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Barcelona’s preparation for this match has been less than ideal, and Real Sociedad are tricky opponents on the opening weekend.
|Barcelona vs Real Sociedad Information|
|Teams||Barcelona vs Real Sociedad|
|Location||Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 15 August 2021, 14.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||ABC, ESPN|
Pre-season is a time for hope and optimism. Supporters of clubs across Europe tend to adopt a glass-half-full mindset in the summer when anything seems possible and no other team yet has a points advantage. In normal circumstances, Barcelona is no exception. The La Liga title is almost always the target at the Camp Nou, with a challenge for the Champions League also ordinarily expected. Yet these are not normal circumstances at Barcelona, where pessimism abounds even before a ball has been kicked in the 2021/22 campaign.
Lionel Messi’s exit is the main, but not the sole, reason for the gloom. Ten days ago it looked as if the Argentina international would be signing a new five-year deal at the club with which he has a lifelong association. That was what Messi, Barcelona and the supporters all wanted. Yet it was not to be. Messi had been a free agent since June 30, and Barcelona proved unable to re-register him while also abiding by La Liga’s salary cap. The president Joan Laporta admitted defeat last week, and Messi has since joined Paris Saint-Germain.
This will be the first season in which the Argentine is not a part of Barcelona’s first-team squad since 2003/04. It will be a little jarring to see him play in another team’s jersey, and to see Barcelona play without him. But that is the reality. And the sudden departure of their greatest ever player is not the club’s only problem.
Summer signings Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia cannot be registered until Barcelona reduce their wage bill. At the time of writing the club has not yet done so. Ronald Koeman’s current squad is therefore weaker than the one which only managed a third-place finish last term. Those looking for pre-season hope and optimism would be advised to give the Camp Nou a swerve.
The mood is somewhat brighter at Real Sociedad. Imanol Alguacil’s side made an excellent start to last season and sat at the summit of the standings after 13 rounds of fixtures. They remained in the hunt for the Champions League places for some time, before falling away towards the end of the campaign. Real Sociedad managed to hold off Real Betis and Villarreal in the race for fifth, but they ultimately finished 15 points adrift of the Champions League qualification places.
They did, however, beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in the delayed 2020 Copa del Rey final, held in April of this year. That triumph ended a 34-year trophy drought and only further cemented Alguacil’s popularity at the club, which was already high given his previous stints as a La Real academy graduate, first-team player, youth coach and assistant manager – and, above all, a fan.
The target this season is a top-four finish, even though Sevilla and Villarreal are considered to have a better chance of finishing alongside the big three by the bookmakers. There have been few incomings and outgoings so far this summer, although Mat Ryan has been signed from Brighton & Hove Albion and Willian Jose has returned after an underwhelming loan spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sociedad will look to their productive academy once more, and the young striker Alex Isak demonstrated his quality in flashes at Euro 2020.
The off-field situation for Barcelona is dire, with debts totaling more than €1 billion. There are certainly soccer-specific issues too, but it is important not to go overboard with talk of a crisis, at least as far as on-field matters are concerned. Even without Messi, Koeman has some talented players to call upon.
A midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong is up there with the best Europe has to offer, even though it may lack a little dynamism. The 18-year-old Ansu Fati is precociously gifted. Antoine Griezmann may be able to step out of Messi’s shadow and shine. Depay has the personality to be the team’s new talisman up front.
Even so, by Barcelona’s standards, the quality is thin on the ground. Koeman’s side need a fast start on Sunday to keep the fans onside; Barcelona fans might have been kept out of the Camp Nou for far too long, but they will not be slow to voice their displeasure if things do not go well in the opening game of the season.
Real Sociedad are easy on the eye but will be looking to demonstrate more of a cutting edge this term. There is no better place to make a statement than the Camp Nou, and while victory might be beyond them, Sociedad are more than capable of taking a point home from their trip to Catalonia. With Barcelona in a state of flux, Real Sociedad could take advantage – back a tie in this one.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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