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Sometimes you don’t get a second chance after a failed first date. Luckily for FC Barcelona that chance was etched into the league calendar before the season kicked off, finally coming — after a four-month wait — on Saturday afternoon versus Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. The long-awaited rematch had been circled in indelible red ink from the moment the Catalans abandoned the pitch at Anoeta in San Sebastian, Spain back on the night of 4 January. Barça fell that night after being unable to correct a second-minute slip up in the form of a fluke own goal, causing them to cough up a chance to take over first place in La Liga.
Now, with Barça sitting in first place and that deeply disappointing evening back in January looking more and more like a catharsis that instilled the players with the hunger and determination to put their season on the path to success, Saturday’s 2-0 victory — on a pair of second-half goals by Neymar and Pedro Rodríguez — was another giant step towards the league title with just two games left to play.
The second half was only seven minutes old when the first goal finally came after 52 minutes of trying to slip one past Real Sociedad goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli, who had already thwarted Barça with several excellent saves. The play began when Lionel Messi sent a dangerous cross into the rival area that defender Mikel González failed to clear. Neymar, lurking all alone near the far post, headed in past a diving Rulli to get Barça on the board. For the Brazilian, the goal not only broke the ice but also gave him a milestone — his 50th since joining the Catalan club last year.
The following twenty minutes were marked by cautious play by both sides that included a flurry of yellow cards and substitutions. With ten minutes left the home crowd sprang to life, adding a burst of energy to the Barça defence as Real Sociedad were pressing upfield. The vast majority of the 86,047 fans at Camp Nou shifted uneasily in their seats, wary of the single-goal lead, and eager to see it widen.
In the 82nd minute, Luis Enrique — looking to stem the visitors’ brief momentum and give his team's offense a spark — brought on Pedro for Rafinha. Immediately after the Canary Island native made his trademark sprint out onto the pitch, Messi fired a low shot right at the keeper, unable to alter the score.
But on the ensuing play, the freshest pair of legs on the field produced Barça’s second goal in breathtaking fashion. Messi tried to thread a low pass through the goalmouth but it was deflected in front by a defender. The ball popped up into the air and began descending back to the earth a mere step from the penalty spot. It was right there that Pedro — his back to the goal — launched himself skyward and executed a textbook bicycle kick that he beamed straight past Rulli and into the back of the net. The stadium exploded in jubilation, an incalculable number of mouths fully agape, as Pedro was mobbed by his teammates near the corner flag.
FC Barcelona dominated the first half but were unable to pierce the Real Sociedad defence and get on the board. The Catalans took seven shots, three of which were on target. Messi beautifully redirected a header that looked poised to drop in minute eight, but a backpedalling Rulli tipped it up and over the bar. Rulli then smothered a close-range one-on-one chance by Neymar just five minutes later. Defender Gerard Piqué had back-to-back chances in the 28th, but his first shot was saved and he followed up his own rebound with an acrobatic attempt that went just wide.
Real Sociedad didn't have a single shot on goal through 45 minutes and committed 10 fouls to Barça’s three while racking up a trio of yellow cards, the only ones shown in the first half of play.
One win away
The win by FC Barcelona combined with Real Madrid's 2–2 draw at home with Valencia in the following La Liga match of the evening puts the Catalans four points up in the league table with two games left to play. Barça will travel to Madrid for next week's penultimate league matchup of the season where they'll take on Atlético at the Vicente Calderón. A Barça win would mathematically hand them the title.
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