La Liga: Real Sociedad 3-2 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Messi scored his 29th La Liga goal of the season, but it was not enough to inspire the Blaugrana to victory - David Ramos

A recap of ten-man Barcelona's 3-2 away defeat at the Anoeta against Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad produced a stirring performance to come from behind and defeat league leaders FC Barcelona 3-2 at the Anoeta. Early goals from Lionel Messi and Pedro looked to be sending Barcelona on their way to their nineteenth La Liga victory of the season, but a red card for Gerard Piqué allowed Real Sociedad fought back and goals from Chori Castro, Javier Mascherano (own goal) and Imanol Agirretxe sealed an impressive comeback – not to mention a first league defeat for Blaugrana coach Tito Vilanova.

Real Sociedad

Barcelona

Possession

32%

68%

Total Shots

14

8

Shots on Target

6

3

Pass Accuracy

74%

89%

Fouls

14

15

Offsides

5

2

Yellow Cards

3

3

Red Cards

0

1

Barcelona made just one change from last week’s win over Malaga, as Javier Mascherano dropped out of the starting XI to make way for the captain, Carles Puyol. This meant that Tito Vilanova was fielding arguably his strongest possible XI, and that Victor Valdés continued in goal despite revealing his plans to leave the club when his current contract expires in the summer of 2014. Would the Blaugrana be able to pick up where they left off and register yet another victory?

After slipping to their first draw in over a month in their midweek Copa del Rey quarter-final first-leg tie with Malaga, Barcelona were quick out of the blocks at the Anoeta as they looked to dispel any fears surrounding their form. Quickly settling into rhythm after Asier Illarramendi’s early shot, Barcelona nearly scored with their first meaningful attack of the game. Andrés Iniesta was the creator, lifting the ball over the Sociedad defense to find the run of Lionel Messi. Despite protests from the home crowd, the assistant didn’t raise his flag and it appeared as though Messi would hand Barca the lead. One-on-one with Claudio Bravo; Messi had the goal at his mercy, but surprisingly the Argentine failed to direct his shot on target. Had he left his shooting boots at home?

Of course he hadn’t. A little over a minute after that glaring miss, Messi had the ball in the back of the net and again, it was Andrés Iniesta who provided the assist. Andrés has been fantastic since his move from midfield into attack, and with eleven La Liga assists to his name prior to kick-off; it’s obvious that he doesn’t need help to create chances. However, that didn’t stop Claudio Bravo from providing a helping hand with a woeful clearance that landed straight at Iniesta’s feet. As always, Iniesta got his head up, and found Messi who was darting into space. This time, there were no appeals for offside; and Messi made no mistake, slotting the ball past Bravo to hand Barcelona a deserved lead.

Real Sociedad had an opportunity to equalise through Xabi Prieto who was played through thanks to an intelligent free-kick from Chori Castro, but Montanier could only watch as Prieto squandered the chance – firing wide at the near post. Pedro then came even closer, rattling the post with a ferocious shot from the left-hand side of the box. It was a great strike from the Spaniard – and while a lesser player may have lost confidence after seeing a shot come so close to goal, Pedro continued to work hard and his efforts were rewarded in the 25th minute.

Starting the move with a wonderful decoy run, Pedro created space for Dani Alves to work his magic on the overlap. Controlling Xavi’s pin-point slide rule pass with a deft first touch, Alves squared the ball, and despite a slight deflection, Pedro was able to slide the ball into the back of the net. It was his fourth La Liga goal of the season – which keeps him below Adriano in the race for the Pichichi if that needs any context – and with any luck, the goal will give Pedro the confidence to really press on, and hopefully reach double figures before the season’s end.

Now, Barcelona were two goals ahead at one of the toughest grounds in the whole of La Liga: would their two-goal lead be enough to secure the three points? We would find out soon enough, but that wouldn’t stop Barcelona from surging forward in search of a third. Lionel Messi beat Bravo in a 50-50 challenge, and stabbed the ball goalwards. Obviously, Bravo was caught in no-man’s land, he couldn’t get back and save Messi’s lobbed attempt, but fortunately for the crowd at the Anoeta, the post stepped in to save the day. For Barcelona fans, it hinted at things to come; Messi got the better of Bravo, and even hit the target with his shot, but sometimes luck just isn’t on your side – and before the ball could spin into the goal, Sociedad managed to clear their lines.

After coming so close to what could have been a pivotal third goal, Barcelona could only watch on as Real Sociedad cut their lead to just one goal. Thanks to a mistake from Dani Alves, Chori Castro had all the space in the world on the left-hand side of the penalty area, so that when Carlos Vela provided him with the ball, Castro had enough time to pick his place and fire his side back into the game.

Lionel Messi nearly restored Barcelona’s two-goal cushion with a venomous volley just moments before the half-time whistle, but Bravo was equal to the stinging effort, and palmed it clear for a corner kick. Naturally, Barca failed to threaten from the corner and score remained at 2-1 heading into the break.

Neither manager opted to make a change at the break, although one could argue that – in hindsight – Barcelona may have benefitted from a change. After all, the Blaugrana were not passing the ball as cleanly as they were in the first-half, and this was allowing Sociedad a path back into the game. Uncharacteristic errors were gifting the Basques with possession – often in dangerous areas – and poor decisions ended up costing Barcelona dear. For example, in the first-half, Gerard Piqué picked up a soft/needless yellow card in the first half for obstructing Sociedad as they looked to take a quick free-kick. On another day, Piqué might not have been booked, but he was, and therefore why on earth did he stick out a leg when Carlos Vela cut inside in the second-half?

There are question marks over the foul – did Piqué even make contact with Vela? – but what’s important is that Piqué gave Vela the opportunity. Vela went over – with or without contact – and the referee produced a second yellow card, followed by a red and Piqué can have no complaints. This prompted Tito into his first change of the night as Cesc Fàbregas was brought off for Javier Mascherano as Barca looked to maintain their four-man backline.

Real Sociedad now had a man advantage, and with the vociferous Anoeta crowd behind them, they pressed on in search of an equaliser. Sergio Busquets jumped to the rescue for the Blaugrana, making two crucial interventions just as Sociedad looked to pull the trigger. However, he was only delaying the inevitable – Real Sociedad were not about to be denied.

Again, it was Chori Castro who got the goal, although officially it will go down in history as a Javier Mascherano own-goal. Clearly inspired by Busquets’ heroics, Mascherano put his body in the way of Castro’s curling shot but in doing so, he diverted the ball past Valdés and into the back of the net. Just like last season, Barcelona had surrendered a two-goal lead at the Anoeta, but with just 10 men on the field, it soon became a question of whether Barca could walk away with a solitary point.

Philippe Montanier appeared to be settling for a point; Ruben Pardo – a centre-midfielder by trade – replaced Xabi Prieto. However, Montanier had one more substitution to make; a substitution that ultimately won the game. Off went Carlos Vela, on came Imanol Agirretxe – the same Agirretxe who performed admirably against Barcelona in last season’s corresponding fixture. There’s something about him as well, there must be anyway, as Barca just cannot keep him off the score-sheet.

Carlos Martinez worked the ball into space on the right-wing and swung in a cross with his left-foot, a cross that fell right at Agirretxe’s feet. The defending could have been better, but it really was a sumptuous cross and Agirretxe bundled the ball home to send the Anoeta crowd into a frenzy. There was no time for a reply, no time for heroics; instead, Barcelona have four days to reflect on their first La Liga loss of the season, ahead of yet another pivotal away clash.

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