Barcelona has drawn two straight matches in La Liga but will look to restore its strength atop the table when it visits in-form Eibar.
After two consecutive draws in La Liga, Barcelona head to Eibar on Saturday with the intention of reinvigorating their bid for the league's title. Although, in the same breath, the Catalans have their eye on an all important UEFA Champions League last-16 clash against Chelsea on Tuesday night.
It would be remiss for the Catalan team to underestimate in-form Eibar, who are this year's plucky underdogs and are vying for a place in Europe themselves. The Basque outfit sit seventh in the current La Liga standings and are unbeaten in their last four games. In fact, Eibar have only recorded one loss in their last 12 La Liga outings - a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid back in mid-January.
This season they've also claimed some major scalps, trouncing Sevilla 5-1 earlier on in the month, as well as beating the likes of Girona, Malaga and Real Betis. The fact that all of these victories came at their 7,000-capacity Ipurua home stadium is a telling sign, with the close-quarter environment proving a fortress of frustration for visiting teams.
Here is everything you need to know ahead of Saturday's game:
The last time these two teams met was back in September of last year, when Barcelona made light work of Eibar as they claimed a 6-1 win.
Ernesto Valverde's side were at their brilliant best on the day, with Messi scoring four times and Paulinho and Denis Suarez bagging themselves a goal each, too. Sergi Enrich provided a goal for the Basque team.
Eibar have come a long way since that encounter at the Camp Nou, however, and La Blaugrana will be fully aware that a repeat performance won't come as easily this time around.
Lionel Messi vs Dani Garcia
Although the little magician is the glaringly obvious candidate for any key battle that involves Barcelona, he really will be called upon for this fixture. Eibar are a notoriously well-organized, robust and expertly-drilled unit, and relish keeping it compact and then hitting opponents on the break or via a set-piece.
Messi's masterful ability to unpick a defense through an eye-of-the-needle pass and conjure up a goal-scoring opportunity out of seemingly nothing will be relied on by the Catalan outfit. The 30-year-old forward also relishes playing the Basque side, hitting 12 goals from six games against them.
Eibar manager Jose Luis Mendilibar will be looking to skipper Dani Garcia to help nullify Barca's attacking prowess. The 27-year-old defensive-midfielder's brand of no-nonsense football helps to screen the back four, and his robust approach could be utilized against Messi and co's potent attacking threat.
With the midweek game against Chelsea practically in touching distance, Valverde may opt to rest a few of his key players. Samuel Umtiti missed Barcelona's match against Getafe last week through suspension and is now available for selection, but the Catalan team's gaffer could choose to rest the center back and call on replacement Yerry Mina to retain his position in the squad after impressing last time out.
The Catalans will also be boosted by the return of Gerard Pique, their other first-choice center back. Whether his reinstatement is put on ice so he's 100 percent for the Champions League clash is a tough call.
Valverde has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the clash, and although Ousmane Dembélé was rumored to have missed training due to illness, the 20-year-old attacker should be fit and ready for this match.
Eibar will be without striker Sergi Enrich, as well as Fran Rico, Paulo Oliveira and Vukasin Jovanovic. Midfielder Pedro Leon could be brought back into the fold after being ruled out for eight months through injury.
Potential Eibar Starting Lineup: Dmitrovic; Angel, Arbilla, Ramis, Pena; Inui, Garcia, Diop, Orellana; Charles, Kike
Potential Barcelona Starting Lineup: Ter Stegen; Alba, Mina, Vermaelen, Semedo; Coutinho, Paulinho, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
After winning three games on the bounce, Atletico Madrid now sit just seven points behind La Blaugrana in La Liga standings, so Barcelona will want to try everything in their power to retain that gap. This could mean that although Barcelona will want to be firing on all cylinders when they kick off at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, they'll equally have their eyes on keeping Atletico at bay in the league.
This won't come easily for the Catalan giants, though, as Eibar are a notoriously well-oiled machine. With the form they are currently in, the Basque side could be looking to record a historic win against one of the country's greatest sides.
That being said, the visitors haven't had trouble finding the back of the next against Eibar before, winning in every one of their past meetings. And as mentioned before, Messi has a predilection for scoring against the Eibar. They'll certainly need to keep their wits about them.
Prediction: Eibar 0-2 Barcelona