Anoeta, San Sebastian, Basque Country
Saturday – September 10, 2011
2130 hours IST , 1800 hours, local time
In the last match, Pep Guardiola surprised everyone and fielded a team that confused everyone including Villarreal. They ended up playing a formation, that wasn’t exactly easy for one to comprehend either on the pitch or off it. With Total Football and tactics, which were last used decades back, unfolding before our eyes, it shouldn’t surprise us if we see another such performance from Pep’s men.
This time though they will step into the Anoeta Stadium and will be facing a side, who denied them the record for the longest unbeaten streak in Spanish football. The task at hand isn’t simple. Real Sociedad were one of the only two teams to have beaten Barca last season in the league a feat which even the big guns of Spain didn’t manage.
Of the pitch, it will be safe to bet on the Catalans for this game. However, on the field there are no guarantees. Most of Barcelona’s players are coming back from rigorous trips around the world. It will be interesting to see the effect of FIFA virus. Alves urged caution regarding this week’s match saying, “although in general people think that the league is decided in the games against the major rivals, I think it can be won or lost at grounds such as this Saturday.“
Team News and Tactical Brief
Real Sociedad began their season with an impressive win over Sporting Gijon. After a last day survival drama last season, Real Sociedad managed to hang on to the top flight of Spanish football. With their new coach Philippe Montanier, they are looking forward. In Xabi Prieto, they have a midfielder, who can certainly cause headaches to any team. Imanol Agirretxe bagged a brace and is in fine form. They will be counting on the home advantage, which helped them immensely during their last meeting.
However against Barca, it would be unwise for Real Sociedad to open up and start attacking. They lost Carlos Martinez last week to a red card and will not be available this weekend. But with Bravo on goal and a strong central defensive partnership, they will be offering some resistance to some irresistible forces. Xabi Prieto always offers a creative outlet and will be looking to hit Barca on the counter. Carlos Vela, who is on loan from Arsenal will be a useful weapon with his pace and movement.
Overall the most obvious tactics from Real Sociedad will be to pack up the midfield and not provide space for the likes of Messi, Cesc and Iniesta to roam free. When on possession Real Sociedad will be looking to feed Prieto, who can certainly pick a pass to make Barca’s backline run for its life. For Real Sociedad to get anything from this game, they will have to be on high-alert throughout the 90 minutes, as they are facing a team that has been trained to drain the life out slowly rather than killing instantly.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Bravo, Mikel Gonzalez, Demidov, I. Martinez, De la Bella, Illarramendi, Aranburu, Estrada, Xabi Prieto, Vela, Agirretxe
Barcelona took the field against Villarreal with just one recognized defender. This time though, with the return of Alves, that might not be the case. However, your guess is as good as our when it comes to Pep Guardiola. It shouldn’t be a surprise if the same team takes the field again, assuming that Real Sociedad will be sitting deep. Considering the fact that most of the first team members have travelled for international duties, they will not be at their sharpest best.
Carles Puyol is slowly returning to full fitness and as per latest news, he might be named in the squad. Although sure not to start, his coming back will give an extra motivation to the squad. Mascherano and Abidal are simply rock solid at the back and their ability with the ball at their feet is more than comforting for Barca’s possession statistics. Busquets will be moving to midfield with the return of Alves and this will mean one less spot for the midfield men. Xavi will be used sparingly this season and he could start from the bench this time. Adriano will be taking the left back position.
Villa scored for Spain and so has Cesc. Messi is untouchable and so is Iniesta. Guardiola might start with Villa, Cesc and Pedro. Barca this time has the luxury of having Xavi, Thiago and Sanchez on the bench. Pep might have started against Villarreal on unexpected lines, but that will not be Barca’s permanent formation. Expect a lot of rotation and formation from Guardiola this season.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Victor Valdes, Adriano, Abidal, Mascherano, Alves, Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas, Messi, Villa, Pedro
1. Real Sociedad and Barcelona have met 64 times at the Anoeta in the Primera – 25 wins for the home side, 17 for the visitors and 22 draws.
2. Thiago Alcantara is the only player to assist more than one goal (two) in the first match day of the season in Liga BBVA.
3. Real Sociedad suffered more defeats than any other side in La Liga last season (21) but drew fewer (3)
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Cesc Fabregas (FC Barcelona)
Fabregas’ adaptation to Barca-way hasn’t been a major shock. In fact, one of the major reasons Pep Guardiola wanted him was because of his roots in this philosophy. He brings into this team something that Xavi and Iniesta doesn’t have. Since joining them, he has been on a goal rampage. He is scoring for fun and doesn’t seem to stop. The partnership of Cesc and Messi is a scary prospect for the opponents. With both of them interchanging positions, it will be a nightmare for a defence to mark them.
Real Sociedad 0-3 FC Barcelona
Predicting a defeat or Barca will be seen as a jest. With the array of talent at their disposal, it is hard to see Real Sociedad having a chance. The hosts can hold on for long, but this Barca can unlock most defences. An early Barca-goal can definitely open the floodgates at the Anoeta Stadium. Messi and Fabregas to keep up their work in front of goal.