Lionel Messi and Barcelona have a massive week ahead on the road. A trip to the Stadio San Paolo to face Napoli on Tuesday in the Champions League is followed by an even bigger showdown with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Messi came into Saturday’s home match with Eibar having failed to score in four straight LaLiga matches, with two goals in his last nine, an epic drought by his standards. The Argentine rectified that before halftime with his second-fastest LaLiga hat trick as Barcelona cruised to a 5-0 win over Eibar on Saturday at the Camp Nou, with Messi scoring four goals.
By Blaugrana standards, the 2019-20 campaign has not been great. Quique Setién replaced Ernesto Valverde as coach in January but even that failed to prevent an early exit from the Copa del Rey. That is to say this coming week is of utmost importance to the club. Barcelona can’t afford to be upset in the Champions League Round of 16 after last year’s collapse to Liverpool in the semifinals. Nor can the club afford to lose to Real Madrid if it hopes to retain the LaLiga crown.
While no one would say Messi’s form has been poor of late — he’s got four goals and seven assists in nine matches in 2020 — Barcelona always has a different feel when Messi is scoring at a high clip. Such was the case Saturday as the No. 10 showed he’s a peak form heading into a vital stretch in the Blaugrana season.
Lionel Messi Goals vs Eibar
Messi fired home three goals in the first 40 minutes on Saturday, but his first may have been one of his best of the season. Given the ball about 30 yards from goal, Messi ran at the Eibar defense, nutmegged the last man, held off a recovering defender and dinked a shot past the keeper.
Just another goal for one of the greatest of all time.
Messi’s second came from a similar deep run, albeit a wider angle. This time Messi sinply dashed by the defense before firing one of his perfectly placed strikes just inside the far post.
Messi tried his best not to score the third goal of the match, but he was so good on Saturday he scored anyway.
José Ángel was a bit lackadaisical in allowing Ivan Rakitic to close him down, deflecting a pass to Messi with no defenders in front of him. Messi could’ve gone for goal but instead laid the ball off to Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman’s first touch allowed Álvaro Tejero to poke the ball away, but it went straight to Messi, who had an easy one-time finish.
It took more than 45 minutes for Messi to find his fourth, but it was worth the wait.
Messi danced around in the box for a seeming eternity before finding just the right moment to fire past Eibar keeper Marko Dmitrovic.
He's not finished!!
Braithwaite gets the assist as Messi nets his FOURTH goal of the day! #BarcaEibar pic.twitter.com/iWRrPfWRiM— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) February 22, 2020
The goal was assisted by Martin Braithwaite, brought into the club this week under controversial circumstances. The Danish striker also set up Barcelona’s final goal by Arthur in the 89th minute, creating two goals in 20 minutes, arguably doing more than Griezmann did in 72 minutes on the pitch. This despite the fact Braithwaite repeatedly had runs in behind the Eibar defense completely ignored by his teammates.
Despite the three-goal cushion at halftime, Eibar showed Barcelona it’s still got some things to work on ahead of matches against Napoli and Real Madrid. Eibar had a goal called back in the 63rd minute for a high kick and the Blaugrana defense looked a bit suspect at times. Then again, Barcelona also had a couple goals (correctly) called back for offside before scoring twice late.
Nonetheless, the win Saturday pulled Barcelona ahead of Real Madrid atop the LaLiga standings, at least until Real Madrid plays Levanted later in the day. El Clásico is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 1.