Barcelona are just one win away from confirming their La Liga coronation for the second successive year after beating Real Sociedad 2-1 on Saturday.
After coasting to a 3-0 win over Manchester United on Tuesday, Barcelona seemed to be back to their usual energy conservation mode in La Liga, with the title triumph now seemingly looking like a formality. But, despite playing at a lower level, the league leaders still looked the better of the two sides.
The chances though, came few and far between, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen also playing a key role in ensuring Real Sociedad did not get a foothold in the game. And, Barcelona finally grabbed the lead at the stroke of half-time, as Clement Lenglet converted from Ousmane Dembele’s corner.
The second half continued much like the first, but Real Sociedad ended up grabbing the equaliser just post the hour mark, with Juanmi being second time lucky against ter Stegen. But, La Real’s joys were short-lived, as Jordi Alba restored Barcelona’s lead moments later, producing a precise right-footed curler into the bottom right corner.
Thereafter, the game continued in a similar tempo, but Barcelona held on to their slender advantage to grab all three points. The Blaugrana can now win the title when they face Deportivo Alaves in a couple of days, and The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 7/10
There was not a lot that ter Stegen had to do on the night. But, the Barcelona no. 1 did make a couple of outstanding saves, to deny Juanmi and Ruben Pardo. Could not have done much to keep out Juanmi’s second on-target effort. A big reason Barcelona won on the night.
Nelson Semedo: 6/10
Back into the side with a rare start, Semedo had the opportunity to impress Ernesto Valverde. But, the Portuguese full-back failed to grab it with both hands, as he failed to make much of an impression in the final third. Defensively, there was very little to fault him, however, and that is one area that he seems to have become quite astute this term.
Gerard Pique: 6/10
A season that has had barely any faults by Pique finally saw him make a mistake, as he failed to keep a check on Juanmi for his goal. Otherwise, the veteran defender guarded ter Stegen quite well, organising the backline with elan. A rare mistake that did not hurt his side in the end.
Clement Lenglet: 8/10
In comparison to Pique, Lenglet did not make any errors on the night and was solid in his duties at the back. The Frenchman also came up with the goods when Barcelona needed it, calmly scoring from a set-piece situation, in what was his first league goal for the club.
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Jordi Alba: 8/10
Alba delivered when Barcelona needed him to the most, producing a finish right from the top drawer. Not asked to do a lot defensively, the Spaniard was typically a threat in the final third. And, he scored from his weaker foot after finding space on his right – his second league goal of the campaign.
Arturo Vidal: 7/10
Back into the side in place of Sergio Busquets, Vidal was a bundle of energy and a major reason why Barcelona looked the better of the two sides despite playing well below their best. Made an impact on both ends of the pitch, having been diligent off the ball and smart on it. Continues to impress in whatever chances he gets.
Ivan Rakitic: 6/10
With Busquets not starting, Rakitic started as the deepest midfielder for Barcelona and looked comfortable in the position yet again. Directed play expertly for an hour before taking up more advanced positions upon the introduction of his usual midfield partner. Nearly scored a goal that would have made the scoreline more comfortable.
Arthur has been the playmaking extraordinaire for Barcelona this season. But, his performance on Saturday reeked of fatigue, with the Brazilian seemingly in need of a rest. Sure enough, he was the first player to be taken off, with Busquets taking his place.
Lionel Messi: 6/10
This was a rare game wherein Barcelona did not need their captain to do much of the bidding. In fact, by his enormous standards, Messi arguably had a night off. But, it bodes well for the La Liga champions that they managed to grab all three points without Messi playing a major role in it, although he did provide the final pass for Alba’s goal.
Luis Suarez: 6/10
Like Messi, Suarez was not quite at his best in the game. But, he very nearly could have had a couple of assists on another night. Denied by Geronimo Rulli as well, it just wasn’t to be his night.
Ousmane Dembele: 6/10
Handed his second start since returning from injury, Dembele continued to look rusty, although there were more positive signs on show this time around. The Frenchman did use his pace well, but could not manage to be as threatening as he was in the first half of the season. Still, patience is the key after a couple of injuries.
Sergio Busquets: 6/10
On for the struggling Arthur, Busquets provided Barcelona a sense of control, taking charge in the middle of the park.
Philippe Coutinho: 5/10
Following his controversial actions earlier in the week, Coutinho was greeted to jeers by Barcelona fans. Did not do much of note.
Sergi Roberto: N/A
A late substitution, Roberto was a pair of fresh legs that helped see the game out.