Barcelona are back in second place in the La Liga table and have taken a major step towards Champions League qualification thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Real Sociedad at Anoeta on Thursday night.
Barça scored early and played a great first half but couldn’t add a second goal and had to endure an epic struggle against a great Sociedad side, who were as good and tough to play against as advertised in the second half. But the Blaugrana showed huge character and found a way to pick up three massive points to bounce back from two straight defeats and boost their confidence with a huge win at one of the toughest grounds in the country.
The first 45 minutes were played at a very high level by both teams, who pressed each other high up the pitch and defended with a lot of intensity. There was very little space for either side when they had the ball, and there very few long sequences of possession because the fierce defending from the two sides caused a lot of turnovers and counter-attacks.
Barça were the better team on the balance of play, and they got an early goal to show for their bright start: after Ousmane Dembélé hit the post Gavi was first to the rebound and played a wonderful ball over the top to Ferran Torres, who showed great composure to chest the ball down and put it on a plate to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to head in the opener.
The Blaugrana continued to play well after the goal and created several very good chances, with Frenkie De Jong, Ferran and Aubameyang all coming very close on shots from distance that went just wide of the mark. La Real had less of the ball but were direct and dangerous with it, also having their moments on long passes and set pieces that were threatening but never truly worried Marc-André ter Stegen.
Until the 44th minute when Alexander Sorloth found Alexander Isak all alone inside the box with only Ter Stegen to beat, and it seemed like a certain equalizer. But the Swedish striker made horrible contact with the ball and sent the shot way wide, missing Sociedad’s best chance of the half and allowing Barça to have the lead at halftime.
With 45 minutes left both teams looked very good, and Barça needed to maintain their level of play to fend off an excellent Sociedad side and pick up all three points.
The start of the second half was quite simply about survival for Barça, thanks to an incredible beginning by Sociedad who sent everyone forward and brought incredible pressure with constant attacks and crosses into the box. They had a big shout for a penalty by Ronald Araujo on Sorloth, but were denied the spot kick and saw Sorloth miss two one-on-one chances in the first 15 minutes.
Barça also lost Araujo to a knee injury, while both Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba were visibly struggling with groin issues and fighting through the pain. After all the adversity Barça finally managed to take control of the ball again, using possession to keep Sociedad away from their goal and take a breath.
They also created a huge chance after a brilliant passage of play down the left and a perfect pass from Ferran to put it on a plate for Gavi to score a tap-in from the penalty spot, but the youngster somehow missed the target completely and wasted a golden opportunity with 15 minutes to go.
La Real were always going to make another push in the game to search for an equalizer, but Barça did a good job of weathering the late storm and keeping the ball despite having to play 10 minutes of added time, thanks in large part to Luuk De Jong who came off the bench and did his job as a big striker: holding on to the ball, winning aerial duels and free-kicks and running valuable seconds off the clok.
The final whistle came to give Barça what may just be the biggest win of their season. After a bad run of results they really needed to win this one, and La Real gave them as brutal as challenge as they could have asked for. Barça’s character was tested and they responded in a major way, picking up three massive points in the process. What a win!
R. Sociedad: Remiro; Zaldua (Gorosabel 81’), Zubeldia, Le Normand, Rico; Zubimendi (Guevara 90+2’); Merino, Rafinha (Guridi 81’), Januzaj (Martín 87’); Isak (Portu 87’), Sorloth
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves (Dest 65’), Araujo (Eric 55’), Piqué (Lenglet 82’), Alba; Gavi, Busquets, F. De Jong; Dembélé, Aubameyang (L. De Jong 82’), Ferran
Goal: Aubameyang (11’)