After Tuesday's triumphant trip to Manchester midweek, Barcelona face a more familiar foe on Saturday in the form of Real Sociedad. This will be Barça's third meeting with La Real in February as the Basque team played the Catalans in the Copa del Rey semi-finals. Barcelona won the first leg 2-0 thanks to a Sergio Busquets goal and a Eñaut Zubikarai own goal. Iñigo Martínez also saw red that game for choosing the wrong words in expressing his disbelief to the referee that Sociedad were not awarded a penalty.
The second leg was largely dominated by Barça, taking the lead through Lionel Messi in the 27th minute. Antoine Griezmann did equalise three minutes from time but it was not enough as Barcelona secured a Clásico final against Real Madrid.
By the time Barcelona kick off, Real Madrid will most likely be top of La Liga having played Elche earlier in the day. Meaning three points for Tata's men will be vital. The City game marked Barcelona's seventh midweek fixture in a row, a feat only matched by Atlético, so Tata Martino's rotation policy will really come into effect here.
The main team news for Barça is that Jordi Alba has been left out of the squad. The ex-Valencia full back returned from Manchester with a hamstring strain in his right leg. The Barcelona doctors were confident his recovery would be a quick one but he has been omitted from the squad as a precaution. Alba's defensive teammate Carles Puyol is also absent. The club captain did feature in last week's 6-0 win against Rayo but missed the City game and will now sit out the Sociedad game. Youngster Sergi Roberto also misses out on the squad as does Ibrahim Afellay, Isaac Cuenca and Oier Olazábal.
Gerard Piqué has started the last six matches so I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop to the bench in favour of Marc Bartra. I'm expecting Tata to go for a back five of Victor Valdés, Adriano, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra and Dani Alves. Although he may be tempted to give Alves a rest but it's hard to drop a man who has just scored a potentially tie-winning Champions League goal.
In midfield Sergio Busquets will most likely start at pivote but it is possible Tata Martino will select Alex Song ahead of him. As for the attacking midfielders all three of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas have seen plenty of game time recently. In my opinion, Iniesta has been the best out of the three in the last few matches so I'd expect him to start alongside Xavi, especially with no Sergi Roberto in the squad. Martino may elect to play Fàbregas on the left wing, a tactic which he said allows the team to have more control.
Which brings us onto the attacking front three. Fresh from scoring his first ever goal in Manchester, Lionel Messi will start in the centre but choosing his partners is a little less clear cut. Alexis Sánchez featured in the midweek tie but didn't produced one of his best performances of the season while Neymar made an appearance from the bench later on. Personally, I'm predicting Tata Martino to go for a front three of Neymar, Messi and Pedro. Which drops Fàbregas and Alexis to the bench.
Despite not showing much of a fight in the Copa del Rey ties, Sociedad do have players that can hurt Barcelona. Manager Jagoba Arrasate will be hoping the likes of Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann put in a good performance, coupled with the statistic that Barça have beaten La Real at home in the last three meetings. Ex-Real Madrid midfielder Esteban Granero is ruled out with injury as is Daniel Estrada.
Real Sociedad: WLLDDW
Real Sociead 1-1 FC Barcelona -- 12th February 2015 -- Copa del Rey
Barcelona largely controlled the game before before Griezmann's goal cancelled out Lionel Messi's.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Adriano, Bartra, Mascherano, Alves, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi, Pedro
Sociedad (4-2-3-1): Bravo, Ángel, Ansotegi, Martínez, Zaldúa, Bergara, Pardo, Griezmann, Prieto, Canales, Vela
I think it will be a very tight affair with Barcelona nicking a 2-1 win late in the game.
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