Messi absence in Eibar draw is fuel for both camps

Eibar’s no-nonsense football under José Luis Mendilibar earned a point at Camp Nou, which was a blow for Barcelona after their convincing 3-0 victory at Valladolid using a system deploying three central defenders that Ronald Koeman unveiled for the first time. Barça used the same formation against Eibar but it was not the same team charged with making it work with Jordi Alba and Leo Messi both absent, the former due to an accumulation of yellow cards and the latter handed an extended Christmas break. It was not the first time. It was sanctioned, Barcelona hastened to confirm. As the first statement caused a few eyebrows to be raised, it was later added that Messi was still recovering from an ankle issue, albeit one that was not evident in Valladolid.

Two points that are not refundable: that’s the way the league system works. And a draw that comes at a delicate moment with an undercurrent of Messi-scepticism starting to become apparent at Barcelona. Among the presidential candidates it is notable that not all have been singing the Argentinean’s praises with equal fervour. Even the interim president, Carles Tusquets, suggested from the economic viewpoint that it might have been more convenient had Messi left last summer. It wasn’t an opportune line of thought, but it does reflect a reality. And it showed that uttering such words is no longer as sacrilegious in Can Barça as it would have been a short time ago.

Messi keeps Barcelona guessing

Barcelona could have the won the game despite Messi’s absence, and in fact they probably should have done. Martin Braithwaite missed a penalty and had a goal ruled out for the narrowest of offsides, Barça created a number of chances and were punished when Kike García took advantage of a Ronald Araújo clanger to score a fine goal. The game was there to be won but it ended in a draw, with Messi in the stands. Junior Firpo had an admirable game as Alba’s deputy, providing the assist for both the goal that stood and the one that didn’t. Standing in for Messi was Antoine Griezmann, who once again failed to rise to the task. For Messi’s disciples it was further proof that he is indispensable. For his detractors, it was another hint that he has lost interest, amid ongoing uncertainty as to whether he intends to remain at the club beyond this season.