Martin Braithwaite enjoyed a strong second-half cameo on his Barcelona debut following a controversial transfer - and he vowed to not wash his jersey after receiving a hug from Lionel Messi.

After a difficult week for the club, Barca demolished struggling Eibar 5-0 at Camp Nou, with four-goal Messi in inspirational form as he netted a first-half hat-trick.

Before the match many Barca supporters waved white handkerchiefs towards president Josep Maria Bartomeu and chanted for his resignation after he was forced to deny allegations earlier in the week that the club had hired a firm to "damage the image" of players past and present, including Messi.

Then there was the controversial signing of Braithwaite, who arrived from Leganes as an "emergency" purchase to cover the absence of Ousmane Dembele and seen as an underwhelming acquisition.

But the Denmark international made an immediate impact, having a hand in Messi's fourth before getting involved in Arthur's goal that rounded out the scoring.

When asked about what Messi said after helping him score, Braithwaite told reporters: "He congratulated me, he's a great guy.

"He tried to make me comfortable [after being brought on], he looked for me with his passes. I won't wash my clothes after the hug he gave me," he quipped.

"Honestly, I'm very happy to have been able to give him assistance. I felt very well here, surrounded by fantastic players.

"I tried to run and move, which is what I have to do, and the team-mates have found me, so it has been amazing. I am very happy."

Barca coach Quique Setien was pleasantly surprised by Braithwaite, accepting the forward had more of an impact than anticipated.

"Braithwaite did more than I expected, much more," he said. "Honestly, he was very good and I think we have got an extraordinary signing.

"He'll adapt perfectly to what we do, he was involved in two goals and he understands the game so well. He's powerful and technically very proficient – he's a worker and has many things that will help us."

Barca are in action again on Tuesday in the Champions League against Napoli, before returning to LaLiga action against Real Madrid next Sunday.

Lionel Messi was in inspirational form as he scored four goals – including a first-half hat-trick – to lead Barcelona to an easy 5-0 win over Eibar at the end of a difficult week for the club.

Messi had gone over a month without a goal in LaLiga before Saturday but once he found his groove there was no hope for hapless Eibar, as Barca's talisman tore the visitors apart at will.

Much of the build-up to the contest had been dominated by off-field matters, including the controversial out-of-window signing of Martin Braithwaite and president Josep Maria Bartomeu denying the club hired a firm to "damage the image" of players past and present, including Messi.

Yet Messi appeared unencumbered by the controversies, the Argentina superstar scoring a wonderful treble in the first half before adding a fourth after the break. A goal for Arthur late on completed a handsome triumph ahead of a potentially season-defining week, which includes clashes with Napoli and Real Madrid.

The white handkerchiefs were being waved with vigour in the direction of Bartomeu by many supporters even before kick-off, and for a moment early on in the contest they looked to have another reason to fume, as Sergi Enrich emphatically headed in Jose Angel's cross.

But the offside flag spared Barca from falling behind and Messi soon took charge, opening the scoring with a remarkable goal – coolly clipping a delicate effort past Marko Dmitrovic having nutmegged Anaitz Arbilla and held off Papa Diop.

It was 2-0 in the 37th minute, Messi again driving into the box and picking out the bottom-right corner with aplomb.

And he swiftly completed his treble, turning in from close range after Antoine Griezmann wasted an opportunity to shoot.

The hosts appeared to ease off after the break, with the only notable opportunity before the hour-mark seeing Ivan Rakitic thwarting by Dmitrovic after Griezmann's cross.

However, Barca eventually increased the deficit in the final three minutes – Messi scoring his fourth after toying with the Eibar defence before Arthur's straightforward finish, with substitute Braithwaite showing his usefulness by having a hand in both.

Head coach Quique Setien does not expect Barcelona's focus to waver over a key run of games despite a series of off-field controversies.

Barca face Eibar on Saturday before visiting Napoli in their Champions League last-16 first leg in midweek and then taking on LaLiga title rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on March 1.

The forthcoming schedule represents a make-or-break stretch in the season for Setien's side, who are a point behind Madrid in the table.

Yet a number of incidents away from the pitch have overshadowed the early weeks of Setien's tenure.

Director of football Eric Abidal suggested the players had not been working for previous coach Ernesto Valverde prior to his January dismissal, prompting a strong response from captain Lionel Messi.

Barca then denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER this week that they hired a company to damage the image of key figures associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

But Setien is not distracted said ahead of the Eibar game: "You'd think it might affect us, but the reality is it's not like that.

"We're very focused on what we need to focus on. We're focused on football matters, we have a lot to focus on. We know what goes on, but I can assure you it doesn't influence anything.

"We're focused on our objective, which is to win games, play well and allow the fans to enjoy themselves. Anything other than that really doesn't affect us."

And Setien confirmed president Josep Maria Bartomeu had discussed the latest issue with senior players.

"Everything the president says is accepted. He told us exactly the same as what he said everywhere," he said. "I'm not thinking about that anymore."

Setien was reluctant to discuss the clash with Napoli but was asked about Messi's suggestion in a wide-ranging Mundo Deportivo interview that Barca were not ready to compete for the Champions League this season.

"There are things that I agree with and things that I'm not in agreement with," Setien said. "In the past 20 years, we have won a lot of Champions Leagues.

"We've got the same chance of winning as other teams have. There's no room for error. There are things we need to try to improve and that we need to do well. That's clear.

"We're not happy with everything, but I think we're growing gradually and reaching a level that will allow us to compete, definitely, with every team."

Barca controversially signed Martin Braithwaite from Leganes this week, following long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, and the new man has gone straight into the squad for the Eibar game.

"He's come here with a lot of excitement and a lot of desire," Setien said of Braithwaite. "We hope that he can help us a lot."

Also in with the chance of a first-team debut is Barcelona B left-back Sergio Akieme, who joined the club from Rayo Vallecano in September.

The 22-year-old has been called up to provide cover for Junior Firpo after Jordi Alba injured his right adductor last weekend, potentially making the Spain international a doubt to face Madrid.

Eibar's LaLiga game against Real Sociedad on Sunday has been postponed due to air contamination.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation's competition committee made the decision to call off the fixture due to a landfill fire near Eibar.

A letter from the Basque government's deputy minister for health warned against sports activities being performed due to "high levels of chemical compounds detected in the air".

The teams have until Tuesday to agree a new date.

Diego Simeone accused Atletico Madrid of effectively conceding the first half in their 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday.

Atleti suffered only their third LaLiga defeat of the season at Ipurua, Esteban Burgos scoring after just 10 minutes before Edu Exposito made the points safe heading into second-half injury time.

It was the first time Atleti had lost a competitive game against Eibar since a meeting in the second tier in 2001, and it leaves them eight points behind league leaders Real Madrid.

Simeone felt they were punished for a slow start to the game, a habit that gave him great concern in the autumn and one he hopes does not continue in 2020.

"We started badly. We didn't play in the first half. In the second, we were okay we played a good game, with more chances for danger," he told Movistar.

"We lost a half. Back in October, we were losing halves and we've gone back to doing that. It's my responsibility.

"It's a very difficult pitch. We've won here 1-0 or 2-1. Today was a similar game. They take advantage of our inattentiveness in the first half and we could have scored in the second.

"We didn't control the game, nor was there any great dominance of the opposition, but we didn't play. They played as ever, with intensity, really clear ideas – the concepts a team needs. I congratulate them."

Saul Niguez, who played at left-back, also admitted concern about the way Atleti too often start matches slowly.

"We struggled a lot at the start. They created three chances and got the goal from the third," he said.

"There have been many times this season when we haven't started games well.

"I think the end of the first half and the beginning of the second were good, but they defended well. We didn't manage to create clear chances despite getting to the byline several times.

"After the good run we were on, it's a tough blow."

Atletico Madrid suffered only their third LaLiga defeat of the season on Saturday as Esteban Burgos and Edu Exposito sealed a 2-0 win for Eibar.

Having lost the Supercopa de Espana final to Real Madrid on penalties six days ago, Diego Simeone's side looked sluggish and short of inspiration in the heavy rain at Ipurua.

Burgos struck just 10 minutes into the contest to give Eibar a deserved lead, and Jose Luis Mendilibar's side held onto their advantage with relative ease in the second half despite Atleti's control of possession.

Exposito buried a precise strike in the 90th minute to give the hosts a 2-0 victory they fully deserved.

Eibar's early pressure told 10 minutes in when Burgos tapped home following Sergi Enrich's header, the goal given after a VAR check saw the initial offside decision overturned.

Joao Felix was denied by a good Marko Dmitrovic save, but only a crucial block from Santiago Arias denied Takashi Inui a second for Eibar.

Atleti were certainly second best in the first half but Angel Correa missed two clear chances to equalise, the forward unable to connect cleanly with Vitolo's cross from barely six yards out and then failing to beat Dmitrovic after Vitolo's stumble.

Simeone opted against any changes at the break and there was little difference to Atleti's level of creativity against an Eibar side happy to hold onto their advantage.

Joao Felix worked hard to create inroads but to little effect, while Alvaro Morata saw a header comfortably saved, and the hosts secured only a second win in eight league games when Exposito arrowed a fine finish beyond Jan Oblak after a corner was cleared straight to his feet.

 

What does it mean? Atleti in danger of being cast adrift in title race

Real Madrid's 2-1 win over Sevilla earlier meant Atleti would have moved three points ahead of Julen Lopetegui's side, and back to within five of their city rivals, had they won.

However, the nature of their display will give fans little belief they can keep pace with Madrid and Barca at the top of the table even though they have 18 games still to play.

As for Eibar, they are now seven points above the drop zone.

Dmitrovic dominant

Although his four saves were relatively straightforward, Dmitrovic deserves credit for commanding his penalty area well. Atleti's rather hopeful crosses rarely looked likely to trouble him.

No delight for Angel

Atleti created few clear-cut openings but Correa spurned the best of them, managing only to meet Vitolo's good cross with his face rather than his head and then failing to find a finish when the ball fell kindly his way.

What's next?

Atleti head to Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey on Thursday before hosting Leganes in LaLiga on Sunday. Eibar face Badajoz in the cup, then travel to Celta Vigo.

Zinedine Zidane hailed Real Madrid's 4-0 win at Eibar as a "complete performance" and urged his players to maintain their momentum.

Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema scored first-half penalties at Ipurua after the latter opened the scoring with a close-range finish inside 17 minutes.

Federico Valverde added a fourth goal - his first for the club - just after the hour mark, as Madrid three points in front of Barcelona ahead of their bitter rivals' game in hand with Celta Vigo later on Saturday.

"It feels great to win here," Zidane told Movistar. "This is not an easy stadium to visit. Every time a team comes here they suffer, but we started well. 

"The first half was phenomenal in every way. We controlled the areas where the opponent could cause damage. We played very well with the ball, vertically, playing forward, switching sides. It was a complete performance and we can be happy with it."

Madrid have now won four out of five matches in all competitions since a 1-0 loss to Real Mallorca on October 19, with that defeat proving a turning point in the view of Zidane.

"We have worked hard and have believed in what we are doing," he added. "The game in Mallorca was complicated for us.

"But from there we have been very generous in front of goal and then everything else is easier. We must continue in this was because it's going to be complicated."

Zidane's side have kept five clean sheets in a row in all competitions for the first time since September 2015, scoring 16 times during that run.

"Defending is about all the team," Zidane said. "It was a difficult game for us. It is not only about Thibaut [Courtois] and our defence, but also Benzema, Eden [Hazard], Lucas [Vazquez]. 

"They are all doing well and must continue. I'm glad for everyone - they all know they can be useful to the team."

Valverde impressed in his fifth start this season in LaLiga and Zidane said: "When he plays he does things very well. I'm glad for him.

"The dynamics of the team are good. I have to manage the workload of the players, so rotation is important."

Karim Benzema maintained his impressive form with two first-half goals as Real Madrid eased to a 4-0 win at Eibar that takes them top of LaLiga.

Madrid suffered a 3-0 reverse on their last visit to Ipurua 12 months ago but were comfortable winners in Saturday's clash thanks to the impressive form of Benzema, who made it nine league goals for the season.

The 31-year-old gave the visitors a 17th-minute lead and doubled his tally from the penalty spot before the half-hour mark after Sergio Ramos had also converted from 12 yards.

Federico Valverde added a fourth for Zinedine Zidane's men, who climbed above Barcelona and surprise package Real Sociedad into top spot.

Madrid had won only two of 10 away league games since Zidane's return as coach but did not take long to assert their authority in the Basque Country, Valverde teeing up Benzema to convert the opener from close range.

Ramos tucked away the first of his side's penalties three minutes later after Pablo de Blasis stuck out a leg and tripped Eden Hazard inside the box.

Madrid put the game out of Eibar's reach with 29 minutes played, Benzema matching Ramos in sending Marko Dmitrovic the wrong way from the spot following Cote's challenge on Lucas Vazquez.

After a slow start to the second half, Madrid soon clicked into gear and had a fourth goal through Valverde's side-footed finish into the bottom-right corner.

Eibar struggled to muster much of a fight in the remainder of the match as Zidane's men claimed a fifth clean sheet in a row in all competitions.


What does it mean? Madrid move top of LaLiga

Last weekend's goalless home draw with Real Betis, two weeks on from a 1-0 loss away at Real Mallorca, led to fresh talk of a crisis at Santiago Bernabeu.

However, Madrid beat Galatasaray 6-0 in midweek and were just as impressive here, this win taking them three points above Barcelona, who play their game in hand against Celta Vigo later on Saturday.

Benzema surpasses Puskas

Benzema has now netted 11 goals in all competitions this season, this latest brace lifting him above the iconic Ferenc Puskas up to sixth on Madrid's list of all-time LaLiga scorers.

He also scored a double against Eibar in April and has been directly involved in nine goals in his nine LaLiga games against them.

Orellana struggles to make an impact

Fabian Orellana has been directly involved in five of Eibar's last six goals in LaLiga, but he failed to register a shot of any note prior to being replaced 25 minutes from time.

What's next?

Madrid's first match back after the international break is a home meeting with Real Sociedad on November 23, while Eibar host Deportivo Alaves the following day.

Karim Benzema's brace against Eibar lifted him to sixth on Real Madrid's all-time LaLiga goals list, surpassing the great Ferenc Puskas.

The 31-year-old striker, who coach Zinedine Zidane championed for an unlikely France recall this week, netted the opener after 17 minutes and soon had a second from the penalty spot.

Benzema moved onto 157 league goals for Madrid, nudging ahead of Puskas, although he remains a long way short of Cristiano Ronaldo's incredible club record of 311.

The former Lyon star overtook another Madrid great in terms of Champions League/European Cup goals on Wednesday.

Benzema scored twice against Galatasaray in a 6-0 thrashing to move onto 50 in the competition, ahead of Alfredo Di Stefano's 49.

Ronaldo boasts the Madrid record in the Champions League, too, having netted 105 times for the club.

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hopes to have Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez fit and available after the international break.

Muscle problems will keep both players out of Saturday's LaLiga game against Eibar despite them being called up to their respective national teams.

Wales winger Bale has not played a minute since a Euro 2020 qualifier close to a month ago, while midfielder James has missed Madrid's past three matches.

The pair have started individual fitness programmes but will not be considered for selection until they are able to complete full training sessions alongside the rest of the first team.

"They haven't been fit enough to play," Zidane said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"If they're going to go [away on international duty], they're going to go. They've got five or six days to see if they're fit enough to play for their country. They're not fit enough to play on Saturday.

"They haven't trained with the team. They've been training a little but not at the same pace as their team-mates. If players aren't training with their team-mates they can't play.

"They're not injured right now."

Bale's injury occurred in the same international fixture that left Croatia midfielder Luka Modric with bruising to his right quadriceps.

The 34-year-old subsequently sat out two club games, leaving Zidane wary of a repeat as his squad prepares to disassemble.

"Hopefully nothing happens, but it could. It's true in the last call-ups the players got injured," he said.

"Hopefully the players get away with the national teams, they play, and there are no injuries, and everyone comes back fit and available."

Amid the probe over why Bale and James have been absent, Zidane was asked to clarify his recent claim that Kylian Mbappe harbours a "dream" of playing for Madrid.

The Los Blancos boss said that he was simply repeating the Paris Saint-Germain star's own acknowledged ambition.

The comment riled PSG sporting director Leonardo, who called for an end to transfer speculation surrounding Mbappe.

Zidane said: "He's within his rights to have his opinion and when I get asked a question I will also say what I believe.

"All I said was what [the player] said, that Mbappe's dream is to one day wear the Real Madrid shirt. There's not really much to it to be honest."

Antoine Griezmann believes his alliance with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez is progressing well after the forward trio combined to fine effect in the 3-0 win at Eibar.

Griezmann settled Barca after a frantic opening to the contest, putting them ahead in the 13th minute.

The €120million man then had a hand in second-half goals for Messi and Suarez as Barca moved to the top of the table ahead of Real Madrid playing later on Saturday.

"There will be better or worse days, but we are getting to know each other little by little and we will do more," he told Movistar LaLiga.

Griezmann's opener was made possible by his well-timed run and a wonderful raking pass from centre-back Clement Lenglet – a move the two France internationals conceived before executing it impressively.

"We knew that Eibar were pressing a lot above and I told Lenglet that, if he saw me near the sideline, he should put it long," Griezmann said. "He did so and went 0-1.

"It was important to win all three points because, after the international break, it is always difficult to come on away trips. 

"It has been a good game and now we think about the Champions League."

Ernesto Valverde's side travel to face Slavia Prague on Wednesday, having taken four points from their opening two European matches versus Borussia Dortmund and Inter.

Antoine Griezmann's sense the pass from Clement Langlet would coming was intuitive, his run that caused Eibar defender Pablo De Blasis to panic and clumsily fall instinctive.

But then, reality and the weight of the moment briefly seemed to afflict Barcelona's €120m forward.

This was the second time Griezmann, again lining up in a left-sided attacking role that does not come naturally to him, had started a LaLiga match alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

All three were on the field for the final half hour of Barca's 0-0 Champions League draw at Borussia Dortmund, along with the second half of the 2-0 loss at Granada. On their previous starts together, Messi made it way halfway through a 2-1 win over Villarreal, while victory against Inter was only secured after Griezmann's withdrawal.

The former Atletico Madrid favourite was an unused substituted for the 4-0 win over Sevilla that preceded an international break when he failed to find the net for France. And, at Eibar's wonderfully idiosyncratic Ipurua home, the signs up until the 13th minute had not been great.

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Suarez is playing with a level of sharpness rarely spotted over the past 18 months, which is bad news for any designs Griezmann might have for operating in the middle of Barca's front three.

In the fifth minute of a lively opening to the contest, the Uruguay striker effortlessly spun Anaitz Arbilla to open up 45 yards of open space and possibilities, including Griezmann to his left.

Suarez instead opted for an audacious and poorly executed shot from a fanciful distance. Would a pass to Griezmann not have been a better option? True, an early dart from Barca's newest attacking recruit had already been headed off by Arbilla but it was hard to imagine seeing something so wild during the MSN days.

Messi. Suarez. Neymar. The trident to which the Blaugrana's latest all-star configuration is always likely to be compared. Messi has made no secret of the fact he wanted a reunion during the close season when it was clear Neymar's Parisian adventure had turned sour.

Three supreme soloists who slotted together irresistibly at their best. The clunk of Suarez swapping positions with Griezmann, only for Arthur's attempted pass to miss them both jarred by comparison.

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It is worth remembering it was not instantly all milk and honey for Barca's South American superstars in 2014-15.

While Griezmann, Messi and Suarez will be able to iron out the kinks for a few more weeks before meeting Real Madrid, following Friday's El Clasico postponement, MSN made their collective debut at the Santiago Bernabeu and lost 3-1.

Next time out, there was a 1-0 defeat to Celta Vigo. Only in their third game together, where a Messi brace sealed a 2-0 win over Ajax in Amsterdam, did things start to click.

They were in full flight by the turn of the year, their early struggles eventually a forgotten blemish upon a magnificent treble. Those are lofty standards for a signing whose worth has already been extensively disputed to live up to.

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And so, with Arbilla helpfully on his backside, Griezmann came over somewhat jittery. His feet, not quite sorting themselves out the other side of an anxious glance backwards to locate the rest of the Eibar defence.

He dug out a left-footed finish that lacked conviction but ended up in the net via goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic and the inside of his post. Suarez was the first to embrace his team-mate. Job done. Relief palpable.

From that point, Artur, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets gradually drew the sting from Eibar before squeezing the life from them. After the interval, it was time for the headline acts to have some fun.

In the 58th minute, Suarez twisted in a tight spot inside the Eibar area and shifted the ball inside to Griezmann, who saw and heard Messi darting around him. A deft one-touch lay-off left the mercurial Argentine with a simple finish.

In the 66th minute, it was Messi's turn to leave it on a plate for Suarez, having raced clear onto a throughball from Griezmann, who often roved slightly deeper to fine effect after the break.

That was 3-0 and game over. There will be tougher tests of their newly established union, but MSG showed enough at Ipurua to make Spain and Europe take note.

Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were all on target as Barcelona coasted to a 3-0 win at Eibar to end a frantic week with a fifth straight victory on all fronts.

Barca opted to travel to the Basque Country early on Thursday amid the political unrest in their home city as a result of nine Catalan political leaders being dealt long prison sentences for their roles in the region's 2017 referendum and subsequent declaration of independence.

The violent scenes that broke out in protest led to the postponement of next week's Clasico with Real Madrid, but it was back to business for Ernesto Valverde's men at Ipurua.

Griezmann opened the scoring with a classy 13th-minute goal and teed up Messi to double the lead after neat work from Suarez, who scored in a seventh straight outing against Eibar to round out the routine triumph.

Suarez's audacious effort just inside the opposition half was not in keeping with the tone of the early exchanges in which Pedro Leon blazed over from one of several dangerous Eibar crosses.

But Pablo de Blasis' untimely slip allowed Griezmann to race onto Clement Lenglet's long punt and he had the composure to clip past Marko Dmitrovic and find the net via the post.

Undeterred, Pedro Leon's exquisite right-wing centre needed evasive action from Samuel Umtiti – making his first competitive appearance of the season – to deny Charles, while at the other end Messi's quick feet nearly rounded Dmitrovic for a tap-in.

It was game over when Messi finished a wonderful team move just shy of the hour. Suarez combined brilliantly with Griezmann and he teed up the Argentina superstar to slot into the bottom-right corner.

Messi then turned provider, racing onto Griezmann's sumptuous throughball and unselfishly laying on for Suarez to pass into an open goal.

Suarez almost added further gloss with a well-struck half-volley five minutes from time, but his effort just cleared the right-hand post.

 

What does it mean? Barca hitting their stride

Messi's injury-hit start to the campaign coincided with some underwhelming early season performances. It took a while for Barca to run through the gears here, perhaps the midweek turmoil playing a part in that, and yet it ultimately ended up a comfortable day for a fourth straight LaLiga win that puts them top – albeit Real Madrid can return to the summit later on Saturday.

Messi, Griezmann, Suarez triumvirate gaining in confidence

One senses Valverde still has solutions to find defensively, but up top there is a growing understanding between Messi, Griezmann and Suarez. The trio combined to glorious effect for Messi's goal and the captain set up Suarez when he could have gone for goal himself for Barca's third. It was an ominous warning to their LaLiga rivals.

Charles struggles to fire

Eibar were arguably the more imaginative team in the opening stages with Pedro Leon and Fabio Orellana dangerous out wide. But Charles did not do enough from his central striking position to put pressure on Umtiti or Lenglet.

What's next?

Barca are back in action on Wednesday when they visit Slavia Prague for matchweek three of the Champions League. Eibar travel to Real Valladolid next Saturday.

Samuel Umtiti and Junior Firpo have been passed fit to play a part in Barcelona's LaLiga clash with Eibar on Saturday.

Centre-back Umtiti is yet to feature this season and has been out for the past six weeks with a foot injury.

Meanwhile, versatile left-back Junior last featured in the 2-0 win over Getafe on September 28, scoring his first Barca goal, before a hamstring complaint.

Both players were named in Thursday's travelling squad and then took part in Friday's training session ahead of the early kick-off on Saturday.

The LaLiga champions, who are second in the table after three straight wins, confirmed the duo had been cleared to play.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde issued an appeal for calm as his team made an early dash to Eibar to avoid more possible protests in their home city.

Violent scenes broke out in Barcelona at the start of the week after nine Catalan political leaders were dealt long prison sentences for their roles in the region's 2017 referendum and subsequent declaration of independence.

Barcelona's main airport was briefly closed on Tuesday due to the tension, with Spanish league officials later suggesting the Clasico with Real Madrid next week could be moved from Camp Nou to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Talk around that match dominated Valverde's media conference on Thursday, which had been designated to preview this Saturday's game against Eibar.

It emerged that Barca would be leaving on Thursday to make the trip to the Basque Country, rather than departing on Friday as would normally be the case.

"Tomorrow there could be things going on, protests in Barcelona," Valverde said. "There could be travel issues and we have to be there for the game. It's Saturday at 1pm and we thought this was the best option."

Valverde grew up in the Basque region and played for Athletic Bilbao for six years.

He is no stranger to tense political climates surrounding autonomy given that background, but regarding events in Catalonia he said: "I don't want to get too far into the things that are going on. They are issues that have been going on for years.

"What's happened recently is not habitual. We want people to be able to express themselves with the maximum level of freedom.

"Everyone has to respect each other and maybe that hasn’t been there the last few days."

He added: "At this time I think things need to be done in the political world so that there’s understanding. Obviously there are things you don't like to see and we hope that's a one-time thing, and that's it."

Valverde should be more comfortable once Barcelona are out of the city and he can focus on the Eibar game, an important fixture for the club given their mixed start to the campaign.

They sit second in LaLiga, two points behind Real Madrid, and have struggled at times over their opening eight games, in which they have suffered two losses.

Looking ahead to the Eibar trip, Valverde said: "These games are important because we're not at top of the table and we need three points.

"We did have a bit of a tough stretch and we reacted well to it. Sometimes you don't play well but you win anyway and you expect the team to react and that's what we've done in recent years.

"We would like to be in first place but we're not because we tripped up in a few games."

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