Things are looking bright for the first time in a long time at Barcelona, and it’s more than cautious optimism.
The Blaugrane are not only winning games, but they’re doing so in commanding fashion. The question at this point is how long the momentum will last. Winning begets more winning. Finding a way to claim a trophy in January could be a massive confidence boost going forward.
With the new four-team Spanish Supercopa format, Barcelona are up against Real Sociedad in the semi-final on Wednesday, with Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao on the other side of the bracket.
The tournament comes at a good time given the form of Barcelona, and the fact that Real Sociedad has cooled off considerably since their hot start. Still, La Real is loaded with talent and will be eager to give a strong showing.
Barcelona is a team of champions and they need to remember that
A winning mindset for Barcelona is the underlying key to success.
One of the hardest things to watch this season has been the shrinking self-image of Barcelona as a club. On the field, inferior opponents have had the belief they could go toe-to-toe with the Catalan giants and take them down. Barca legends looked like a shell of themselves, not able to shake off the shame of past failures.
Barcelona are now winning big against good teams, and they need to keep their foot down on the gas. Full speed ahead and don’t let up against La Real.
Even more important than results at this point is mentality. From the first whistle, the pressure needs to be on. That means going direct to the goal on one end, and pressing aggressively to win the ball back when it’s lost.
One thing the team lost sight of this season is that, even when their own confidence was low, opponents still respected them for the threat they possessed. The problem has been leaving their potential untapped, which quickly breathes life into an underdog once they sense they have nothing to fear.
Be direct and make every opportunity count
From a tactical point of view much of the danger lately has been generated in the midfield, with Frenkie de Jong and Pedri leading the way. Their aggressiveness in pushing the game forward, and setting up a barrage of opportunities for the forwards will be needed in this one game knockout format.
From there Messi, Ousmane Dembele, and Antoine Griezmann need to shine like everyone expects them to. There have been encouraging signs of late that they are keen to do just that.
Dembele truly is the danger man on this team. Even when he’s not scoring, his presence on the field keeps opponents honest, and creates space for everyone else. Real Sociedad likes to attack, which is great news for the Frenchman who is at his best when the game is open. It will be up to the midfielders to locate him out wide, and then enjoy the show.
Being more clinical in front of goal has been a crucial improvement in the past two games. Messi and Griezmann have led the turnaround, and they will be called upon to set the example again.
If Barcelona can start the game with energy, and the winning mindset that says we know we’re the superior team, there will be opportunities to take the lead early on. Whoever the ball falls to in that moment needs to step up and make it count. Not being ruthless has cost the team a lot this season, but it will also be the key to turning the corner and not looking back.
Get the full-backs involved in the attack, and be steady in the back
If there’s one thing to be critical of lately it would be the work of the full-backs, but it’s also an opportunity to make the attack stronger.
Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest are not members of the supporting cast. They need to be the stars of the show. Dest in particular looks like he’s starting to lose belief in himself. Whether it’s Ronald Koeman, or a fellow team-mate, someone needs to pick him up and remind him that he has the ability to break down defenders. Just because he’s lost a few duels lately doesn’t mean he should stop attacking. It’s critical that the full-backs overlap, go 1 v 1, and deliver quality service.
The last key to the game is one we’ve been harping on, and will be hoping we’ve gotten past. The defenders can’t beat themselves. Anything Real Sociedad gets in this game must be earned. You can’t expect to win a game like this without playing clean.
For the center defenders nothing is nailed down. Everyone has looked solid at times, and everyone has made mistakes. At this point it’s a tryout to see who wants the playing time the most. Expect Oscar Mingueza to be given the nod, and to have a big game as he continues to fight to prove he belongs.
What to know about Real Sociedad
Above all else, this is not a game to over-analyze the opponent. La Real has quality but it pales in comparison to the Blaugrane.
The two sides last played on December 16th, with Barcelona pulling out a much needed 2-1 victory. Since then, Real Sociedad has won only one of their last five games.
This time Real Sociedad will have leading scorer Mikel Oyarzabal fully fit. He’s the man most likely to cause problems up front, having scored seven times along with four assists in the current campaign.
David Silva looks to be out with injury, so the other La Real forwards to get the call could be Portu, alongside Willian Jose or Alexander Isak in the middle.
Real Sociedad usually play with a 4-3-3, and have a range of young players that have occupied the midfield. Expect to see Mikel Merino and Ander Guevara providing structure defensively, but also capable of generating danger in transition.
The wildcard is Adnan Januzaj. Seems like the Manchester United prodigy has been around forever (still just 25 years old!), and even though his performances are inconsistent, he’s someone not to overlook.
Above all, Real Sociedad is a balanced team. Nothing about them is overpowering, but they are young, motivated, and skilled enough to pull out a victory on any given day.
This game is in Barcelona’s hands. It’s a matter of taking care of business.
Supporters have every reason to be excited about this tournament. Barcelona has a chance to show the world that they’re back for good.