On the back of a morale-boosting 4-1 win against Huesca on Monday, Barcelona bit the trail once again as they prepare themselves to face Real Sociedad at the dreaded Anoeta.
Date and kick-off Time: 21st March 2021; 21:00 CET
Venue: Anoeta Stadium
Competition: La Liga, Matchday 28
Referee: Jose Luis Munuera Montero
The last time Fútbol Club Barcelona and Real Sociedad faced off, Ronald Koeman’s side emerged victorious over their Basque counterparts thanks to a penalty shoot-out winning goal from Riqui Puig. It was a fairytale ending to what had been a closely contested tie in the Super Cup semifinals, and the pair face off once again, this time in a do or die matchup in La Liga.
Heading into tomorrow night’s game, both sides find themselves in somewhat different form. In La Liga Santander, Barcelona are on the back of a 17 game unbeaten run in Spain’s top flight, stretching back to early December when they lost to Cádiz CF away from home. Ever since the turn of the year, the Blaugrana have won 11 of their previous twelve outings, a run which includes a victory over tomorrow night’s opponents in the Super Cup semifinals. On the road, which is an area that is by no means their strong suit, they are on a run of eight away victories on the trot, a run the Catalans will be desperate to continue in this crucial tie.
Since January, Barcelona has been La Liga’s best side without a shadow of a doubt. With 34 points from a possible 36, they have the highest points per game ratio. In this period, the former champions have scored 32 goals, conceding a measly eight. In said period, their average scoreline has been 2.6-0.6, a substantive improvement from the 1.9-1 they had until December.
Sitting 5th in the table, amidst fellow European candidates in Real Betis and Villarreal, the Txuri-Urdin need a victory to keep their hopes alive. The league table is in such a way that regardless of whether they win, they will remain fifth, but this should by no means be an excuse for them to rest on their laurels. A victory here will grant them a three-point advantage over Los Verdiblancos, and propel them a further 9 points away from the Yellow Submarine.
What to expect from Real Sociedad?
One of La Liga’s most enticing sides in terms of the football they play, Real Sociedad at home, are one of the most potent sides one could fathom facing. On expected points, they ideally should be second on the log with 55 points, but it is games like those against Levante, where they had almost 6xG, scoring only one, that have hampered their progress. Indeed, La Real is one of La Liga’s most wasteful sides, and on plenty of occasions in the second half of the current campaign, their inability to bury chances has come to haunt them.
Relatively unchanged given the fact they have a seemingly perfect system, the Txuri-Urdin often line up in one of a 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3. The positional fluidity of their players makes it such that regardless of formation, the Basque side is capable of engineering numerous positional and situational superiorities. Their biggest danger comes arguably from the left flank, with the likes of the ever-versatile duo of Mikel Oyarzabal and Mikel Merino.
The two have an impeccable ability to rotate been positions, with the latter occupying the wings once the former drifts inside to take advantage of the spaces left in behind. It is, in fact, the exploitation of spaces in between the lines that makes their system work as well as it does. Once their opponents have been exposed, all it takes is a pass out wide for their offensive left-back in Nacho Monreal to play a cross or a lacerating through ball for Alexander Isak to pounce on.
Like any team, La Real do have weaknesses, and the best way to harm them is by mirroring their style of play. With an intense press imposed on them, the Basque side will leave numerous spaces out back which are easily exploitable for the likes of Ousmane Dembélé, Sergiño Dest, and Jordi Alba. Their own high line hurts them at times, as they take it to extremes even they are incapable of handling it. Should Barcelona target these two areas, they might have one of their best evenings away from home this season.
What to expect from Barcelona?
Having beaten Huesca, Ronald Koeman’s mentality giants face one of their biggest hurdles: Real Sociedad. This season the pair have met twice, with the Garnet and Blue laughing last on both occasions, but a trip to Anoeta is no laughing matter. It has been about four years since Barcelona last tasted defeat at that stadium, but last season, the Catalans were, by and large, the inferior side, despite the two all draw.
The Blaugrana are expected to keep much of the same starting eleven from the win over Huesca, given both the magnitude of the tie and the fact the infamous international Break is just around the corner. With it, Lionel Messi will get the chance to become the undisputed top appearance maker for the side, overtaking Xavi.
The only necessary change will be that of Martin Braithwaite in place of Ousmane Dembélé. The Frenchman’s disgraceful finishing is something Barcelona surely can not handle for one more matchday. Regardless of Braithwaite’s individual quality, his impeccable level of improvement this season has been a sight for sore eyes. Against Real Sociedad, chances going right down the drain is surely something that the Catalans can not afford with the team crying out for a number 9.
Koeman could give Riqui Puig a start over Antoine Griezmann, as his immense creativity and northward vision could bring forth incalculable issues for their hosts.
In terms of their playing style, the Garnet and Blue are expected to repeat the same pressing game as they did in the past few games. The level of the opposition makes this a significantly more risky endeavour, but one that has to be taken.
Versatile as can be, Mikel Oyarzabal is a treat to the neutral supporter. He can occupy either one of the three spots available in the final third in a 4-3-3, rotate with his midfielders and striker to create numerous superiorities and is quite simply a pain for opposition defenders.
Neutralising him is easier said than done, but this season Barcelona have done a commendable job at it. A repeat of the same against one of Real Sociedad’s most integral system players and Barcelona might just lose the need to worry about a defensive collapse.
Previous Games: LWDDW
Granada 1-0 Real Sociedad | La Liga
Real Sociedad 1-0 Levante | La Liga
Real Madrid 1-1 Real Sociedad | La Liga
Manchester United 0-0 Real Sociedad | UEFA Europa League
Real Sociedad 4-0 Deportivo Alavés | La Liga
Position in La Liga
45 points in 27 games
12 wins, 9 draws, 6 losses
43 goals scored, 22 goals conceded
21 goal difference
Previous games: WDWWW
Barcelona 4-1 Huesca | La Liga
PSG 1-1 Barcelona | UEFA Champions League
Osasuna 0-2 Barcelona | La Liga
Barcelona 3-0 Sevilla | La Copa del Rey
Sevilla 0-2 Barcelona | La Liga
Position in La Liga
59 points in 27 games
18 wins, 5 draws and 4 losses
59 Goals Scored, 23 Goals Conceded
+38 Goal Difference
Head to head record
Barcelona 1-1 (2-3 AP) Real Sociedad | Supercopa 2021
Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad | La Liga 20/21
Barcelona 1-0 Real Sociedad| La Liga 19/20
Real Sociedad 2-2 Barcelona | La Liga 19/20
Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad | La Liga 18/19
Real Sociedad 1-2 Barcelona | La Liga 18/19
- Barcelona are on a run of 17 games without defeat in La Liga.
- Real Sociedad are winless against Barcelona in their last 12 encounters in a row, dating back to 2016/17.
- Imanol Alguacil has no wins against either Barcelona or Ronald Koeman as a manager.
- Barcelona have not managed to keep a clean sheet against Real Sociedad in their last 6 meetings, dating back since 2015/16 in the 4-0 win in the Camp Nou.
Injuries: Luca Sangalli, Miguel Ángel Moyá, Joseba Zaldua, Aritz Elustondo
Gorosabel · Le Normand · Zubeldia · Monreal
Guevera · Illaramendi · Merino
Portu· Isak · Oyarzabal
Coach: Imanol Alguacil
Injuries: Ansu Fati (knee), Philippe Coutinho (knee), Sergi Roberto (muscular), Gerard Piqué (knee)
Mingueza · Piqué · Lenglet
Dest · Pedri · de Jong · Alba
Braithwaite · Messi
Coach: Ronald Koeman
Despite a brilliant run of form in recent weeks, Real Sociedad found themselves beaten 0-1 by Granada in a rather lacklustre game from both teams. They are fighting for a European spot but find themselves up against a Barça side in strong contention for the league title. The Catalans will take this as an opportunity to close the gap on Atleti, and with that, grind out a win, be it deserved or not.
Barca Universal Prediction: Real Sociedad 1-2 Barcelona