Barcelona survived a comeback attempt by Real Sociedad who attempted to erase two two-goal deficits, but ultimately fell short. All five goals were scored in the first half, the last four in the last eight minutes of the half. Barcelona were led by Lionel Messi, who scored two and added an assist, on a Paco Alcacer goal. Real Sociedad countered with a Samuel Umtiti own-goal and a Xabi Prieto goal. The second half, despite furious pressure from the visitors and some good chances for Barcelona, would not see a score-change.
After two losses with no goals scored, Barcelona were looking to right the ship quickly against a Real Sociedad side that in this millennium hasn’t caused Barcelona many problems at the Camp Nou. But you wouldn’t think it after the opening few minutes as the visitors almost took the lead after just two minutes as poor marking left Mikel Oyarzabal all alone on the near post. The winger’s shot was destined for the far post, but Gerard Pique managed to make the crucial block.
Barcelona were lively in attack, but their defense was once again in shambles, even though Luis Enrique returned to the more conventional four-man defense, but the two full-backs often offered very little support defensively.
The early minutes also showed that Messi appeared in excellent form, as evidenced in a brilliant through ball to Jordi Alba for a 2-0 breakaway that seemed destined to open the scoring, but Alba’s pass was behind Luis Suarez, and the Uruguayan couldn’t get to the ball. The back-and-forth action continued with Oyarzabal again escaping coverage in the 12th minute, but his close range finish was right at Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who made the save.
After allowing plenty of time and space to La Real players in the opening stages of the game, Barcelona finally managed to take control of the ball and the game after the 15 minute mark, and the Catalans were quickly rewarded. In the 17th minute, Paco brilliantly controlled a difficult pass on the left side. He passed the ball to Suarez, who extended the play further right to Messi. In good positon and in space, the Argentine fired a bullet from 22-yards out just inside the post for the Barcelona lead.
Three minutes later, the hosts had a good chance to add to the score after yet another stunning over the top ball from Messi, this one to Suarez. Suarez tried to return the favor and find Messi in the middle, but the pass resulted in a massive collision between Messi and Gerónimo Rulli. But play went on and Rakitić set-up Suarez for a volley shot that was excellently blocked. Shortly thereafter Paco had a glorious chance to double Barcelona’s lead after receiving a good low cross from the Sergi Roberto, but the Spaniard missed the ball completely.
Prolonged pressure by Barcelona resulted in a 2-0 lead in the 37th minute, and again all three Barcelona attackers were involved. Suarez found Paco inside the area with a lovely ball and the former Valencia man immediately tried to pass the ball back. The ball was intercepted by Raul Navas, but Suarez stole it right back and fired a powerful shot on target that was saved by Rulli. The rebound, however, found Messi who acrobatically managed to direct the ball on goal for his second of the game.
Barcelona’s pressure dropped slightly toward the end of the half and Real Sociedad quickly managed to pin Barcelona deep. Danger came from left and right of ter Stegen’s goal, but the ultimate punishment came from ter Stegen’s right, after Iñigo Martínez inexplicably controlled the ball in between Roberto and Andre Gomes. From a tough angle, Martínez fired a hopeful shot that went past ter Stegen and bounced in off Umtiti.
Barcelona’s response to allowing a goal was to immediately restore the two goal lead. Gomes and Sergio Busquets combined to steal the ball deep in enemy territory and the latter quickly found Messi, who wasted no time in creating a chance for Paco. Alcacer wasted no time and slotted the ball out of reach of Rulli and into the back of the net.
With almost no time left in the first half, Barcelona managed to concede one more time. In added time the visitors again cut Barcelona’s lead in half as the Catalan defense yet again fell asleep. Willian Jose’s seemingly simple cross from the left side completely carved up the Barcelona defense, which had both center-backs poorly positioned, and Prieto accurately brought Real Sociedad within one.
Both sides returned from the break with the same lineups and the play on the pitch was very much the same as well. Barcelona continued to struggle defensively, but looked good in attack, albeit wasteful. Another chance went begging in the 51st minutes when the Catalans launched a quick counter attack down the right wing and Roberto sent a low ball to Messi in the middle, but the Argentine was unable to get a shot off.
Even though Barcelona often threatened, a Real Sociedad goal was actually much likelier to happen as Barcelona started to struggle in possession and made numerous mistakes defensively, with Pique “excelling” by making more hand gestures than recoveries.
With the game in the balance, both managers turned to their respective benches for reinforcements. Eusebio Sacristan was the first to make a move, taking off Carlos Vela and replacing him with Sergio Canales. Then, Lucho substituted Gomes with Andres Iniesta.
Barcelona were hanging on, but the addition of Iniesta brought stability to the midfield and controlling the ball became easier, and with that came time in the offensive zone. While Barcelona didn’t create much, the defensive ranks needed every break they could get.
With just over ten minutes left on the clock, both managers made changes to their lineups, with Jon Bautista replacing Willian for Eusebio and Denis Suarez taking Paco Alcacer’s spot for Lucho. Just moments later, Barcelona created one of their best chances of the second half, with Ivan Rakitić spearheading the counter and taking the shot, but his effort lacked power to beat Rulli.
In the 84th minute Eusebio made his last substitution, with Esteban Granero replacing David Zurutuza. Messi then went on one of his trademark runs, but was pressured off the ball deep in the area. Moments later Denis tried his luck with a shot from the edge, but Rulli was there to make the easy save.
After the first half goal-fest, the second turned out to be mostly about protecting the lead which was neither pretty nor easy, but Barcelona survived numerous Real Sociedad threats, and even had a chance in the dying moments to win by two. However, Suarez was presented with what can only be described as a too easy opportunity, one-on-one with Rulli, and the score remained the same, 3-2 in favor of Barcelona who continue to lag behind Real Madrid.
Next on the fixture list is the return leg against Juventus, which will require another historical comeback. But while Barcelona’s attack looked like it could be up to the task ahead, the defense will need some extra time in training if there is any chance of a turnaround.