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Keys to the Game: Real Sociedad vs Barcelona

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Mission La Liga is in full swing

FC Barcelona v SD Huesca - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s going to be an exciting end to the La Liga campaign, and the finish line is in sight.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have their attention on the same prize, both having been eliminated from the Champions League.

With a four-point gap to close, Barca will be looking ahead to what could be a decisive game against the Colchoneros on May 9th.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Each game going forward will be an epic must-win battle for the Blaugrana.

Real Sociedad awaits on Sunday, and they’ll be spoiling for a fight.

Real Sociedad will be fired up and playing for the final spot in Europe

Granada CF v Real Sociedad - La Liga Santander Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

La Real has been a familiar foe this season.

Barca has done well in the head-to-head, winning a domestic game 2-1 in December, and advancing past them on penalties in the semifinals of the Spanish Supercopa.

In both games the timing was advantageous.

Real Sociedad had a red hot start to the season behind the goal-scoring prowess of Mikel Oyarzabal.

The injury bug hit, however, and knocked them off the throne.

This time around, the two sides will meet closer to full strength.

Swedish international Alexander Isak has exploded onto the scene, surpassing Oyarzabal as the leading scorer with 12 goals.

Oyarzabal still has a respectable 10 goals and 7 assists.

Midfield veterans David Silva and Asier Illarramendi are fit and playing regularly.

Real Sociedad has fallen to a precarious, and dangerous, fifth place in the table.

This is the final spot in Europe, and they have Real Betis and Villarreal nipping at their heels.

Make no mistake, both sides will be going for goal in a quest to claim all three points.

This one will be fun to watch, and the consequences will be enormous.

No margin for error

FC Barcelona v SD Huesca - La Liga Santander Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Usually for Barcelona this means no unforced errors on the defensive end.

To their credit, the backline has been reliable of late, especially when playing with three center-backs.

In a game of this nature, however, no margin for error really means capitalizing on chances in front of goal.

It could very well be a high-scoring game.

Barcelona always benefits when they go ahead because they have the skill to lull opponents to sleep with possession to protect a lead.

That makes putting away opportunities essential.

Ousmane Dembele could use a big game. His impact is immeasurable, but it needs to start showing up in the stat sheets.

Same for Antoine Griezmann who was brought in for the sole purpose of scoring goals, and will be expected to keep a run of form going.

The good news for Barca is that the chances will be there. We just know it with the way they’ve been playing lately.

The full-backs will be flying up the wing. Pedri and Busquets will play killer through balls.

Real Sociedad will be under constant pressure.

It makes sense for Ronald Koeman to go with the formula that’s turned everything around.

Messi and Dembele up front, with an aggressive midfield pushing the game forward.

Relentlessly attack until the dam breaks.

New faces could add a spark

FC Barcelona v Cadiz CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Whether it’s in this game, or others in the near future, Koeman will need a rotation to make a successful run for the title.

Barca has a talented, and patient, bench of players who are in good form, and dying for a chance to make a contribution.

Francisco Trincao is the first one that comes to mind, but unfortunately the 3-5-2 doesn’t serve him well.

Luckily, Barca has been flexible, easily transforming into a 4-3-3 mid-game when needed.

Ilaix Moriba can slide in seamlessly in a holding or advanced center midfield role.

Riqui Puig has a lot to offer if you want to be aggressive offensively. In certain scenarios, he may even be preferable to Pedri, not to mention the importance of managing minutes to prevent burnout.

Martin Braithwaite shouldn’t be forgotten either for the structure and presence he provides in the final third.

Even Junior Firpo has turned his reputation around, showing recently that his pace and physicality are unique attributes he can offer when the team needs it.

Koeman will need the full cast of characters to maximize his side’s competitiveness.

I wouldn’t expect them to start on Sunday, but it will be fascinating to see how they’re used.

With others recovering quickly from injury, Koeman will have plenty of weapons at his disposal going forward.

Let’s hope he uses them wisely.