Saturday, February 22, 19:00 GMT
Matchday 25 of La Liga will see the defending champions FC Barcelona travel to the Basque country to face Real Sociedad at the Anoeta, in what is sure to be one of the sternest tests remaining in their quest to defend the title. Real Sociedad are far from the level they showed last season, but they still harbour ambitions of returning to the Champions League, after a disappointing campaign in that competition this season, with no wins out of six group stage matches. Both teams faced recently in the Copa del Rey semifinals and although Barcelona ended up advancing comfortably over the two legs, Real Sociedad got a 1-1 draw a home, a result that will surely give them the belief that it is possible to get a good result against the Catalans this weekend.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Real Sociedad haven’t even come close to reaching the same heights they did last season, but they’re still having a very solid campaign and have legitimate ambitions of returning to the Champions League. Unlike most other teams too, Barcelona don’t really scare them, at least not at the Anoeta; apart from the aforementioned Cup match, La Real were also one of two teams to beat FC Barcelona last season in La Liga; they know how to trouble the Catalan juggernaut and their manager Arrasate has already declared that he won’t settle for a draw
Claudio Bravo will start as always, with Angel, Martinez, Ansotegi and Zaldúa making the back four ahead of him, shielded by Pardo and Bergara; Griezmann, Canales and Vela will play behind the lone striker Seferovic, who should be the one chosen to replace Agirretxe. Even knowing they will have to defend way more against Barcelona than they generally like to, Real Sociedad will remain faithful to their principles, looking to put pressure on the Catalans whenever possible and looking to build up their attack through quick, intricate passing whenever they have possession. The pace of Griezmann and Vela will be absolutely crucial, those two will be the key to unlock Barcelona’s defense.
Real Sociedad have notoriously struggled in their biggest matches so far this year, both in the league and in the Champions League but they’ll be looking to turn that around here against a Barcelona side who will be under tremendous pressure to keep pace at the top and who might be tired after their midweek exploits. It certainly seems like La Real have a very good chance to upset Barcelona yet again.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Bravo; Angel, Martinez, Ansotegi, Zaldúa; Pardo, Bergara; Griezmannm, Canales, Vela; Seferovic
It’d be an understatement to say this is a huge game for Barcelona; the title race in La Liga could hardly be any tighter at the moment with the top 3 all tied on points, but Barcelona having the advantage on goal difference, and this is one of the toughest matches remaining for Barcelona, arguably the toughest if we exclude the trip to the Bernabeu and hosting Atlético Madrid. A win at the Anoeta might prove decisive when all is said and done, as might a potential slip-up; there’s hardly any time to celebrate a great win at Manchester City in the Champions League with this absolutely must-win match coming just a few days later.
With Neymar back to add firepower up front, Puyol and Alba are the only unavailable players at the moment; as such the backline in front of Valdés should be formed by Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano and Daniel Alves – who was the man of the match in Manchester – with Busquets, Fabregas and Iniesta in midfield (Xavi resting after playing a lot of matches lately), Pedro, Neymar and Messi up front. Messi seems to be slowly getting back to his best after a lengthy injury absence, which can only bode well for the Catalan giants; although Barcelona have a lot of world class players, in Messi they have a once-in-a-generation sort of player who can genuinely be the difference between a very good side and one that can legitimately aspire to win both La Liga and the Champions League. Barcelona will be relying on their talismanic forward to help them get through this very stern test and come away with the three points.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Valdés; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Alves; Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas; Neymar, Pedro, Messi
Key Match Facts
- Barcelona are the best away defense in La Liga with only 8 goals conceded in 12 matches.
- Real Sociedad have won 7, drawn 3 and lost only 1 of their 11 home La Liga matches so far this season – to Atlético Madrid.
- The Camp Nou match in the first half of the season ended 4-1 for Barcelona.
- Last season, Real Sociedad came back from 0-2 down to inflict one of only two league defeats to eventual champions Barcelona.
Player to Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
He is back, and with a vengeance. After an injury-ridden 2013, Lionel Messi is slowly showing signs of the kind of form that made some fans and pundits go as far as to claim he might not just be the greatest player of his generation but of all-time. Whether said fans and pundits are right would be a neverending discussion, but most would agree that there are few, if any, better things in football nowadays than watching Messi at his very best, and that might just happen this weekend.
Real Sociedad 2-2 FC Barcelona
The Basque outfit will remain a thorn in Barcelona’s side and snatch a late draw off the defending champions. Apart from the win at Sevilla, Barcelona’s away form in La Liga hasn’t been very good at all, and while they start as favorites in this match it’d be far from surprising to see them drop points again.