Barcelona will be looking to take another step towards defending their La Liga crown when they welcome Real Sociedad to Camp Nou on Saturday.
La Liga football resumes this weekend with Matchday 33 of the La Liga season. The defending champions will be on show on Saturday, with Barcelona looking to continue consolidating their place at the top of the table before what looks like another likely title coronation, when they play hosts to Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.
Barcelona just keep on going from strength to strength in a season that now looks probable to end with a first treble since 2014-15. The Blaugrana last lost a game back in January, with their last defeat in La Liga coming over five months ago. And, Ernesto Valverde’s men will be brimming with confidence after easing into the UEFA Champions League semi-finals this week.
Real Sociedad, meanwhile, have endured a hit and miss season that has already seen Asier Garitano lose his job. Imanol Alguacil has stabilised the ship, but wins have still been hard to come by for La Real, who have been on the right side of a result just once in their last eight games. But, despite an inconsistent season, a return to European football is still possible, which will be a motivation for the Basque outfit.
The reverse fixture, played at the Anoeta back in September, saw Barcelona come from behind to beat Real Sociedad 2-1, with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele scoring within three minutes to complete the turnaround. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde has a near-full strength squad at his disposal ahead of the visit of Real Sociedad. The Barcelona boss has just one first-team player unavailable, with Rafinha Alcantara out for the rest of the season, although Thomas Vermaelen is still not fit enough to return to action.
Vermaelen’s absence does not hurt Barcelona, however, as Valverde has five other centre-backs at his disposal. On Saturday, Clement Lenglet is likely to be afforded a rest, with Gerard Pique having Samuel Umtiti as his partner at the heart of the defence.
Jordi Alba picks himself in the left-back slot, with Nelson Semedo likely to replace Sergi Roberto on the opposite flank. Behind the defence, there is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to man the goal. Up ahead in midfield, there could be a shuffle on the cards.
But, it is likely Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets will both keep their places in the starting lineup, with Real Sociedad being a tricky opposition. The only change in the middle of the park should thus, see Arturo Vidal taking Arthur’s place, with Carles Alena being an option on the bench.
Up ahead in attack, Valverde could take the game to continue easing Ousmane Dembele back into the first-team setup. Dembele should replace Philippe Coutinho, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez being certain starters.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
Imanol Alguacil has a myriad of injury problems to contend with ahead of the trip to face Barcelona. On Saturday, the Real Sociedad boss will be without seven first-team players due to various fitness and technical troubles.
The major absentees for La Real are Asier Illarramendi (groin), David Zurutuza (thigh) and Adnan Januzaj (knee). There is some good news as well, however, with Willian Jose available after serving a suspension last weekend against Eibar.
The 27-year-old striker should return to the starting lineup straightaway, leading the line for Real Sociedad. Willian Jose’s return means Ander Barrenetxea, who has impressed upon being promoted to the first-team, will likely drop to the bench, with Juanmi moving out wide.
Mikel Oyarzabal will be the star man for the visitors on Saturday, donning the captain’s armband while also being in-charge of creating the bulk of the chances. Luca Sangalli should be deployed in a free role behind the central striker, with Mikel Merino and Igor Zubeldia continuing to fill in for Illarramendi and Zurutuza.
At the back, the onus will be on the duo of Diego Llorente and Geronimo Rulli to hold the fort, with the latter set to be a busy man in goal for Real Sociedad. Llorente will have Aritz Elustondo for company in the central defensive partnership, with another youth star Aihen Munoz forming a part of the back four.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Rulli; Zaldua, Llorente, Elustondo, Munoz; Merino, Zubeldia; Juanmi, Sangalli, Oyarzabal; Willian Jose
- Barcelona are currently on the longest unbeaten run across Europe, having gone 20 games without being defeated (W14 D6).
- Real Sociedad are going through their worst runs of the season, having managed to win just one of their last eight fixtures (D4 L3).
- La Real’s form on the road closely resembles their overall tally of wins, draws and losses this season, having won five, drawn five and lost six of their away games so far.
- Lionel Messi has scored 45 goals in all competitions for Barcelona this season – 10 more than any other player in the top five European leagues.
- Luis Suarez has had a hand in eight goals in eight games against Real Sociedad in La Liga (four goals and four assists).
Player to Watch
It has been a season of promise and a season of frustrations for Ousmane Dembele. While the French winger has done his cause a world of good with a number of domineering performances, it has also been a campaign that has been blighted by a number of injuries, which have restricted his involvement heavily.
Now back to full fitness, Dembele has to battle for his place again, with Philippe Coutinho impressing in recent games, especially in the 3-0 win over Manchester United. However, the game against a struggling Real Sociedad side gives him just the kind of opportunity he needs. A strong showing can go a long way, and it remains to be seen if Dembele can rediscover his top form soon enough.
Barcelona 3-0 Real Sociedad
In recent years, Real Sociedad are one side outside the elite three of Spanish football that have troubled Barcelona the most. But, under the tutelage of Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona have ended their curse of the Anoeta, while also being dominant at home against La Real.
Imanol Alguacil’s men are also going through a tough run of form, while Barcelona can do very little wrong when they have Lionel Messi in the side. With that being said, it should be another comfortable evening for Barcelona, with The Hard Tackle predicting a run-of-the-mill 3-0 win for Ernesto Valverde & co.