EIBAR - BARCELONA

Messi crushes local uprising

Barcelona asserted themselves in Ipurua, suppressing a spirited challenge from Eibar.

Messi crushes local uprising
VINCENT WEST REUTERS

Eibar used to be a town renowned for gunsmiths, hence their nickname as the Spanish 'Gunners', but los artilleros lacked a quality marksman to make it count against a Barcelona who bring a certain air of inevitability with them wherever they go.

36 matches unbeaten, Barça haven't been on the losing side since October against Sevilla. The business end of the season holds familiar promise for Luis Enrique: the Copa del Rey final, one foot in the Champions League quarters and a commanding lead at the top of La Liga.

SD Eibar are a different kind of success story, a rare and unlikely one in a town suffering from the decline of industry and hard-hitting economic crisis. That a team from these Basque hills of the stature of Eibar could possibly be in 8th place at this stage of the season in the Primera División is an extraordinary feat in itself.

Extraordinary, but don't call it a miracle: the Eibar story is one of hard work, good decision making and sound financial planning - what can happen when a club is run the way a club should be run.

To put things into perspective, this is a team who doesn't usually swap shirts at the end of a match because the players are only given a limited number, and have to pay for extras if they give them away.

Two teams. Worlds apart. Certainly in terms of pay and cachet, but Eibar have earned their right to be on the same pitch as the best in the world.

It finished 0-4, but Eibar can hold their heads high, and the tiny town will celebrate the visit of the Catalan giants as if they've won La Liga themselves.

They were up against it early when Munir grabbed a 7th minute lead, after Messi's perfect ball over the Eibar defence and Suarez' inviting low cross. Munir couldn't miss.

Barça weren't missing Neymar at all, he forced a yellow against Rayo on Thursday to ensure his suspension, allowing him to go to his sister's birthday party in Brazil, Munir stepping in ably.

Messi put Barça two up with a brilliant counter-attack with Eibar pressing hard for the equalizer. Yet another important goal at an important time in an important match from the maestro. 

The Basque minnows attacked bravely at 0-1 down, roared on by the local crowd who were enjoying their team's fair share of possession and were on their feet when their own blaugranas nearly forced an own-goal off the shins of Sergio Busquets.

Ramis headed over from a cross drawing more encouragement from Ipurua's 6,000+ seater stadium, but a little more everyday magic from Messi had Munir behind the defence again; when faced with the decision to return the favour to Suarez or shoot, he chose neither. That should have been two.

Eibar came close through an Escalante header, raising local heart-rates again; but the local uprising was crushed by that Messi-led counterattack: blindingly fast, unerringly accurate. 0-2 at half-time.

During the break a member of the USA Eibar fan club proposed on the pitch:

The second half failed to equal the romance as Eibar gave it their all, but couldn't muster a moment of quality good enough to breach Bravo's portal. When Mendlibar withdrew top-scorer Borja Bastón on 67' it was clear Eibar were readying themselves for future fights. 

Their 36 points almost guarantees safety, but there are more important days to come for the team that began their history in borrowed Barcelona jerseys.

Messi made sure in the second half by drawing a penalty from a handball and then dinking it down the middle with a media-panenka. That was Barcelona's 13th penalty this season, more than any other team in La Liga, which gives you an indication of how much time they spend in the opposition box.

It was yet another glorious performance from the Argentine, who continues to make the sublime look ridiculously simple.

He scored with a powerful effort across Riesgo to finalise the script, but it came right after he had put a free header straight into Riesgo's hands yards out. One of Suarez' greatest strengths is that mental toughness he has not to let the misses affect him.

It was a rewarding visit to Ipurua for Barcelona; with Messi in this type of form, Barça might just better last season's effort and win all six possible trophies.