La Liga leaders Barcelona travel to San Sebastian on Saturday to take on Champions League chasing Real Sociedad in what is the standout tie of the weekend. Can the Blaugrana continue on their recent good run or will La Real once again prove to be Barca’s undoing?
Despite their recent domination of La Liga, there are a few grounds that more often than not give Barcelona a severe headache. Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon immediately springs to mind as does the El Sadar where Osasuna have caused all sorts of problems in past season but if there is one ground which has constantly derailed Barca, it’s the Anoeta. In the 2010-11 season, Pep Guardiola’s side let slip a one goal lead and ended up losing 2-1 while a season leader the Catalans let slip a two-goal lead and left with only a point. In 2012-13 season, Tito Vilanova’s side were sweeping all before them until they travelled to Basque country in September and once again let slip a two-goal lead to lose their first game of the season. Just to put things into perspective, the only other away ground where Tito’s side were beaten was at the Santiago Bernabeau. Talk of a hoodoo has already done the rounds but it simply cannot be discounted that Barca have had their fair share of suffering at the Anoeta.
La Real’s season has been marked by a disastrous run in the Champions League where they looked completely out of sorts and exited with a solitary point. However, the early exit has proved somewhat of a boon to Sociedad’s La Liga form as results have improved drastically and the Basque team are now within striking distance of the final Champions League place. Jagoba Arasate’s men will also be keenly aware that Barca’s players will feel the effects of a difficult Champions League tie with Manchester City. Revenge will also be on the agenda for the home side as only a week ago, Barca had dumped them out of the Copa Del Rey semi-finals courtesy of a 3-1 aggregate win. With Sociedad already in talks with Arasate about a two-year contract extension, what better way for the manager to reward their faith than by humbling the La Liga Champions?
Despite the crucial win in Manchester in midweek, Barca boss Tata Martino reminded players to stay calm and focused. ”We have to remain calm and continue along the same path because there is no time to relax as we must now start thinking about our next game in La Liga,” he said.
“We have clear objectives in each tournament. We can play better or we can play worse than (on Tuesday) but in no way are we going to relax.”
The two sides met earlier in the season where the Azulgranas were emphatic 4-1 victors thanks to goals from Neymar, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Marc Bartra. The home side haven’t tasted defeat at home in their last 9 games but will be wary of Messi who has scored in the last 4 league games against them The Blaugrana will be without left-back Jordi Alba as he recovers from an injury to his right hamstring in the win over Manchester City so expect Adriano to fill his place. Coach Martin will also have to decide if he wants to give Xavi and opting for an extra forward while going with the midfield pairing of Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta