FC Barcelona saw off a spirited showing from Real Sociedad to triumph 2-1 at the Camp Nou and keep the gap to first place at seven points. With Real Madrid beating Getafe 1-0 just before kick-off, the pressure was on Pep Guardiola’s team, but a first half goal from Cristian Tello eased the nerves, before Lionel Messi made it two with twenty minutes left. Carlos Vela pulled one back immediately after, but Barcelona had done enough. The whole match however was threatened to be overshadowed by an injury suffered by Sergio Busquets.
With Real Madrid extending the gap at the top of La Liga to 10 points prior to kick-off, the pressure was most certainly on Barcelona to claim all three points. Pep Guardiola realised this, but also had one eye on the Valencia match with his team selection. For example, Cristian Tello was handed his first league start, while Xavi, Eric Abidal, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were left on the bench. It is clear that Pep has faith in the youth system, but also rates the Copa del Rey as a more realistic achievement.
Barcelona started the better side, although were not at their usual best. Lionel Messi had the first chance of the game, after a lucky break saw him one-on-one with Claudio Bravo. However, the Argentine had his effort saved, which would for the most part sum up his night.
Sociedad too had an early chance to take the lead, with Diego Ifran showing good pace to work a shooting opportunity from the right hand side, but Victor Valdes reacted well to parry it away for a corner kick. The resulting corner was whipped in dangerously, but ultimately came to nothing. That would prove to be one of Real Soceidad’s better chances of the match, and one that if converted, could have sent the game into a whole different direction.
However, with less than 10 minutes on the clock, Barcelona got the breakthrough. Despite all his critics, it was Lionel Messi with a perfectly weighted through ball for Cristian Tello, and the young winger exhibited electric pace to get onto the pass and slot it under Claudio Bravo. Remember when David Villa was in good form, like in the Manita El Clasico? Tello’s finish would not have looked out of place in that match, that’s as much as I will say.
It was Messi’s 19th assist of the campaign, further proof if any was needed to show just how important he is to the team.
La Pulga did go on to miss another chance in the first half, although even by his standards, it was not a clear-cut chance. What was noticeable though was the width that Isaac Cuenca and Tello provided, then the space it left for Thiago, Messi and Cesc Fabregas to all venture forward through the middle. Barcelona were not at their best, but the potential is there for high levels of chance creation, merely by over-loading the opposition defence. Imagine if Messi was on-form, and being supported by Andres Iniesta and then either an in-form Cesc, or Xavi. The possibilities are frightening, if Pep chooses to continue in that vein.
Cuenca was playing well in fits and bursts; his low cross from the right that reached Thiago was superb, but the midfielder could not trouble Bravo with his shot. All in all, the first half was devoid of truly clear-cut chances, but Barca were ahead and that’s all that counts.
The half-time break would have been a time for reflection for either side, with Barcelona disappointed not to have accumulated a larger lead, while Sociedad will have thought back to the clash at La Anoeta. If they could engineer a comeback then, then why not today?
The second half started much like the first was remembered for: with Cristian Tello making a nuisance of himself. Cutting in this time from the left, he let fly with his right foot, but his effort lacked true power, and was not directed away from the goalkeeper. It was an easy save for Bravo.
Antoine Griezmann had been quiet up until this point, but sparked into action to control a ball over the top of the Barcelona defense, before holding off the challenge of Javier Mascherano. The Argentine had been playing well in the match, but couldn’t get to the ball, leaving Griezmann with a great chance to equalise. However, inexperience shined through, and the Frenchman lost his composure, firing a shot straight at Victor Valdes, when a calmer finish could have led to a goal.
At the other end, Barcelona were struggling to find another goal, and even when Lionel Messi rounded the goalkeeper, he still couldn’t convert the chance. Admittedly, Sociedad did put in a fine block, but Messi really should have scored. Typically though, he would atone for his miss later on.
Before that, Barcelona did have a goal disallowed, as Isaac Cuenca’s shot smashed off the bar, with the rebound falling to Tello. The B team winger picked his spot, but his effort deflected off Dani Alves on the line, and into the net. The assistant referee was correct to rule it out, but one couldn’t help but feel frustrated with Alves for not trying harder to get out of the way.
Like Messi, he made up for it later, and coincidentally, in the same move. Alves delivered the cross, Messi supplied us with the finish, and as simple as it sounds, it was perhaps one of the more difficult chances of the match. Typical Barcelona then!
At 2-0 up, Barcelona made another error, against Real Sociedad again. Thiago dallied in possession, so Griezmann took the ball away and supplied Carlos Vela. The substitute had the composure to slot the ball past Victor Valdes for the instant reply, and it appeared as though Barcelona were going to do it the hard way...
That turned out to be the final chance of the match, but there was time for Sergio Busquets to injure himself after replacing Jonathan Dos Santos. Busquets was merely challenging for the ball, and getting there before Joseba Llorente, but the forward clumsily stood on Busquets’ shin, leaving the World Cup winner with a nasty looking gash under his knee. Fabregas recoiled in horror, and Busi was stretchered off, but fortunately, he only suffered a cut. That means stitches is the only treatment, and he might be back for Wednesday. Personally, I’m just glad he will play again this season.
Man of the match goes to Javier Mascherano, who was a rock in defense, and Gerard Pique must surely be worried about his place...a bit of competition never hurt anyone though.
Visca el Barca!