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Barcelona are stuttering right now and a trip to San Sebastian will not be straightforward.
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After a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid before the March international break, some breathless Barcelona supporters openly wondered whether their arch-rivals could be caught at the top of the table. That was always unlikely given Madrid’s 12-point advantage (albeit having played one more game), but the one-sided nature of that edition of the Clasico suggested Barcelona had caught up with Carlo Ancelotti’s side – if not in points than in ability.
It has not been plain sailing for Xavi Hernandez’s side since then, however. Barcelona, the favorites to go on and lift the trophy in May, were knocked out of the Europa League last week. An investigation into how 30,000 Eintracht Frankfurt fans were able to obtain tickets for the second leg at the Camp Nou has been opened. That was certainly not an ideal scenario for Barcelona, but it is not the reason they found themselves 3-0 down after 67 minutes.
Xavi was keen to see his team bounce back quickly from that disappointment. Instead, Barcelona lost 1-0 at home to Cadiz on Monday. It was a poor performance from the Blaugrana. They struggled to get going in attack and could not prevent Cadiz creating chances. The result saw their opponents climb out of the relegation zone and has left Barcelona 15 points adrift of Madrid at the summit of the standings.
Any talk of a late title challenge was always fanciful, but Barcelona’s slim hopes have now been well and truly extinguished. A top-four finish is by no means guaranteed: Barca’s lead over fifth-placed Real Betis is down to three points, although they do still have a game in hand. It is imperative that Xavi’s side get back on track on Thursday.
Real Sociedad are also involved in a top-four race that could go right down to the wire. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla all have 60 points, but any of those sides could be caught by Real Betis (57) or Real Sociedad (55). La Real are in decent form, having lost only one of their last eight games – and that was to Real Madrid. Barcelona should expect a tough encounter in the midweek round of fixtures.
Real Sociedad’s defensive record is impressive. Only Madrid and Sevilla have shipped fewer goals this term. Their expected goals against figure is roughly in line with the actual number of goals they have conceded, which shows that Real Sociedad are adept at stopping their opponents fashioning clear-cut opportunities.
Barcelona lacked fluency against Cadiz last time out, and they will have to play with much more purpose in attack if they are to break down Imanol Alguacil’s side. Real Sociedad have kept a clean sheet in 10 of their last 13 league outings, a remarkable record which has given them hope in the chase for Champions League qualification.
Real Sociedad are a particularly tough nut to crack in front of their own fans at the Estadio de Anoeta.
Alguacil’s charges have suffered only two defeats on home turf this term, going down 2-0 to Real Madrid and 3-1 to Villarreal during a nightmare run of four consecutive defeats in the winter. La Real conceded five goals in those two matches. Incredibly, in their 14 other home games this season their backline has been breached just once.
Scoring goals has been a problem for Real Sociedad, particularly at Anoeta. Their return of 12 goals in 16 home matches is the worst in the division. But since they rarely let their opponents put the ball in the back of the net in San Sebastian, that is not really much of an issue. A low-scoring encounter can therefore be expected on Thursday.
Barcelona missed Pedri against Cadiz on Monday. So much of their play these days goes through the youngster, and they do not look the same team without him. That will be a concern for Xavi, who would rather not be so heavily reliant on a 19-year-old, however brilliant he is.
Barcelona will have plenty of possession in this one, but Real Sociedad will aim to defend with a solid block and keep the Blaugrana at arm’s length. It is a strategy which could pay dividends against a team that has looked short of ideas in recent matches. Barcelona might not necessarily fall to defeat here, but Real Sociedad’s home record shows how difficult it is for visiting sides to beat them.
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|Real Sociedad vs Barcelona Information|
|Teams||Real Sociedad vs Barcelona|
|Location||Estadio de Anoeta, San Sebastian, Spain|
|Time||Thursday, 21 April 2022, 1.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||ESPN+|
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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