Real Sociedad (6th, 55pts) vs FC Barcelona (3rd, 60pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing
Competition/Round: 2021-22 La Liga, Matchday 33
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti (out)
Real Sociedad Outs & Doubts: David Silva, Mikel Oyarzabal, Nacho Monreal, Ander Barrenetxea, Carlos Fernández (out)
Date/Time: Thursday, April 21, 2022, 9.30pm CET (Barcelona), 8.30pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 3.30pm ET, 12.30pm PT (USA), 1am IST (India, Friday)
Venue: Reale Arena, San Sebastián, Basque Country, Spain
Referee: Carlos Del Cerro Grande
VAR: Juan Martínez Munuera
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA), TSN 1 (Canada), Premier Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), MTV (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a painful defeat to Cádiz at home to end their seven-game winning streak in La Liga, Barcelona return to action with a trip to the Basque Country for a crucial league clash against Real Sociedad at what will always be Anoeta in our hearts, no matter what the sponsors say.
After spending two and a half months in dreamland Barça have come back to Earth in the last two weeks, with four poor performances in a row, a shocking Europa League exit and a bad loss to one of the worst teams in the league on Monday. Injuries and a busy schedule help explain why Xavi Hernández and his troops have fallen so quickly, but now it is time to react.
Because the discourse around Barça is always black and white on steroids, they went from the greatest team of all-time after winning El Clásico a month ago to the worst team of all-time after the loss to Cádiz, and Xavi went from Better Than Pep to Worse Than Koeman in less than a fortnight. As it’s always the case in all aspects of life, the answer lies somewhere in the middle for both the team and the coach.
Despite the bad results lately, the performances are still filled with positives for a team that plays with a clear plan and structure from a very good coach who is still learning the nuances of the job as he begins his managerial career. The squad is still imperfect and key players have been in and out over the last few weeks due to injury and suspensions, and a lack of depth was always going to be a problem with such a brutal calendar especially when you’re an Europa League side having to play Thursdays and Sundays.
It is absolutely normal to struggle, and the fact that this team is still controlling its own fate to finish second in La Liga after being ninth less than six months ago is nothing short of remarkable. The balance for Xavi’s side is still overwhelmingly positive, and the season will easily be a success if they finish in a Champions League spot.
And Barça will pretty much guarantee their place in Europe’s top competition next season if they win on Thursday night. Because of Real Betis’ loss in midweek the Blaugrana could go six points clear of fifth place with a victory over Sociedad, and can further extend that gap to Betis to nine points if they win Sunday’s game-in-hand against Rayo Vallecano at home.
Barça can take away all the pressure from the final month of the season if they get back to winning ways in the next two games. But it won’t be easy, especially against La Real: Sociedad have been La Liga’s most annoying team to face this season as they don’t score or concede a lot of goals but still have found a way to stay in European competition through sheer will, fighting spirit and defensive intensity.
They are very hard to beat at home, and Barça went a full decade without winning at Anoeta between 2006 and 2016. But since their famous 1-0 win in 2017 to finally break the Anoeta Curse the Blaugrana have been dominant in Sociedad’s home, unbeaten in their last five visits with four dominant wins in the process including last season’s spectacular 6-1 victory that was easily the best performance of the Ronald Koeman Era.
Sociedad will be missing their two best players for this one as David Silva is out through suspension and Mikel Oyarzabal, who always seems to save his best for Barça, won’t be back for a while after a brutal knee injury suffered earlier this year. But La Real still have the excellent Alexander Isak up front and a very solid back four and midfield that will not be easy to break down.
Barça need to find their best football again, and a victory over such a good side with a great performance will be exactly the type of confidence boost they need to get over the recent rough patch and finish the season strong.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Alves, Araujo, Piqué, Alba; Nico, Busquets, Gavi; Dembélé, Aubameyang, Ferran
Sociedad (4-4-2): Remiro; Zaldua, Zubeldia, Le Normand, Rico; Portu, Zubimendi, Merino, Januzaj; Sorloth, Isak
Barça really need this, La Real are missing their two best players, and we’re really good at Anoeta these days: 2-0 to the good guys.