Barcelona wins at Eibar 2-0 before trip to Chelsea in CL
By JOSEPH WILSON
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi helped set up two goals to beat 10-man Eibar 2-0 on Saturday as Barcelona warmed up for their visit to Chelsea in the Champions League.
Barcelona broke its mini-skid of back-to-back draws to remain unbeaten in the Spanish league through 24 rounds and extend its advantage over second-place Atletico Madrid to 10 points.
Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday in the opening leg of their round-of-16 tie.
"We will head to the match with confidence," Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said about Chelsea. "We are having a good season, but that won't mean anything now. We are facing a tie against a great team that won its league last season. We know it will be difficult and that we have to play smart for 180 minutes."
Messi threaded a weight-perfect pass past three defenders to leave Luis Suarez all alone in the 16th minute.
Suarez used a feint to bring goalkeeper Marco Dmitrovic to the turf before netting his 17th goal in the competition. Only Messi, with 20, has more in La Liga this season.
Messi played a big part in Jordi Alba's goal in the 88th, when he forced a save from Dmitrovic and Alba was free to finish it off.
Suarez's goal came against the flow of the match. Pressing up the pitch and setting a fast pace, Eibar forwards Fabian Orellana, Takashi Inui and midfielder Joan Jordan threatened the visitors on several occasion in the first half.
Orellana went the closest for the Basque club when he looped a shot over goalie Marc-Andre ter Stegen, only for the ball to hit the crossbar in the 19th.
Messi also sent a ball off the woodwork in the 37th after another of his passes sprung Suarez, who returned the ball to this partner.
Orellana damaged his team's chances of a comeback when he earned bookings in the 57th and 66th. The first card was for a a needless tackle that cut down Andres Iniesta. Orellana compounded that mistake when he batted a ball into the air with play stopped and the referee waiting for Eibar to return the ball to Barcelona to take a free kick.
Eibar coach Jose Luis Mendilibar was also sent off minutes later for protesting when the referee did not book Suarez for lightly kicking the ball after play had stopped for an offside call.
Despite playing a man down, Eibar still managed to make Barcelona work. Inui had two attempts that required saves from Ter Stegen until Alba secured the three points.
"They were playing well and it is true that losing a player hurt them. It came at a moment when the game was tightly contested," Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde said. "It was important to win after the past two matches and knowing how difficult it would be against an Eibar that is having a great season."
The loss was only the second for Eibar in its last 13 matches. The small club, which has been among the best teams in Spain over the past three months, remained in seventh place.
Updated February 17, 2018