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La Liga: Real Sociedad 1-0 FC Barcelona: Match Review

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A recap of Barcelona's 0-1 defeat against Real Sociedad at the Anoeta, as Jordi Alba's own-goal gifted the hosts all three points in a tight affair in San Sebastian

David Ramos/Getty Images

FC Barcelona endured a nightmare start to 2015 at the Anoeta, as Real Sociedad ensured that the Blaugrana’s dismal record in San Sebastian continued for another season, securing all three points courtesy of Jordi Alba’s 3rd minute own-goal. While Barça dominated possession and peppered the Real Sociedad goal with a number of shots, they couldn’t find a way past the La Real backline, led by an inspired performance from Inigo Martinez.

Real Sociedad

Barcelona

Possession

27%

73%

Total Shots

6

17

Shots on Target

1

4

Corners

6

8

Fouls

21

14

Offsides

2

2

Yellow Cards

5

4

Red Cards

0

0

For the first time since Jornada 3, Real Madrid had dropped points. Perhaps feeling the effects of their FIFA Club World Cup exploits, not to mention their money-spinning friendly against AC Milan in the Middle East, Carlo Ancelotti’s side struggled en route to a 2-1 defeat against Valencia CF at the Mestalla handing FC Barcelona a golden opportunity in the process. Now, with a win at the Anoeta against David Moyes’ Real Sociedad, the Blaugrana would climb to the top of the table.

Of course, Real Madrid would continue to hold the upper-hand just two points adrift in second place with a game in hand over their eternal rivals, but it was a chance nevertheless. However, as we well know, it’s never quite as simple as it seems at the Anoeta. A hostile atmosphere, a talented team; a number of factors make this one of our most dreaded fixtures on the La Liga calendar, especially after the winter break.

Why? Well, after spending their holidays at home in South America, key players Lionel Messi, Neymar and Dani Alves returned to training late, prompting Luis Enrique to leave them out of tonight’s starting line-up. In their place, Munir El Haddadi, Pedro and Martin Montoya would start. Elsewhere, Gerard Piqué was benched in favour of Jeremy Mathieu who would start alongside Javier Mascherano, while Xavi was favoured ahead of Ivan Rakitić.

All eyes then on star summer signing, Luis Suarez. Could the Uruguayan rediscover his form and spearhead a Barça victory deep in enemy territory, or would the curse of the Anoeta strike once again and deny Barça their chance at top spot?

***

For David Moyes and Real Sociedad, news of Luis Enrique’s team selection may have come as a slight surprise. Indeed, Moyes had switched to a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1, ditching his favoured 4-4-2 as he perhaps assumed that packing the midfield would help stop Lionel Messi. Alas, without Messi in the line-up, Moyes was merely sacrificing a little creativity and probably some pace on the flanks as well, while the presence of two holding midfielders against a Barça frontline spearheaded by Luis Suarez would perhaps see La Real drop a little deeper than usual.

In theory anyway.

The reality unfortunately was vastly different; in complete contrast to what one may have believed given Moyes’ new tactics, Real Sociedad started the match on the front foot. The tempo was high, the atmosphere was electric and Barça couldn’t cope. Even the simplest tasks seemed arduous and wreaked havoc in the backline; a corner was taken short and having failed to close down the dangerous Xabi Prieto, the Blaugrana paid the ultimate price.

Just two minutes into the match at the Anoeta and Barcelona were behind; the flight of Prieto’s curling cross was misjudged by Jordi Alba and the Catalan could only watch in despair as his attempted headed clearance flew past Claudio Bravo and into the back of the net. An own-goal; a simply disastrous start for the visitors. It may have been a New Year, but evidently Barça’s luck in San Sebastian was the same as ever.

Alas, what was done was done; Barcelona couldn’t change the scoreline, they simply had to react accordingly. There was a lot of football left to be played and let’s not forget that Real Sociedad have often struggled to hold onto a lead this season. Their inability to seal victories has seen them slip into 16th place, just outside the relegation zone, ahead of this match. They were beatable. We could score against them, and we could yet come out of this match with three points.

However, in order to do so we would need to see an improvement. Barça slowly settled into their usual dominance in possession and set about the task of breaking down La Real’s backline, as the hosts switched from their starting 4-2-3-1 into a deep-set, defensive 4-4-2. Consequently, and predictably, Barcelona struggled to find a breakthrough.

Space was limited, if not non-existent. The pitch wasn’t in pristine condition, but these were merely excuses. If Barça wanted to make an impact, they could. "All" they had to do was increase the tempo of their passing and display some movement off the ball.

Literally, there is nothing I find more frustrating than watching a lackadaisical performance from the Barça attack, you know the kind – where a player, usually someone operating in a deeper role is in possession of the ball and searching for an option. They look ahead, hoping for someone either from the midfield like Andrés Iniesta or Xavi Hernández to check their run and evade their marker to create some space to receive a pass. Or maybe for a forward to make a dangerous run, either past the defense or into a deeper role to set up a one-two. What do they see? Nothing. No movement. Not from the midfield, or from the attack. Hence, the only options are to play it out wide or to lump it forward. Both relatively aimless, and totally harmless.

Real Sociedad recognised this lack of movement and thrived off it. They could walk from side to side all night, and dealing with long balls towards Suarez and Pedro? Well, that’s just food and drink for the centre-halves. No urgency, little individual quality and a shaky backline – if Barcelona wanted to win this match, they were going about it in all the wrong way.

Through Sergio Canales, Sociedad nearly found a second goal; the former Real Madrid midfielder sold Martin Montoya with a tremendous dummy, turning into space on the left-hand side of the Barça penalty area before firing a shot at goal from a tight angle. The effort was powerful, forcing a save at his near post from Claudio Bravo – even with a goal advantage and a defensive outset the hosts were still creating better chances than us.

Arguably our best chance of the half came right at its conclusion; an incorrectly awarded free-kick was squared by Xavi to Pedro, and despite being a full 30 yards from goal, the Spanish winger let fly with a venomous effort from long-range. It was well-struck, but lacked any real accuracy and it came as a slight surprise to see Real Sociedad’s young Argentine goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli awkwardly deflect the ball back into danger with an unconvincing stop with his legs.

More surprising perhaps was that our supposedly predatory and clinical striker Luis Suarez wasn’t gambling on a rebound and thus was nowhere near close to capitalising on Rulli’s inexperienced stop. Then again, given his impact or lack thereof since signing from Liverpool, this was probably par for the course...

Half-time at the Anoeta and from a scoreline perspective, Jordi Alba’s early own-goal was all that was separating the two sides. Looking beyond that though and Sociedad were streets ahead, tactically and mentally; Barça needed to improve, and quickly.

***

Enter Lionel Messi.

After a disappointing first-half, Munir was the one to make way and immediately the pressure was on the Argentine forward to save Barcelona’s bacon and turn this match around. Naturally, the arrival of the multiple Ballon d’Or winning striker spurred the rest of the Barça squad into action. The tempo was higher, the movement was better and in general, our play had improved. Still, there was some way to go before we tested Rulli, let alone found an equaliser.

So, Neymar was readied and brought on as well. This time it would be Pedro who was sacrificed; all this in spite of the fact that Pedro is actually in good form and that Luis Suarez has offered very little in his display both tonight and in general for the Blaugrana. With just half an hour in which to complete their comeback, Barcelona needed a moment of magic to keep their hopes of recovering top spot alive.

For a brief moment, it appears as though they might have got their wish; a terrific interchange between Neymar and Lionel Messi saw the latter receive a pass in the Sociedad area from the former and just as Messi looked set to pull the trigger he was denied in spectacular fashion by a superb sliding challenge from the booked Inigo Martinez. It was terrific defending from the Spanish defender, helping to keep Barça at bay just as the Blaugrana begun their brightest spell of the match.

Improvement or no improvement, Barça still weren’t getting the job done. Enter Dani Alves for Jeremy Mathieu and a tactical switch to an even more unorthodox backline; one final roll of the dice from Luis Enrique as he looked to salvage something, anything from this match. At this point, a win might have been out of reach, but a chance to temporarily tie Real Madrid at the top of the table was within touching distance. Yes, Los Blancos would likely extend that gap to a three point lead after they play their game in hand, but it would leave us within one result, let’s say a Clasico win at the Camp Nou, from top spot.

And so the pressure began to build. On FC Barcelona, but also on the Real Sociedad defense. Neymar was weaving his magic, jinking past a plethora of defenders only to find one more, Ansotegi, waiting for him as he went to shoot at goal. Lionel Messi was skipping past a litany of challenges, only to find again, one more waiting for him at the vital moment. At times it was desperate defending from the hosts, but it didn’t matter – it was enough to keep Barça away and off the scoresheet.

Even when we got past the last line of defense, we still couldn’t score. A tremendous through ball, easily the best pass of the match from Xavi found Luis Suarez racing through on goal. Signed for €85 million, one-on-one with an inexperienced goalkeeper who has rarely featured this season for Real Sociedad; the winner? Of course it was Geronimo Rulli, who palmed the ball away as Suarez looked to dribble past him.

Still, Suarez wasn’t done – a cross from Andrés Iniesta found the Urguayan virtually unmarked at the far post. A free header...from an €85 million forward, a pure nine at that...straight at the goalkeeper. A good save from Rulli, but made possible by Suarez’ less than world-class header.

And with that, the opportunity was gone. The chance to go top was wasted, and for the umpteenth time this season, the sky was falling in Catalunya. Then again, did we really expect anything different from this trip to the Anoeta?

Next up, Barça are back in Copa del Rey action at the Camp Nou, hosting relegation-threatened Elche CF in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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23 Anders Thomassen 5
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25 Rajesh1101s 5
26 Varungrover 5
27 SheepleBuster 5
28 oddsbodiSkins 4
29 VGMessi224 4
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31 FCB4Ever 4
32 PG9 4
33 UnderConstructionCule 4
34 dazed&confused7 3
35 Daxterflames 3
36 feeya7 3
37 ViscaViscaBarca 3
38 MiB75 2
39 nolet 2
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42 Ghishan 2
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53 Youssefyasser 1
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55 cgill424 1
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