MADRID // In the week that he marked the 10th anniversary of his competitive debut for Barcelona, Lionel Messi could become the all-time top scorer in the history of Primera Liga.
The Argentine made his bow as a 17-year-old in a 1-0 win at city rivals Espanyol on October 16, 2004. Now he is preparing to face Eibar at the Camp Nou on Saturday needing just two goals to equal Telmo Zarra’s all-time Spanish top-flight record of 251, set in the 1950s.
Messi, who told fans he was “constantly trying to improve and win more titles,” has been back at his best in the early weeks of this season to help the Catalans to the top of La Liga with six wins and a draw in their opening seven games.
They are two points clear of Valencia and have yet to concede a goal so far, and they will want to keep that form going against Eibar before they go to Real Madrid for the first Clasico of the campaign next weekend.
“To go into the Clasico in the best possible condition we need to win on Saturday,” said left-back Jordi Alba.
“If we don’t win this one we we will suffer when we play in Madrid. Eibar have had good results away from home and if we don’t play at a high level they will make it difficult for us.”
Eibar will hope that Luis Enrique’s side are distracted by thoughts of Madrid and their Champions League meeting with Ajax in midweek, although the Basque side have had an impressive start to the season themselves.
The entire population of the town could fit into the Camp Nou three times and still leave empty spaces, but Gaizka Garitano’s side, in their debut top-flight season, currently have as many points as their far more illustrious neighbours Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad combined.
“This is football and it’s clear that if we defend well, don’t make mistakes and get a bit of luck, we can come away with at least a point,” said optimistic midfielder Dani Nieto, formerly of Barcelona B.
Real Madrid are fourth, four points behind Barcelona, but the capital club are looking to extend their own fine run of form when they visit struggling Levante.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have won six games in a row in all competitions since losing at home to Atletico Madrid last month, and they have scored 27 goals in that time.
They have a huge week ahead of them, with a trip to Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday before they face Barca, but Ancelotti has confidence in his improving team.
“Since the defeat to Atletico things have gone well,” remarked the Italian. “We have had balance to the team and scored a lot of goals. We have conceded more, especially from dead balls, but that is something we are tidying up little by little.”
Iker Casillas is expected to remain the club’s first-choice goalkeeper for now, meaning Keylor Navas will be on the bench against the club he left in the summer.
Meanwhile, champions Atletico host Espanyol on Sunday looking to bounce back from their 3-1 defeat at Valencia before they face Malmo in the Champions League.
Valencia are flying high in second after an unbeaten start, although new Spanish international striker Rodrigo has played down their prospects of competing for the title ahead of their trip to Deportivo.
“Football is passion, but people need to be aware of what our aim is and be clear that we are not going to compete for the title this year,” he said, targeting Champions League qualification instead.
Sevilla in third go to Elche while Athletic Bilbao are looking to end a run of seven games without a win when they host Celta Vigo.
Primera Liga fixtures (in UAE time)
Granada v Rayo Vallecano, 11pm
Levante v Real Madrid, 6pm
Athletic Bilbao v Celta Vigo, 8pm
Barcelona v Eibar, 10pm
Cordoba v Malaga, midnight
Atletico Madrid v Espanyol, 2pm
Deportivo v Valencia, 7pm
Elche v Sevilla, 9pm
Villarreal v Almeria, 11pm
Real Sociedad v Getafe, 10.45pm
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