Barcelona look a little vulnerable right now. The recent international break saw Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Claudio Bravo detach themselves from day-to-day life at the Camp Nou and depart across the Atlantic, resetting their focus, albeit briefly, on their various different missions in South American World Cup qualifying.
With a ten-point lead in La Liga, they were entitled to believe the Spanish title was a forgone conclusion. Indeed, they still are. But for an 82-day period prior to that, they were focused solely on Barca and sometimes it can take a while to recalibrate on your return. Since they came back, the Catalans haven’t quite been at the races.
In the Clasico defeat against Real Madrid, it was stark how few decent opportunities they created. In the midweek victory over ten-man Atletico Madrid, it was stark how few decent opportunities they put away. It leaves us with two key questions: how much weight should be attached to fatigue and distraction, and how long will it take them to regain their composure?
Whatever your suspicion, with a tense second leg at the Vicente Calderon looming, it can do no harm to throw a speculative point on a capable Real Sociedad side at 6/1. The Basque outfit head into this clash on the back of morale-boosting 2-1 away win against a Sevilla side that had previously won 13 on the spin at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
If the hosts do come up short, it won’t be for a lack of belief that it can be done. Spanish football is big on both tradition and superstition, with great stock attached to previous meetings, and La Real’s recent home record against Barca is better than any. Since La Real were last promoted in 2010, Barca have taken only one point from five league visits to San Sebastian.
The last three seasons have all ended in defeat. In January 2013, La Real spectacularly came from 2-0 down to win 3-2. In February 2014, they were 3-1 winners. And then, last January, a Jordi Alba own goal with barely a minute on the clock was enough to hand them victory with David Moyes at the helm. No wonder the locals have been queuing round the block for tickets this week.
Ironically, that last meeting was the major turning point of the Luis Enrique era, so it’s fair to say this Barcelona is stronger than any of those the Basque club have been up against previously. However, some will look at the timing of this fixture and conclude that the Anoeta curse is set to strike again. Given the price, we’re not really risking a lot to find out.
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