In this fixture last year, Barcelona won 5-1, so today’s 4-1 loss by Real Sociedad may not be as bad as it seems. But that game took place on Aug. 19 – over a year ago. Since then La Real has posted five-month unbeaten run (Jan. 6-May 6), a fourth place finish in Spain, and a Champions League playoff win over Lyon – a win that put them back in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps only a year has passed since their last trip to Camp Nou, but it was a defining year, one that cast today’s lopsided loss in a different light.
Sociedad was terrible for the first 23 minutes, enough time to dig a three-goal deficit. Poor defending against Alexis Sanchez and the inability to deal with the Chilean’s cross allowed Neymar to score his first La Liga goal on five minutes. Shortly afterward, the Brazilian’s far post lob from the left found a diving Lionel Messi for the Argentine’s seventh goal of the season. And 15 minutes later, poor decision-making on a ball coming out of the Real area allowed Sergio Busquets to blast home Barcelona’s third. After the teams traded second half goals (Alberto De La Bella, Marc Bartra), Real Sociedad had their worst loss of the season, the latest disappointment in what’s become a five-match winless run.
It may be too early to truly worry about La Real, though, as their fixture list plays a huge part in their recent downturn. This five-match slide started with a 2-1 loss at home to a still perfect Atlético Madrid. They then drew on the road at Levante (0-0), lost in Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2), and were drawn at San Sebastian this weekend my Málaga (0-0). Barcelona’s win was more lopsided, but Jagoba Arasante’s team isn’t the first to be on the wrong side of Nou Camp shellacking. When Sevilla visit this Saturday, Real Sociedad should see their winless run end.
That doesn’t mean there are no reasons for concern. De La Bella’s 64th minute goal ended a 355 minute scoreless run, with the absence of their first choice number nine (Imanol Agirretze) continuing to limit their attack. And at the other end, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo gave a disappointing Tuesday performance behind a defense that offered little resistance wide of goal (each Barça goal was built wide before playing in). Even by Barcelona standards, Tuesday’s win was easy for the hosts.
La Real started the year unbeaten in four, their two wins over Lyon putting them in Champions League for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps this drive is just their course self-correcting. But after going five months without a loss under Philipp Montanier, it may be time to consider the implications of the former boss’s move to Stade Rennes. Will Sociedad be left to rue their inability to sign Montainer to a new deal?
The team’s next six league matches should answer that question. Sevilla, Rayo Vallecano, and Valencia all present challenges, some of which Arasante should be expected to overcome. After that, matches against Almería, Real Valladolid, and Osasuna give the team a chance to build momentum ahead of their trip to the Santiago Bernabéu.
By then, Sociedad’s course should be corrected. And if it’s not, we’ll have a better idea of how much Montanier’s departure’s meant to La Real.