Past visits to play Real Sociedad at the Anoeta have proved to be peculiar, with Barça throwing everything at La Real and lacking a bit of luck in the final third. This draw feels like a lot more than just a ‘curse’, that Barcelona were genuinely outplayed by a team on great form.
Every year that goes by and the away game versus Real Sociedad comes around, I for one think surely, surely this must be the season that we finally beat them and end the ridiculous away form that stretches back to 2007. But every season it seems that La Real get one over on Barça less and less through luck and more through Barça’s lack of ideas, and of course, Real’s progress.
The game began with Eusebio Sacristán’s side dominating the play, enjoying the majority of the ball as Barça struggled to get out of their own half, as it seemed the midfield was completely non-existent. Javier Mascherano and Gerard Piqué would lift their heads to find a midfielder to pick out to be greeted by the sight of a Sergio Busquets who is surrounded by white and blue shirts, and André Gomes and Ivan Rakitić seemingly not in sight.
Despite what felt like constant pressure on the Barcelona back-line, the teams went in to the dressing rooms at half-time goalless.
On the 53rd minute, Carlos Vela forced a mistake from Mascherano then had a his shot saved by a rushing Marc-André Ter Stegen but the rebound looped straight to the head of former Real Madrid B loanee Willian José, who’s awkward header somehow managed to sneak past Piqué, despite his best efforts to clear on the line.
The defending was comical, the inability to mark Willian José was careless and Real Sociedad were well on their way to three points against a Barcelona side who had barely possessed the ball in the opposition box.
The goal also came just a few moments after Piqué was having his ankle taped up by the Barcelona medical staff which made me question why that wasn’t done at half time, considering his injury was sustained in the first period, or why he hadn’t been substituted if he needed such attention to continue, especially with the Clásico just around the corner.
After this goal the game could have gone one of two ways, Barcelona would wake up and realise the situation they were in and start playing, or Real Sociedad would go on to win comfortably. Barcelona woke up. For a minute.
It feels like months since we have seen some real incisive wing play from Neymar, but in the 59th minute he finally produced what we have seen so often over the past couple of seasons. The Brazilian skipped past a couple of challenges and played precise pass to Lionel Messi, who’s first touch was incredible. It’s a first touch that you see so often from the little man but it’s easy to let it go over your head – a sort of chipped touch with the outside of the left boot that sets up a shot on the half-volley. Incredible, really. But of course it is easy to overlook the brilliance at a time like this, and the important thing was, Barcelona were level.
After this, chances were few and far between, but Real Sociedad stayed in control of a match where they reduced Barcelona to just 47% of ball possession, and the huge talking point came with just 14 minutes of normal time to play.
Vela was causing Barcelona trouble yet again, made himself some room and had a spectacular effort crash down off of the underside of the bar, hit the line and finding its way to Juanmi who tapped the ball into the back of the net but was judged to be offside. The decision was awful, as shown by the image below, with Piqué clearly playing Juanmi onside, and really let Barcelona off the hook.
Although it was an awful decision at a crucial time, it is clear that incidents like this leave the linesman in an incredibly difficult situation. The referee’s assistant would have had to analyse who is onside and who is offside as Vela hits the shot, then try to judge whether the shot had crossed the line, and then give an offside call. All in a split-second. Surely a call for some sort of video refereeing in La Liga, or at least goal-line technology, implemented perfectly in the Premier League, giving the linesman one less thing to think about.
Barcelona ended the match escaping the Basque Country with a point, a point that many, including Luis Enrique, are describing as a miracle. The Asturian coach even said that it was the worst game of his time as manager of the club, showing how this is more a problem of the team, rather than just a ‘curse’.
The next week sees Barça travel to Alicante on Wednesday to play the Copa del Rey round of 32 1st leg against Hércules, followed by the small matter of El Clásico at the Camp Nou on Saturday.