Suarez intensity boosts Barcelona as Valverde's men edge past Eibar
Barcelona grabbed a first win in three Liga games by winning 2-0 at Eibar, overcoming stubborn opposition from the Basques with a goal in each half from Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba.
Eibar had only lost once in their previous 12 games and made life difficult for the runaway Liga leaders until they had winger Fabian Orellana sent off late on and he was soon followed by coach Jose Luis Mendilibar in being dismissed.
Alba's late strike added to Suarez's 16th-minute opener and clinched a victory that takes Barca 10 points clear at the top of La Liga over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid, who play on Sunday.
Sevilla and Real Betis were hammered at Eibar while Valencia were also beaten so this was no easy place to go and Barca will feel very satisfied at taking all three points, especially after the disappointing draws with Espanyol and Getafe in their last two outings.
There were a few mediocre displays across the pitch, from Gerard Pique, Paulinho and Andres Iniesta, while the fact Ernesto Valverde fielded a full-strength side means most players will only have three days of rest before Tuesday's Champions League showdown at Chelsea.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- With Barca's advantage over nearest challengers Atletico reduced to seven points last weekend, Valverde took no chances against Mendilibar's high-flying side and deployed his best XI available. It proved a wise decision as his side were made to fight for the win and only found the breakthrough thanks to the brilliance of Messi and the ruthless finishing of Suarez.
The flipside is the players may be feeling less fresh against Chelsea, but we will have to wait and see how the game at Stamford Bridge goes before deciding if the decision was in the team's best interests overall.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating.)
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- The German had to be ready due to the frequency of Eibar's attacks and although he faced more shots than he is used to, he rarely had to do anything out of the ordinary to keep the clean sheet, his 20th in all competitions this season. His passing was slightly off as his kick outs fell to Eibar players more than he would have liked but there was rarely any danger on them being costly.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Had his hands full with the threat of Takashi Inui down the left hand side but did well to contain him, although it meant he was given less freedom to roam forward.
DF Gerard Pique, 5 -- Did not look 100 percent sharp on his return to action after missing the Getafe game with a knee injury and was beaten for pace on a couple of occasions by Orellana.
DF Samuel Umtiti, 6 -- Made the occasional stray pass but also kept his composure when up against it.
DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Had to do more defensive work than he is used to and then sealed the victory with a strike of his weaker right foot, dedicating the goal to his month-old son Piero.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Continued his renaissance in the four-man midfield, doubling up with Sergio Busquets in defensive duties and guiding the team forward with his passing.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Had as commanding a presence as ever and released Messi for the move which lead to the opening goal.
MF Andres Iniesta, 5 -- Had an unusually quiet game, not helped by the limited space at Ipurua and Eibar's intense pressing.
MF Paulinho, 5 -- Has gone off the boil after his excellent start to the season and offered little in defence or attack.
FW Lionel Messi, 7 -- Played more as a playmaker than a striker here, constantly looking to pick out Suarez, which he did for the first goal and before then when the Uruguayan took too long to get his shot away. His pass saw him go level with Michel as the top assist provider in the history of La Liga with 147, while he also created the second goal.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- Battled for every loose ball and his intensity and energy was exactly what Barca needed at such a difficult ground. Took his goal well in coolly rounding Marko Dmitrovic to go on to 17 strikes in the league, just three shy of Messi.
MF Philippe Coutinho, 7 -- Was a vast improvement on Iniesta, giving the team fresh drive in attack and his expertly pinged cross-field ball sparked the second goal.
MF Aleix Vidal, N/R -- Gave the team more spark than Paulinho and helped set up the second goal, quickly nudging Coutinho's long ball to Messi.
DF Nelson Semedo, N/R -- Replaced Sergi Roberto in the 89th minute and had no time to make an impact.
Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.