The first defeat of the season in heartbreaking fashion in last weekend’s El Clásico is now fully in the past and Barcelona have had an entire week to rest, recover and move on to another crucial La Liga game as the defending champions travel to Anoeta for the Annual Trip to Hell known as Real Sociedad away.
Losing to Real Madrid after dominating the first hour of the game was a true gut punch and a painful way to drop all three points for the first time in 2023-24, but there are enough positive signs from the performance to give reasons to believe this team can compete in all fronts this season.
But Barça can’t afford to drop any more points until Los Blancos and Girona show any signs of slowing down, so getting the victory at Anoeta is a must. But as always it won’t be easy against a Sociedad team looking for a win themselves to get close to the Top Four, and this should be a monster test for Xavi Hernández. And here’s how we expect the boss to line up his troops for Saturday’s battle.
Sociedad’s biggest strength is their ability to maintain a crazy level of intensity for most if not all 90 minutes, and Barça must be at their best physically to handle that intensity. The full week of training will help, and Xavi will need to trust that the players he selects can handle the physicality of the game before anything else.
That is why we are not expecting any of the injured players who returned against Madrid to start here, with the coach opting for a very similar team to the one that started last Saturday. We don’t expect João Cancelo to start on the wing, however, with the Portuguese returning to the right-back position and Xavi going back to a classic back four for this one.
Alejandro Balde will start on the left, and Andreas Christensen seems the most likely to go to the bench with the excellent form of Iñigo Martínez and Ronald Araujo unlikely to be dropped in a big game. Jules Kounde is back but not yet 100%, and will more likely start against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League in midweek.
Barça’s midfield absolutely dominated the Clásico for 60 minutes, with all three of Gavi, Ilkay Gündogan and Fermín López playing crucial roles in the Blaugrana’s excellent start. Oriol Romeu struggled again and is becoming less and less important in Xavi’s system after beginning the season as an undisputed starter, and there is already some loud chatter about Barça looking to replace him in the January transfer window.
The starting midfield from last weekend will remain for this one, and we might even see Pedri in the squad and possibly making his much-anticipated return from injury in the second half. Frenkie de Jong has an outside shot of making the squad, but even if he finds a way to make the trip there is zero chance the Dutchman starts this one.
Robert Lewandowski looked very much like a man sacrificing himself to play the last 30 minutes of El Clásico, and the Pole needs another substitute cameo after a full week of training to regain some rhythm and sharpness. The same can be said for Raphinha, who also didn’t look at his best last week off the bench and is unlikely to start this one too.
But Lamine Yamal should find his way back in the team, with the teenager looking to regain his amazing form from the first two months of the season and provide some magic, creativity and service on the wing. If Lewandowski is indeed on the bench then Ferran Torres will lead the line, with João Félix once again starting on the left.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Cancelo, Araujo, Iñigo, Balde; Fermín, Gavi, Gündogan; Yamal, Ferran, Félix (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Real Sociedad? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!