Real Sociedad v FC Barcelona: Anoeta battle ends even (1-1)
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FC Barcelona left Anoeta with a 1-1 draw thanks to Leo Messi’s second-half leveller on Sunday night and, although Luis Enrique's men were unable to get a first win since 2007 at Real Sociedad, the result ends a run of four straight league losses in San Sebastian.
It was another enthralling, fast-paced encounter between the two sides at a ground which so often causes problems for the Catalans, with drama at either end right until the very last minutes.
Luis Enrique was keen on continuing the momentum from the midweek 2-0 win over Celtic by naming an unchanged lineup for the first time in six months.
However, it looked like it was going to be a case of history repeated in the Basque country, as Sociedad burst out of the traps and laid siege to the Barça goal.
Dominant start from the hosts
After just two minutes, Zurutuza had a header on goal from Carlos Vela’s inswinging delivery from the right hand side, while a mixup in the Barça backline minutes later was a sign of the pressure Sociedad had instilled in their hosts.
On 15 minutes, a lofted cross to the far post was met by Xabi Prieto who headed on target but without enough power to trouble Marc-André ter Stegen. Yet, moments later, the same player with an almost identical opportunity really should have put the hosts ahead. Yuri Berchiche’s cross found Prieto unmarked at the far post but the local boy headed wide.
Before the Barça defence could catch breath, Vela was played in on goal but could not make clean connection with his effort as it dribbled well wide of the mark.
Barça simply could not gain a foothold on the game, as the pressure continued as forcefully as the rain fell on the Anoeta surface. The first effort on goal for Barça was a specualtive one from Luis Suárez who had a go from 30 yards which failed to trouble Geronimo Rulli.
Sociedad take lead but Messi quickly levels
La Real’s momentum continued in the second half and evenutally took a deserved lead through Willian Jose. Vela managed to turn Mascherano in the box and though his strike was saved by the legs of Ter Stegen, it looped kindly into the air for Willian to head into the corner despite Gerard Piqué’s best efforts to clear off the line.
Barça reacted in the best possible fashion, as they managed to level the score six minutes later. Picking the ball up from the halfway point of the field out on the left, Neymar Jr breezed past two defenders before finding Messi arriving into the box. The Argentine killed the ball with one touch before striking powerfully into the corner for 1-1.
The goals saw a dip in the game’s intensity, only for it to spark back into life with 15 minutes to go after a contentious decision which should have seen the hosts take the lead.
Vela’s spectacular curling effort from distance hit the crossbar and bounced very close to the goal line before Juanmi was on hand to tap into an empty net, only for the linesman to rule out the strike for offside. However, replays showed that the striker was, in fact, in an onside position.
Minutes later, Barça came close to going ahead. Denis Suárez looked to have been barged in the back as he was played through by Leo Messi but still managed to go on beyond Rulli, though his effort was blocked off the line by Illaramendi blocked off the line. From the resulting corner, Mascherano’s near-post header so nearly flew in.
Vela was a handful all night for the Barça defence and on 83 minutes was nearly the match-winner as his effort from the edge of the box beat Ter Stegen, but not the far post.
Esteban Granero came off the bench late on for his first appearance of the campaign and had three goalward efforts which nearly handed the hosts all three points.
In the end, while it was not the desired result from Barça’s perspective going into El Clásico, the balance of play and the notorious difficulty of playing at Anoeta meant there could be few complaints about the draw.
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