Lionel Messi put on a show for the Camp Nou faithfuls when FC Barcelona went up against Eibar on Saturday for La Liga 2019-20 action. Messi seemed driven by the talks predominantly in the Spanish press, to end his so-called goal drought. A run of 4 games which also included the match against Betis in which he had provided a hattrick of assists.
The first-half hattrick which was started off by a brilliant effort in which Messi nutmegged his way past the last standing defender by dint of his trademark shoulder-drop to arrow it past Marko Dmitrovic. It marked the beginning of something special. His second was a testament of his renewed confidence, fused from having scored from the earlier effort. It was a low drive across the face of the goal towards the far post. A neat strike which didn't meet a save. The next was pretty much a giveaway which saw him receive the ball off Eibar possession thanks to some quick closing down by Evan Rakitic. Messi seemed determined to set up Antoinne Greizmann but it didn’t quite happen for the frenchman as his loose touch was rushed off by the incoming defender but it fell kindly to Messi who slotted it home from close range. His 4th of the match which he finished off after toying a shot multiple times from close range. It was owed to some quality hold-up play from Martin Braithwaite who turned sharply to put a cross in for Messi.
On the other hand, Antoinne Griezmann had a disappointing first-half, his touch was a bit off the mark. He was unlucky in the second-half to not meet the through balls made in the final-third for him, one of which was hurried off by Nelson Semedo for a shot. He cut a frustrating figure during his substitution and understandly so. With Braithwaite around to chip in with the useful contributions, his time isn’t getting any easier.
But to be fair to him, his running between the channels of the opposition’s defenders deserves more balls. The Barcelona midfield seems rather reluctant to take that route especially Sergio Busquets who is more than capable of distributing those sort of long balls for Griezmann to meet. If Barcelona want to function like a well-oiled engine, it is crucial that they explore all possible avenues. Busquets and Frenkie De Jong’s over-reliance on finding Messi in spaces seems to be doing less good in a situation when more is just around the corner. And that is something that has been evident since the start of this season and hasn’t improved much under Quique Setien.
Danish international, Braithwaite came on for Griezmann in the 72nd minute to start off his unforeseen Barcelona career. He had a memorable debut with respect to the standard set by Barcelona’s recent transfers. He was unlucky to not end up with a goal, as his second shot almost went through the legs of Dmitrovic, but got deflected wide for Arthur who slide it home for Barcelona’s 5th goal. His capability to drive the ball when he is making his forward runs is a great sign for the team, as this has been amiss in the recent past even with Luiz Suarez in the team at the behest of his age.
The midfield had a good game as well, especially Arthur Melo whose presence makes the ball in-possession move in a more creative direction. De Jong got some minutes too in place of Busquets in the closing quarter of the match, as he seems likely to start in the UCL game coming up next. Arturo Vidal in his new role didn’t involve himself much in the midfield and acted as a decoy for Messi to move into those spaces.
The defence had their work cut off when Messi completed a 26-minute hattrick which shook the Eibar force off the rails for the remaining entirety of the match. Clement Lenglet was risked as a yellow card in this match would have ruled him out for the upcoming El-Classico but that was not to be the case. He finished off the match with Samuel Umtiti who came on for Gerard Pique who had a goal disallowed as Lenglet was in an offside position before he set it up for him.
With Real Madrid dropping points away against Levente, it allowed Barcelona to move back to the top of the table again courtesy of it. The upcoming El-Classico has gone through a shake-up in terms of what it means for both the sides now. This suggests have another fiercely contested El-Classico in our hands, which should see both Barcelona and Real Madrid give it all they have.