In an apparently energy-saving performance, Barcelona edged Real Sociedad to restore their nine point lead with five games left to play in the La Liga season. Clement Lenglet opened the scoring at the stroke of halftime before Juanmi and Jordi Alba exchanged strikes midway through the second half for the final score.
After securing a spot in the Champions League Semi-Final, Barcelona were looking to return to winning ways in La Liga. In an effort to officially secure the league title as soon as possible, Ernesto Valverde sent out a strong starting XI, though a hint of rotation remained. Sergio Busquets remained on the bench, as did Sergi Roberto, and they were replaced by Arturo Vidal and Nelson Semedo. In attack Ousmane Dembele started on the left wing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
The Catalans started slowly, but launched a couple promising attacks, but none of them led to any scoring chances. While Barcelona looked strong in possession, they weren’t yet attacking with numbers, showing patience in the early going. Real Sociedad, meanwhile, focused their efforts on defending and they were having some success, holding Barcelona to several midfield battles.
Slowly and surely, however, Barcelona were showing more life, but a true offensive remained MIA. Even though Barcelona’s passing game looked strong, the team itself looked tired, emotionless even, and after 25 minutes Barcelona only had one shot - and even that one was blocked by the wall after a Messi free kick. The first real threat came in the 27th minute when Vidal won a free kick just outside of the area. Messi stepped up and took aim, but his attempt landed on top of the net instead of in the back of it.
The free kick sparked a good run for the hosts, but on both of the following occasions the final pass had just a bit too much on it and Gerónimo Rulli was able to collect before Dembele and Messi. In the 35th minute, however, the visitors launched their first threatening attack of the game and they came very close to scoring. Rubén Pardo found Juanmi with a lovely over the top ball and the forward immediately fired on goal, but was saved by Marc- Andre ter Stegen. The rebound, though, fell right to Willian Jose, but he somehow missed the wide open net.
Barcelona looked to reply right away, with Jordi Alba sending a dangerous ball into the middle from the left side, but before Suarez could tap the ball in, Aritz Elustondo made a goal saving redirection to get the ball past the Uruguayan. In the 42nd minute Messi was dazzling inside the area and managed to find Suarez through a maze of defenders, but the Uruguayan’s low shot was excellently saved. Toward the end of the half Barcelona started to create better looks as their passes showed more conviction, and in the final minute of the half the Catalans took the lead. Dembele sent a dangerous cross from the corner kick into the middle where Lenglet rose the highest and sent a perfect header to the far post, scoring his first La Liga goal for Barcelona. The halftime whistle came just seconds later.
The start of the second half brought plenty of excitement as Sociedad came out searching for the equalizer and tested ter Stegen with a long range shot in the 51st minute, but the German made a strong save. The hosts were forced into a change a couple minutes later as Igor Zubeldia picked up an injury. In the 56th minute Valverde also made his first substitution, taking Arthur off the pitch and bringing Busquets on.
With Sociedad playing more attacking football there was more space for the Catalans to exploit on the counter, but they continuously came up short. The hosts created numerous half-chances, but Rulli wasn’t called into action. The Argentine, however, made a big mistake in possession at the one hour mark, but Barcelona again couldn’t take advantage of the play. And all those missed opportunities came back to bite Barcelona in the 62nd minute when Mikel Merino made a stunning pass to Juanmi, who made a diving play to get the ball past ter Stegen and tie the game at one.
Barcelona’s response, however, was immediate. Alba took matters into his own feet, receiving the ball on the left wing, the left-back dribbled his way to the middle from where he fired a perfect shot inside the far post to restore the lead. VAR took a quick look at the goal as Dembele was offside, but he didn’t factor into the play and the goal was confirmed.
Just minutes later Barcelona looked to add another as Ivan Rakitić played Suarez through on goal, but the play was whistled dead for offside. Philippe Coutinho joined play in the 71st minute in place of Dembele, who will probably feel he could’ve added more, even though he did pick up an assist.
As their search for the equalizer continued, Sociedad enjoyed more time in possession, but space remained for Barcelona on the counter-attack. In the 79th minute Suarez played Rakitić on goal, but the Croatian’s rising shot missed the target. In the 81st minute a deflected deep free kick found a wide open Vidal on the far post, but the Chilean’s finish was disappointing.
With the smallest of margins separating the two sides, every Sociedad attack raised the heartrate of Barcelona fans everywhere. The visitors weren’t giving up and Barcelona’s inability to finish off one of their counter attacks led to a nervy finish. Roberto replaced Vidal for the four minutes of added time. The visitors pushed forward in the dying minutes, hoping to earn a rare positive result at the Camp Nou, but Barcelona held on to inch three points closer to the title. The Catalans will look to add three more on Tuesday when they take on Alaves at the Mendizorrotza.