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17 Feb 2018

Messi & Suarez help Barcelona pass Eibar exam but Chelsea will be true test for Liga leaders

The two South American forwards combined to give the Blaugrana a hard-fought victory in the Basque County ahead of Tuesday's tough trip to London.

Barcelona march on in La Liga. Ernesto Valverde's side secured a hard-fought 2-0 win away to an impressive Eibar side on Saturday and remain unbeaten in the competition, thus equalling their best ever run of 31 games undefeated under Pep Guardiola in 2010-11. It was not, however, an entirely convincing performance from the Catalan club.

Eibar were thrashed 6-1 at Camp Nou earlier this season, but came into this match on a fantastic run, having lost just one of their previous 12 fixtures in the Primera Division – a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid last month.

It was something of a tired display by Barca at Ipurua, perhaps unsurprising given that the Catalans have been in action twice a week for the most part in 2018 due to their games in La Liga and their run to the final of the Copa del Rey.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez still stood out, the Argentine picking out the Uruguayan for the opening goal in the first half – his 22nd assist for his fellow South American forward. And the same combination almost made it two moments later as the five-time Ballon d'Or winner struck the post.

That was the 14th time the Argentine had hit the woodwork this term in the Primera Division and his performance deserved a goal. Aside from those two, however, Barca were not at their best.

Jordi Alba sealed the win late in the game as he took advantage of space down his flank following the dismissal of Fabian Orellana to fire home a rebound to see Barca come through a fixture that ended up being more difficult than they would have liked.

Barca started the day seven points ahead of second-placed Atletico in La Liga, with the Rojiblancos in action at home to Athletic Club at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday.

There is no let-up from Valverde's side in the Primera Division and it is now 24 matches unbeaten for the Blaugrana in La Liga this season, with 14 more still to be played.

"I'm happy to score. We knew it would be a difficult match here," Alba said after the game. "Eibar have been on a good run and we are happy to come through with another win."

But having passed their Eibar exam, Tuesday's trip to Stamford Bridge represents an altogether tougher test for Valverde's side. "It's two matches. We will go there to win, but we know they will put pressure on us," Alba added. "It will be totally different to this match."

It will indeed. With La Liga looking won and the Copa within reach, Barca now need to replicate that form in the Champions League, starting away to Chelsea.

And despite an indifferent display here, another clean sheet, a win and the form of Messi and Suarez gives them reasons to be optimistic as they travel to London for Tuesday's last-16 first leg.

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