La Liga: FC Barcelona 5-1 Real Sociedad: Match Review

Guess who's back :P

FC Barcelona got their 2012/13 La Liga campaign off to an excellent start tonight, putting five goals past Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou in what was also Tito Vilanova’s first official game in charge. Carles Puyol got the hosts off to a great start, scoring within four minutes with a trademark header from Xavi’s corner. Real Sociedad did equalise before the ten minute mark courtesy of Chori Castro’s emphatic finish, but Barcelona responded in spectacular fashion as Lionel Messi put the Blaugrana back ahead by the 11th minute.

Messi then grabbed his second with just 16 minutes on the clock before Pedro got his first of the season to extend the lead to three goals by the interval. Barcelona dominated proceedings in the second half and just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, on came David Villa to score the fifth. It may only be early days yet, but Barcelona look in good shape for the long season ahead.

Barcelona

Real Sociedad

Possession

73%

27%

Total Shots

18

5

Shots on Target

10

2

Pass Accuracy

92%

75%

Fouls

9

12

Offsides

3

3

Yellow Cards

2

3

Red Cards

0

0

After Real Madrid slumped to a surprise draw at home to Valencia, Barcelona had the chance to establish an early two point advantage over their eternal rivals, but to do so they would have to win against Real Sociedad in Tito Vilanova’s first La Liga game in charge. Tito went for a strong XI, although there were a couple of notable omissions – Andrés Iniesta had to settle for a place on the bench, as did Gerard Piqué. Cristian Tello was the "shock" starter; would the young winger deliver after a patchy pre-season?

Barcelona started brightly, settling into their usual possession game and testing the two Sociedad full-backs with a couple of attempted lobbed through balls. While neither reached their intended target, the second ball towards Alves did force a corner – the first of the match, and with that came the first goal of the Tito Vilanova reign.

Up stepped Xavi, the all-time club leader for league appearances to swing in the corner, and who would be on the end of it: the club captain Carles Puyol. Despite sitting out the summer to rehab a knee injury, El Capitan was not going to denied a start and pushing away from his marker (not literally), Puyol arced a trademark header past Claudio Bravo into the net. Just four minutes into his reign; the Tito Vilanova era was off to a flyer.

Real Sociedad however, are not the type to roll over without so much as a fight. They weren’t afraid of attacking the Blaugrana, and almost immediately after Puyol’s header hit the back of the net, they responded with a goal of their own. With Jordi Alba and Dani Alves on either flank, Barcelona were looking weak at full-back (defensively anyway), and Sociedad recognised that weakness. A sweeping move that started with Xabi Prieto’s excellent pass ended with an emphatic finish from summer signing Chori Castro, via a first-time pass from Asier Illarramendi and some atrocious defending from Alves. Nine minutes on the clock and both teams had registered their first goal of the season.

Was this a throw-back to last season? Were Barcelona going to be put off by this setback? Absolutely not, as within 180 seconds of the equaliser, Barcelona put themselves back ahead. At first, it appeared as though the chance had gone. A square ball from the left-hand side had evaded Lionel Messi’s control, but while Messi couldn’t bring the ball into his stride, he did divert it to Pedro. Positioned on the right-flank, Pedro did what almost everyone else would do in that situation: he gave the ball right back to Messi, and from that point onwards, you could sense that it would end badly for Real Sociedad. Driving across the penalty area, Messi let fly with a curling effort that found the top corner of the net. The season may have only been 11 minutes old, but Barcelona were already 2-1 up and Lionel Messi had his first goal of the season.

Then, almost as quickly as Barca got their second, they helped themselves to a third. Again it was Lionel Messi with the finish, but this time round it was Cristian Tello who supplied the final pass. Displaying good strength to hold off a challenge, Tello did the best he could with the delivery, cutting the ball back into the six-yard box, but in truth, it was all about Lionel Messi’s movement. If you thought Messi was good last season, well, it appears he has got even better. The delivery was average, nothing more, but showing phenomenal acceleration and super-human speed of thought, Lionel Messi covered five yards in under a second to stab the ball past Bravo for his second goal of the game. All this in just 16 minutes of play.

Now with a two-goal advantage, Barcelona lowered the tempo ever so slightly, and the goals momentarily stopped flowing. That’s not to say that there were no chances though! Cristian Tello was a surprise starter on paper, but as the first half wore on, it became increasingly obvious why Tello was starting. His pace always causes problems, but tonight it was his agility and relentless work-rate that set him aside from the rest. Twisting, turning; he was torturing the Sociedad defense and Daniel Estrada in particular. While he was caught offside once in the first half, for the most part, Tello was all class. Oh, and so was Messi. Linking up with Cesc Fàbregas for the first time this season, Messi forced a good save and a corner kick out of Claudio Bravo with a venomous strike at the Chilean’s near-post, before Tello got involved once again, displaying excellent balance and speed to beat Estrada on the by-line, even if his attempted cut-back for Cesc was blocked.

Sociedad were trying to put up a fight and very nearly pulled one back in the most spectacular fashion as Elustondo attempted a 50-yard lob after noticing that Victor Valdés was off his line, but the Catalan managed to get back in time to tip the audacious effort over the bar. Javier Mascherano went in the book soon after for pulling back his man, but it was an understandable reactionary foul given the circumstances. Then Barcelona extended their lead to three goals after an utterly mesmerising build-up ended with Pedro getting his first goal of the season. The entire move was one and two-touch play as the ball worked its way from Cesc to Xavi, who spread the play out wide to Tello. Tello cut inside his man and teased a cross over the Sociedad defense to Pedro who was waiting at the back-post and converted with an excellent volley into the far corner of the net. A sumptuous goal and it ensured that Barcelona went in at the break with a 4-1 lead over their Basque opponents.

There were no changes at the break and Barcelona started as they left off with Cesc Fàbregas nearly creating a chance for Pedro to get his second of the evening. Chori Castro responded by rifling a shot just wide of Valdés’ goal, before Tito Vilanova made his first substitution on the 50 minute mark, replacing the scorer of the evening’s first goal Carles Puyol with Gerard Piqué.

Barcelona had a chance to get their fifth just moments later as Lionel Messi went into overdrive, bouncing the ball off Pedro not once but twice before driving a low shot into the side-netting. Andrés Iniesta replaced Cesc Fàbregas with a little over thirty minutes left to play as Vilanova looked to keep players fresh ahead of the midweek El Clasico clash with Real Madrid in the first leg of the Supercopa. While the majority of us would have preferred Xavi to be the man taken off, Tito left him on, and Barcelona continued to dictate the tempo of the game. Sociedad were barely seeing any of the ball now, let alone creating any chances, while Barcelona were carving out chances at will. Both Xavi and Iniesta let fly with good long-range efforts, both of which forced a save from Claudio Bravo.

David Villa was brought on to a wonderful ovation with 16 minutes of regulation time remaining, replacing Pedro who – based on this performance – is finally finding form once again. Villa may have been on the sidelines for the best part of eight months, but he looked as sharp as ever, getting involved right from the off, exchanging passes with Jordi Alba on the left much to the delight of the crowd. Minutes later they combined again to engineer Alba enough space for a cross, and the former Valencia man picked out Messi on the edge of the area, although Messi’s finish was lacking. The same however could not be said of David Villa.

Villa started the move, feeding Andrés Iniesta who instead of finishing the one-two, drove to the byline before playing the ball back to El Guaje, and the finish typified everything that Barcelona missed last season. It was accurate, it was calm, it was spontaneous; it was David Villa, back with a bang. Barcelona nearly added a sixth after yet another jaw-dropping move, but they would have to settle for just the five.

Next up is tomorrow’s Joan Gamper trophy clash with Serie A side Sampdoria, although the next match for the majority of the first team will be the first leg of the El Clasico Supercopa clash with Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. Visca el Barca!

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