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Xavi Hernandez’s side were unconvincing on matchday one but they have the firepower to overcome their upcoming opponents.
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The now-ubiquitous discussions about which clubs have won and lost the transfer window is a relatively recent phenomenon. There is a tendency to assume that signing lots of players is inherently a good thing, but that is not necessarily the case. Real Madrid, for one, will be hoping that stability and continuity prove more valuable in La Liga this season.
Despite being in debt to the tune of $1.2 billion, Barcelona have splashed out more than $125 million on new signings this summer, bringing in the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie. In order to generate funds for the transfer market, they have sold off future revenue streams to various companies.
It is a risky strategy that could backfire in the long term, but the widespread assumption is that Barcelona’s spending will at least help them to compete for major honors in Xavi Hernandez’s first full season at the helm. They may well do just that, and the Blaugrana’s squad is certainly strong enough on paper to challenge for the La Liga title and the Champions League, but last weekend provided a cautionary note.
A home game against Rayo Vallecano seemed like the ideal way to begin the new campaign, but Barcelona were left frustrated after a 0-0 draw with Andoni Iraola’s men. Xavi’s side were the better team and would have emerged victorious with more clinical finishing, but it was not an entirely convincing display.
That is in part because it will take a while for this new-look team to gel together. Simply signing talented soccer players and throwing them together into a starting XI is not enough in today’s game, where virtually every opponent is well organized and has a game plan. Xavi knows it will take time, and the Barcelona fans will have to accept that.
It is indisputable that Spanish soccer has a big three comprising of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. It has not always been this way, especially with regards to the latter member of the trio. But while Madrid and Barcelona’s pre-eminence is long established, they do not have everything their own way in La Liga: Real Sociedad belong to the second tier of sides that can beat any opponent in the division on their day.
They did not fare particularly well against the big two last season, losing all four meetings with Barcelona and Madrid. Yet the Basque outfit held los Blancos to two draws in 2020/21, while they have now finished in the top six for three seasons on the bounce. After a few years of being regulars in the Europa League, the next step for la Real is to try and break into the Champions League qualification spots.
That will be a big ask, with only one spot realistically up for grabs for the likes of Sevilla, Real Soceidad, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis to fight over.
But Real Sociedad are in a good place right now. Imanol Alguacil, their manager since 2018, has molded a team in his image. He guided his boyhood club to Copa del Rey glory two years ago and has made them a consistently competitive force in La Liga. A 1-0 victory over Cadiz last weekend means Real Sociedad will head into Sunday’s game with confidence.
Barcelona were, comparatively speaking, better away from home than at the Camp Nou last season. Visiting sides routinely sit deep and pack men behind the ball whenever they visit Barcelona’s home stadium, and the current team does not always have the subtlety and guile to break them down.
On the road, opponents are obliged to push higher up the pitch and adopt a more proactive approach, and Barcelona are well equipped to take advantage of the extra space they are afforded.
Xavi was something of a possession idealogue during his time as a player; at times he even bordered on the sanctimonious. But since becoming a coach he has demonstrated a more pragmatic side, and he will have no problems with his team combining possession play with quick transitions this weekend.
Real Sociedad will make life difficult for Barcelona, and if they were to score the first goal Xavi’s side would be under pressure following last weekend’s draw. But the Blaugrana’s failure to win on matchday one will only have increased their hunger to get off the mark here, and the odds on an away win are sufficiently attractive to take up.
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|Teams||Real Sociedad vs Barcelona|
|Location||Anoeta Stadium, San Sebastian, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 21 August 2022, 16.00 PM EST|
|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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