Xavi’s changes pay off in the end
Xavi made changes to his starting XI, as expected, although there were still a few surprises. Alejandro Balde got the nod over Jordi Alba at left-back but Miralem Pjanic did not come into the team, as had been rumoured, and was on the bench. In attack, fit-again Ferran Torres started ahead of Raphinha.
Interestingly, this was the first time in a very long while that none of the captains started a match for Barcelona. Sergio Busquets was banned for his red card last week, while Alba, Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto were only deemed good enough for the bench.
Elsewhere, there was a recall for Frenkie de Jong alongside Pedri and Gavi in midfield, only it wasn’t quite as simple as all that. Xavi also tweaked his formation with Ousmane Dembele and Balde as wing-backs. Barca enjoyed plenty of possession but couldn’t control the match and it was all a bit of an (entertaining) mess in the first half.
Xavi did make more changes to his personnel and formation in the second half which helped the visitors seal the win. Ansu Fati and Raphinha came on for Ferran and Balde and the goals flowed thanks largely to the teenage sensation.
Still no Kounde for Barcelona
Barcelona’s inability to register Jules Kounde for their opening two matches is pretty embarrassing for the club and, presumably, extremely annoying for the player, Xavi and his coaching staff.
Xavi did speak briefly about missing the center-back again at Real Sociedad.
“It bothers us all but Mateu and Jordi are doing an extraordinary job,” he said. “It bothers me because we signed him to play and he understands that. Let’s wait for next week, let’s see if there is luck in this.”
Rafa Yuste promised last week before the game against Rayo that the club would do everything possible to have Kounde available for the trip to San Sebastian but it simply didn’t happen.
Departures are needed but exits for Memphis Depay and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are still to be agreed. Barca now have just over a week to register him and really do need the Frenchman as soon as possible.
Will Balde be Barca’s new left-back?
Balde’s inclusion in the team had been rumoured all week and the youngster made an instant impression at the Reale Arena. There was less than a minute on the clock when Barca hit La Real on the break, with Balde surging forwards and then finding Robert Lewandowski to sweep home.
It was a great moment for the youngster which should give him plenty of confidence ahead of what could be a big season for him at Barcelona. The Catalans have been heavily linked with a move for Marcos Alonso but there have been suggestions the club’s interest has cooled recently.
Certainly Barca can’t do anything until players leave, and they still need to register Jules Kounde first, but they could save themselves more expenditure by putting their trust in Balde.
Xavi talked him up before the match and deserves credit for giving him a chance. Real Sociedad is not an easy place to play but the youngster responded with an effective showing.
Ter Stegen rejuvenated after summer rest?
Marc-Andre ter Stegen came under plenty of scrutiny last season but has started the new campaign well after a good rest over the summer.
The German opted out of international duty with Germany to enjoy a much-needed break and appears to have benefited greatly from his summer off.
Ter Stegen made a host of important saves during the game but the one that really caught the eye was a brilliant effort to get down and deny David Silva.
Even Carles Puyol was impressed
The goalkeeper, who wore the captain’s armband in the absence of Busquets, could do little about the goal, which was somewhat fortunate, but otherwise coped with everything thrown at him on a busy night at Real Sociedad.
Ansu steals the show from Lewandowski
Xavi has all sorts of attacking options now at Barcelona following the arrivals of Lewandowski and Raphinha but it was substitute Ansu Fati who made all the difference against Real Sociedad.
Birthday boy Lewandowski scored twice, his first La Liga goals for Barca, while Ousmane Dembele even managed to find the back of the net but it was the 19-year-old who inspired the win.
Fati came off the bench in the 62nd minute and four minutes later Barca were back in front. Dembele struck with a clinical finish, but it was the gorgeous touch and backheel from Fati that made it happen.
Two minutes later and Lewandowski was busy making the game safe with Barca’s third. Fati’s neat header to Pedri was crucial to the goal, and the teenager also picked up another assist when the midfielder played it back to him to set up Lewandowski.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) August 21, 2022
Ansu Fati provided two assists in a single match for the first time in his career tonight, setting up both Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski.
Oh yeah — he did it inside only four minutes after coming off the bench. #RealSociedadBarca pic.twitter.com/PVmwzN9JjE
There was also time for an Ansu goal too. Lewandowski managed to get the ball to the teenager into the box and he looked the coolest person in the stadium as he rolled it home.
The arrival of Lewandowski has taken plenty of pressure and spotlight off Ansu, which can only help the youngster after a tough couple of seasons, but the new signings have also increased competition for places.
However, Ansu has shown yet again that if he’s fit and firing he is a difference maker and deserves a place in the starting XI.