. I’m definitely a fan of playing a more defensively safe game in our difficult away matches, like we have done so far this season. We were pretty lucky to come away with the draw as Willian could have ended the tie alone, but I think the gameplan was right, and that it worked as intended. Those Willian shots might have been very scary, but nevertheless they weren’t high chance scoring chances. In fact, they didn’t really create any big chances at all, but I’m sure the popularly accepted opinion will be that Chelsea were much better and created the better chances.

    The Danish pundits promised an exciting game in the return leg, but if they didn’t find this one exciting I wouldn’t expect to be wow-ed in Barcelona either. Despite Chelsea needing the away goal, I’m sure they’ll still play ultra defensively and look to crowd the middle in front of their box so Messi can’t use that space. I’m not sure how we should line up in that game, but I’d love to see some Dembele action. I think he would have been better suited for the substitution that Vidal got, but considering the circumstances and his rough start to his Barca career I can understand opting for Vidal who doesn’t have a lot of pressure riding on him.

    Valverde talked about Pique’s knee in the post match presser and mentioned they expected him to be in a worse condition after the match than he was. A bit worrying that there is an issue at all and I hope gets some rest before the return leg. He will be needed for Atleti, but he could probably be rotated a bit in the other 3 games.

  20. kapo
    February 20, 2018

    Well i watched only the second half, well all i can say is we would qualify, largely because.of their mental state when they meet us, after man u and city. Valverde must. Really be scratching his hair bald trying to come up with a solution for the goal scoring saga. At this point i recommend 4-3-3
    With Roberto in the middle of the pack instead of paulinho,
    His whatever for semedo is killing a great full back.

  21. PPos
    February 20, 2018

    Yeah a 4-3-3 at home would be interesting with Sergi in his natural position, but Valverde trusts Roberto’s defending much more than Semedo, so he would probably go for the classic, Busi, Iniesta, Rakitic midfield of yore. They’re going to be forced to play a much more attacking game at Camp Nou which is beneficial to us. If we manage the clock well with a combination of possession and incisiveness, we’ll wrap up the tie.

    But man, was it a classic Chelsea vs Barca affair today, at one point chelsea was defending with 10 men in their own half, they didn’t park the bus, they parked the plane.

  22. Víctor
    February 20, 2018

    Seems like the round of 16 has become the round of thrashings. Bayern 5-0 Besiktas. Why couldn’t Barça get an easy opponent at this round?

  23. christembassykapo
    February 21, 2018

    There are some positives to take from this
    1. E.V is a blessed man because he some How manages to come out with points, even when it wasn’t really deserved. I mean with barely a shot on goal if the tie stays like this hehehe we qualify
    2. Ter stegen didnt really have too much work to do. We gave them the spaces between the midfield and the defence and yea willian hit the side bar twice and hazard hit over the bar twice and you imagine it was a goal and what it would have cost us and…………..
    Every team always have their chances against barca let alone chelsea. But the best they could do, with their strongest outfit was what they did and the score line was……
    Someone said if not for the mistake but dude you rarely ever win barca by a single goal margin, we score or equalize mostly during the second half, and we would still have had that goal because we kept them under pressure by retaining possession you can’t concentrate.100% all of the time.
    3. Finally my brethren, the main dude, the he that is but seemed like he wasn’t, who they say hadn’t after 8 attempts, and wouldn’t by marking him so much so that he couldn’t, in the fullness of time with the littlest of attempt reminded them in the fellowship of the blues that though he hadn’t it should never be mistaken for he can’t or he doesn’t.
    Now, yet this wasn’t even a perfomance but an oppurtunity for a better balance with least effective perfomance. What than shall we say or look forward when at the camp nou, it must indeed be a performance.
    On this note I rise and motion for a close.
    Ahhhhhmmeeeeeen.

  24. =EQUALIZER=
    February 21, 2018

    Few things I have to get off my chest.
    1. That was an uninspired attacking display from barca. We just didnt have any creativity or invention. And that was weird to see from a team like barcelona. We missed players like Neymar, Rafinha, and even a midfield sergi roberto – players who can push, create and break through lines.

    2. Back in the guardiola days, barca used to dominate games, 24 shots, 12 on target kind of averages and STILL end up with a draw or even loss during away games. But this was disappointing to see that Barca had not ONE shot on target and a defensive team like chelsea having more chances. Barca’s lack of chances was the most worrying thing. Back in the day I was never worried at the lack of goals or even trailing opposition by a goal or two because I KNEW the chances would come. With this team under the Txingurri, chances don’t seem to come as frequently like before.

    3. Paulinho is so shitty in possession it really bogles the mind as to how we paid a David Villa fee to acquire his services and have him start in BIG CL Games in a BARCELONA MIDFIELD ahead of other creative resources (which we may not really have right now admittedly). OK, he has his fans here. He is a guy that arrives in the box, he puts in his defensive shifts etc etc, but all of the other times he is SOO SHITE! There were so many moments yesterday when he got the ball when my face sank cos i KNEW it would not only NOT lead to anything productive but would invariably lead to a turnover that would cost us. That time he lost the ball with a ridiculous touch, I JUST KNEW that would lead to Chelsea’s best chance. And sure enough the ball smacked the post. We got lucky guys. Twice! And his goal was really good as well. This was one of the few matches where I feel Barca has ended up with a lucky result. That never happens to us. Usually we play so well, create so many chances yet end up with a draw or some inaccurate result.

    4. Which brings me to my next point conveniently. The good thing with EV is our new found ability to win games EVEN in an unconvincing manner. And that is important even if we culers only want to see swashbuckling football all the time.

    5. I just don’t get whats up with Nelson Semedo! Has he fallen out of favour? I thought he was our long term Dani replacement. In the first few games for Barca he looked SOOOO good. Like the real deal as he bossed all facets of the game. I have always maintained that our best setup is one where Semedo works the RB position and Sergi Roberto is in the right or center of midfield. Of that there is no doubt in my mind.

    6. What the F are we going to do when Messi retires?

    7. Can we please pay Umtiti whatever he needs? He, along with sROB and Ter Stegen are one of the few good things we have going in the young Barca player department for the foreseeable future.

    8. I would like to see a team like : MAtS, Nelson, Gerard, Sam, Jordi, sROB, Busi, Gomes, Iniesta, Suarez, Leo for the 2nd leg.

    9. Hope Dembele beefs up soon and becomes what we hope he is asap.

    • Davour
      February 21, 2018

      Semedo was suspended, I believe. But agree Paulinho did not do well, despite helping with the press. He is supposed to be threat in the box. but that happens too seldom. His role as an enabler that worked quite well during the autumn, is not happening too much (perhaps due to lack of space, of course), and in possession he is a liability. I think he brings an option to the team, but a starter? I would prefer not. Semedo as RB with Sergi as CM could work, or Sergi as RB and Dembele (with a few games more under his belt) as RW – but more likely Gomes or Vidal simply replaces Paulinho as RM, and Dembele is used if we are chasing a winner with nothing to lose.

      Messi’s responsibility at this point is just massive. He is starting plays from deep, running at defences, finishing, even defending. This will not fly in CL, in the long run. But that is the squad we have at the moment.

  25. February 21, 2018

    pheeewwwwwwwww. The final whistle was a relief. It always felt like we lose the ball and then immediately we were on danger. After those two posts, I was quite worried every time Willian got the ball. Never was I so scared about any opposition player, not even CR7. Yes, our defence is better now, but still how come we still gave so much space to Willian all the time. It was almost like the space for Dybala.
    However,all what matters now is that away goal.
    Paulinho was a passenger. Chelsea was soo soo compact in their box, he looked absolutely useless, not even space for his now famous run into the boxes. And when he finally got a ball, that too with space and time, he made a school boy header. may be he needs some rest.
    My only wish for the Messi – Iniesta era is to see us thrashing Chelsea once, please team.

  26. February 21, 2018

    You know what, it wasn’t a great performance, but remember the last time Barca played Chelsea? It was a fucking masterclass in missed chances! Fabregas and Aexis both missed criminal opportunities, along with an almost total dominant display from Barca. Chelsea had one shot on target the whole game, and guess what, Barca lost 1-0 (and yes, the Messiah- Guardiola- was the manager). All that matters about last nights game is that Barca scored away from home and didn’t lose. Job done!

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