Match Review: Real Sociedad vs FC Barcelona

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Talk about getting a monkey off your back. This performance may not have been the best Barcelona performance, but it may have been the most necessary. Coming to a stadium that has plagued so many a blaugrana side and leaving with a positive result is such a rarity that even the low scoreline of 0-1 could be enough to finally be the spark that ignites Luis Enrique’s men. Not to mention that this result has come at a time where Real Madrid have looked vulnerable for the first time this season. Bravo Lucho.

It wasn’t the prettiest performance. Yet again, we met a side capable of pressing us deep into our half of the field. Real Sociedad plays with the kind of fearlessness and reckless abandon when up against Barça sides that they surely make our rivals in Madrid proud. It really is fascinating to see a side consistently able to play at a level far higher than it is normally capable of. However, for once, finally, we left the Anoeta unscathed. In its own right, this match was a mini derby. Lucho’s men played with an intensity far higher than normal; an intensity and razor sharp focus reserved for our most fearsome rivals in Madrid, or, it would seem these days, Seville. Though the performance was not eye-catching, the objective was clear: Victory was crucial.

Not just for victory’s sake, but in respect to the context at large. A victory at this point was crucial for its symbolism. For one, it has been a shaky season, to say the least, for Lucho and his staff. There has not been a point where one could describe his team as “being on a roll”. Not to mention, Zinedine Zidane’s men have looked historically strong; win streak’s and World Club Cup’s galore. A win in Sociedad was also crucial for the morale of this blaugrana side.To finally come away with a win at the Anoeta could not only boost team morale but send out a message to the rest of the league and Europe- that Lucho’s men are finally picking up their socks and putting on their big boy pants.

This being said, to watch Real Madrid this season has truly been special. Not for the reasons you are thinking, but for the picture at large. Real Madrid, begrudgingly, will admit that they have been subject to Barça domination for the past two decades, with the recent decade passed being especially dominant. It has been cute to see this side excite itself at the prospect that it is the world’s best side, with Madridistas pointing to their position on the log and their win streak’s. Let’s shed a tear for them. Because something they will soon realise is that having a win streak in January means absolutely nothing. It is the months of March, April and May that matter.

Sport has a funny way of teaching us lessons. Those of you Basketball fanatics will remember last season’s Golden State Warriors side breaking all NBA records with their 73-9 regular season win/loss record. And what happened in the playoffs? The pressure of maintaining this unnecessary feat took a toll on the fitness of their MVP, Steph Curry and the rest of the side. It would all come crashing down in the Finals as they would surrender an unfathomable 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers (albeit controversially). Those of you not from the world of Lebron James (literally, it’s his world) would at least recall Lucho’s side last season, sweeping aside every team in world football. These were the peak days of the MSN, scoring at will, and similarly, competing in World Club Cup’s as well as historic win streaks. See any similarities? When it mattered most, Lucho’s men did not show up. It would seem Lucho attributed this completely to the fatigue created from competing in such unimportant competitions as the World Club Cup (though it does have prestige, and we are all fortunate to have won it) and trying to unnecessarily improve upon or maintain win streaks- as did the Golden State Warriors. If one sees Lucho through this lens, his frequent rotations become explainable. There is a possibility that Lucho has been played us all, trying to do everything possible to ensure his side do not peak too early- and this is a real possibility. There is a chance that Lucho would rather have his side in its current position, not yet at its very best and not yet settled. Lucho, like a marathon runner (who ironically has run marathons), may be pacing himself, waiting for the right moment to take the lead at the crescendo of the season.

Real Madrid, always playing catch-up on the historic feats the blaugrana sides of the last decade, have been at their peak this season for many weeks now. They have truly been exceptional. It is important to give credit where it is due. However, a lesson this Barça side learnt the hard way last season, and in seasons before, is that when it is all said and done at the end of the season, no one will ask of your win streaks. Titles. That’s all that matters. And to be playing at your peak in November, December and January is not smart. Lucho may have realised this already, much like how probably Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry has in his pursuit of an MVP “title” this. Curry has looked a man pacing himself, still hurting from his historic collapse in last season’s Finals, priming himself for an explosion in the playoffs. Like Lucho, last season hurt. Both these men were regarded the best in their field and primed to win it all, but when it mattered most, were completely drained of fatigue. This NBA season has seen men such as James Harden and Russell Westbrook emerge as MVP regular season candidates, the same way this season has seen sides such as Real Madrid and Chelsea put on the pedestal Lucho and Steph were both on last season. This has allowed them the comfort of lowered expectations and attention. And like an experienced and mature marathon runner, watching his younger wide-eyed counter-parts taking the lead early on in the race, this will put them in the best position to surge and peak just at the right time- when it does matter. In March, April and May for Lucho, and in June for Curry.

We all saw previews of Suicide Squad the movie, months before it came out. This placed our expectations for this movie at such a level that it would be almost impossible to meet our expectations. Similarly for Batman v Superman. And to our demise, these movies were nothing like what we thought. Both these movies were universally criticised by critics and fans for delivering in their promotion, but massively under-delivering where it mattered most- in the cinema. The form of Real Madrid has been a preview of how they will do come crunch time. This has risen the expectations and put them at impossibly high levels- not to mention that there has never been a side to compete in the FIFA World Club Cup, and have a successful campaign afterwards. This tournament has been a kiss of death, or as ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith puts it when referring the Dallas Cowboys-

An accident waiting to happen.

The Dallas Cowboys, an American Football side, met a similar demise, as expectations for their appearance at the Super Bowl came crashing down after they had put together an unstoppable regular season campaign, only for it to end prematurely in the playoffs- where it mattered most.

So let’s cheer Madrid on. Why not? It will build up the ego’s of a side already full of Galacticos. Let’s have them really believe their own hype. Whenever you see a Madrid supporter raving about their incredible win streak, congratulate them. Compliment them on Cristiano Ronaldo winning the FIFA World Player of the year award. Entertain them in their babble about them being the best side in Europe. Smile, and laugh at it all. We want them built up on their glory because when it all comes down, it will be twice as sweet.

Though you may not be a fan of American football, I leave you with Stephen A. Smith’s reaction when the Dallas Cowboys finally lost, as he predicted. This is the excitement and joy of a man, who for months, resisted the hype of the Cowboys being the best side in “Football”. This video show a similar joy we can all find when it comes crashing down for Madrid (You don’t have to watch the entire video- just the first three minutes):

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  • Eivind Niclasen

    Interesting theorising about predictions and pacing the team for when it really matters. I had a similar experience earlier today, when stumbling across a short piece billed as a sensational piece of gossip. It concerned Papa Perez planning to ship Ronaldo out this summer. Preferably to China, so he can recap most of what RM paid for him in 2009. To be honest, I am not the least bit surprised. The thought occurred to me a couple of months ago, while RM were being handed easy victories week in and out just for showing up. I got the feeling that now is the time when Perez has it all lined up for a treble; imagine, showering Ronaldo in individual vanity trophies, buying him a treble as a parting gift and then reinstating calm in the Blancos dressing room as a fitting farewell to a historic player, who is blatantly over the hill. Remember, he turns 32 in early February. Not exactly a time in a winger´s career when you expect him to hit peak form.
    Zidane is trying to reshuffle the team to suit Ronaldo these days. He has recently gone with a 3-5-2 with CR7 and Benzema up front, because Ronaldo´s pace has largely abandoned him. Guess what, it didn´t work. RM lost two games in a row, where the officials again refused to give Ramos a second yellow. He even spat at Iago Aspas, but don´t expect the RFEF to sanction its own team captain. As Real Madrid flop Asier Illaramendi cried after yesterday´s loss to Barca, yellow cards in Spain are handed out depending on a player´s shirt; he just failed to recognise that those escaping punishment tend to wear white, not the stripes of La Blaugrana. Now on to Eibar!

    • Bastion

      The shocking thing about this match was how it took the referee 92 minutes to book LLara. Disgraceful

    • Pius Kamau

      I don’t think Real will win the treble.