Barcelona will bring an end to their title winning La Liga campaign when they lock horns with Eibar at the Ipurua Municipal Stadium on Sunday.
Just one round of fixtures remain for the curtains to fall on the 2018-19 La Liga season. The newly crowned champions, Barcelona, who have also defended their crown, will play the final game of the season when they take on SD Eibar at the Ipurua Municipal Stadium on Sunday evening.
One of the smallest clubs in the division, Eibar have successfully completed their fifth successive season in La Liga, which in itself is nothing short of remarkable. But, after finishing the last two campaigns in the top half, Los Armeros will narrowly miss out on making it three in a row, with fellow Basque outfit Deportivo Alaves taking that final spot.
For Barcelona, on the other hand, it has been yet another season of domestic dominance. The Blaugrana wrapped up their 26th La Liga title last month, while also having reached the Copa del Rey final, scheduled to be played next weekend. Before then, Ernesto Valverde’s men will be keen on building momentum, with a win to finish their league campaign.
The reverse fixture, played at Camp Nou back in January, saw Barcelona coast to a 3-0 win, with Luis Suarez (brace) and Lionel Messi getting the goals. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Jose Luis Mendilibar does not have any fresh injury concerns ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Sunday, the Eibar boss will continue to remain without four first-team players, with Pedro Bigas (calf), Ruben Pena (knee), Anaitz Arbilla (knee) and Marc Cardona (hamstring) missing out.
In the absence of Arbilla and Bigas, Paulo Oliviera becomes a certainty to start alongside Ivan Ramis at the heart of the Eibar defence. On the left flank, Cote is expected to be deployed, while Jordi Calavera should start on the opposite side. Marko Dmitrovic is expected to be the man in goal.
Up ahead in the midfield double pivot, Sergio Alvaraz and Joan Jordan pick themselves, while Fabian Orellana will be the chief creator for the hosts against Barcelona. The 33-year-old ought to occupy the central role in three-man attacking unit behind the striker.
Speaking of the striker, Sergi Enrich should lead the line for Eibar once again, with Kike and Pedro Leon being the two wingers who will look to cause a lot of trouble to the Barcelona full-backs.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Dmitrovic; Calavera, Ramis, Oliveira, Cote; Alvarez, Jordan; Leon, Orellana, Kike; Enrich
Ernesto Valverde has a gamut of pressing issues to deal with ahead of the trip to the Basque country to take on Eibar. While these problems do not present major issues for the game this weekend, the Barcelona boss will be sweating over the fitness of several key players ahead of the Copa del Rey final.
The likes of Rafinha (knee), Philippe Coutinho (thigh), Ousmane Dembele (hamstring) and Luis Suarez (knee) are believed to be done for the season, which comes as a blow to Valverde. In addition to the aforementioned quartet, Arthur (hip) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (knee) will not be available to take on Eibar.
In the absence of ter Stegen, Jasper Cillessen will get the opportunity to probably play his final La Liga game for Barcelona. Up ahead in defence, Nelson Semedo ought to be handed a chance to impress, with the same being said about Samuel Umtiti. Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba pick themselves.
In the middle of the park, Sergio Busquets might get a rest ahead of the cup final, with Ivan Rakitic expected to start as the deepest of the three midfielders. Carles Alena and Arturo Vidal should be the other two midfielders. The major issue for Barcelona is the absence of Suarez.
In the star Uruguayan striker’s absence, Barcelona B player Abel Ruiz might get his first start for the first-team after coming off the bench last week against Getafe. Lionel Messi and Malcom will complete the attacking unit.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Cillessen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Vidal, Rakitic, Alena; Messi, Ruiz, Malcom
- Barcelona have won all nine of the La Liga meetings between the two teams, including a 3-0 victory in the reverse match at Camp Nou back in January.
- Eibar, who have scored just four goals in these meetings with Barcelona, have never managed to find the back of the net against the Blaugrana at the Ipurua.
- Lionel Messi is just two goals away from completing a half century of goals across all competitions this season (48 currently).
- Barcelona have lost their last two away games and are now hoping to avoid going three in a row for the first time under Ernesto Valverde.
- Arturo Vidal has been directly involved in nine goals in La Liga this season (three scored and six assisted), more than any other Barcelona midfielder.
Player to Watch
For quite some time now, one of the biggest raging debates at Barcelona concerns the striker’s slot. While Luis Suarez had led the line with aplomb for Barcelona, the fact that the Uruguayan is approaching the end of his glittering career is not lost on anyone.
The focus remains on signing the long-term successor for Suarez, which seems to be failing so far, with Real Madrid set to steal Luka Jovic from Barcelona. Amid all this, Abel Ruiz has a golden opportunity to seal his place as at least a worthy backup, if not get a chance to stake claim for a bigger role.
Set to make his full debut against Eibar, Abel Ruiz will have the biggest day of his life on Sunday. How he grabs this opportunity will now determine the fate of the striker’s spot in the Barcelona first-team setup.
Eibar 1-2 Barcelona
Recent results have suggested that Barcelona indeed have some weaknesses at the back, which have finally been exposed at the end of a long winding season. The La Liga champions should indeed be somewhat vulnerable once again on their travels, when they meet Eibar.
The tie is thus, setting up to be an enticing one, leaving us with an impressionable image from the final game of the season. But, despite missing plenty of heavy hitters, Barcelona should do more than enough to garner all three points yet again. Expect the typical Messi magic to be on show at some point of the game, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for the visitors.