The latest round of the Copa Del Rey promises plenty of adventure, thrill, and excitement as two high-flying sides in Barcelona and Real Sociedad come face to face for a showdown at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. Both Barcelona and Real Sociedad have been the most in-form sides in Spain lately and both teams have won all of their last five games across all competitions.
Xavi’s side made light work of third division side Cueta in the previous round of the competition and secured a comfortable 5-0 win in Tunisia. Meanwhile, Immanol Alguacil’s men had the last laugh in a closely fought contest with RCD Mallorca that ended 1-0 in favour of Sociedad in the last 16 stage.
Barcelona were expected to began their Copa del Rey campaign with a bang when they were pitted with Intercity – a side from the third tier of Spanish football. However, they were given not one, not two, but three scares by the minnows and more specifically, hat-trick hero Oriol Soldevila, taking the game to extra time. However, the Catalans held their nerve and found the match-winning goal through Ansu Fati in extra time and avoided a potentially embarrassing outcome.
Fortunately, though, the La Liga leaders experienced no such heart-in-mouth moments in their next-round affair against Cueta. Travelling to the home of the third division side, Barcelona dispatched with the third division side with plenty of disdain, winning 5-0.
Star striker Robert Lewandowski scored a brace of goals which complemented strikes from Franck Kessie, Raphinha, and Ansu Fati in a five-star performance from the Blaugrana. They have started things the right way and having won the Supercopa de Espana at the expense of arch-rivals Real Madrid, there is no doubt that they will be going for their 32nd Copa Del Rey title.
Barcelona are, of course, the most successful side in this competition’s history but they will have a tough challenge to overcome against Real Sociedad who have also been in flying form. However, what works to their benefit is the fact that they will play at home at the Camp Nou.
With that being said, though, Barcelona’s performance at home certainly left a lot to be desired as they played hosts to Getafe in La Liga last weekend. Pedri scored the only goal of the game in the first half as Barcelona, instead, preferred to manage the game in the second half and protect their lead. It was not the showing they wanted, as Xavi admitted in the post-match press conference, but that win maintains their three-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of the league table.
Barcelona will be temporarily turning their attention away from the La Liga battle and will be looking to qualify for the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey for the 11th time in 13 seasons. They will be entering this clash with a six-match winning run in all competitions and will be desperate to protect that streak.
10 of Barcelona’s last 11 games have ended in victory – with the outlier being their 1-1 draw with Espanyol on New Year’s Eve – but Sociedad will pose the biggest threat to their hopes of Copa del Rey glory yet.
While Barcelona are no strangers to winning football matches and are on a hot streak right now, Real Sociedad are also starting to pick up lessons on the same. Manager Immanol Alguacil has has helped his side develop a certain taste for victories and they edge out the Blaugrana’s green streak of wins by one as they arrive in Catalonia aiming to secure an eighth successive victory in all competitions.
The Basque outfit were quick to capitalise on their advantage and found the back of the net inside the first five minutes of the contest with Mallorca in the Round of 16 of the Copa Del Rey. Robert Navarro scored the only goal of the game and even though there were some tense moments in the latter stages with Mallorca knocking on the doors, Real Sociedad held on to send the White and Blues to the quarter-finals of the cup competition for the second successive year.
Sociedad followed up that victory with yet another success in La Liga. Alguacil’s men registered a comfortable 2-0 victory over Real Vallecano on Saturday as Alexander Sorloth and Ander Barrenetxea both grabbed goals inside the first 45 minutes of the contest. Three points from that fixture helped Sociedad to cement their third position in the table and they continue to breathe down the necks of Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the latter separated by just three points.
While Sociedad’s victories have come against teams that they would have expected to beat, take nothing away from the defensive excellence on show, as Alguacil’s men have conceded just one goal in their last 630 minutes of football and are out to correct the mistakes of the 2021-22 season, where their Copa del Rey quarter-final ended in a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Real Betis.
However, Barcelona were able to breach Real Sociedad’s rearguard at will in a 4-1 romping of the visitors at San Sebastian back in August – their seventh successive win over the White and Blues in all tournaments – and Sociedad have failed to win in 16 against the Blaugrana since Mikel Oyarzabal struck in a 1-0 victory in April 2016.
FCB vs RSO, Copa Del Rey
Date: 26th January, 2023
Time: 1:30 AM IST
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona
Barcelona Copa Del Rey form:
Barcelona form (all competitions):
Real Sociedad Copa Del Rey form:
Real Sociedad form (all competitions):
Barcelona wins: 32
Real Sociedad wins: 6
Barcelona Team News:
Barcelona coach Xavi will be overjoyed by the returns of Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres as both strikers continue to miss La Liga games due to their three-game suspensions. Lewandowski was on target twice against Cueta and is expected to slot straight into the number 9 position here while Ferran may have to contend with a place on the bench.
Andreas Christensen had to come off at half time with a discomfort against Getafe but Xavi has insisted that it was precautionary in nature and that he will be fit for action here. Meanwhile, caution was also taken with Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong in the previous La Liga contest but chances are that both of them could end up slotting straight into the starting XI.
While a plethora of second-string players earned chances to impress against Ceuta, Xavi should name a more recognisable XI given the calibre of opposition, with Lewandowski set to take the place of Fati at the tip of the attack.
Reports from Barcelona suggest that the manager may opt for a four-man midfield, similar to the one that started against Real Madrid in the Supercup final, in order to gain superiority in the middle of the park against Real Sociedad. As such, it won’t be surprising to see Gavi play as a hybrid winger and midfielder and Lewandowski and Dembele lead the line for the hosts.
Real Sociedad Team News:
Coming to Real Sociedad, they are still missing a whole host of players due to injuries. The treatment room at San Sebastian is running at full capacity and the laundry list of players includes Alex Sola, Mikel Merino, Ander Guevara, Andoni Gorosabel, Jon Pacheco, Sadiq Umar, Martín Merquelanz, Mohamed-Ali Cho and David Silva, who is a late withdrawal after suffering from calf pain in training.
The in-form Merino is supposedly set for a month out with his hamstring injury, but Alguacil still has a couple of options for change in the final third, as Oyarzabal – who should take the place of Silva – is returning back to full fitness following his devastating cruciate ligament rupture.
Former La Masia jewel Takefusa Kubo did not see the field against Rayo Vallecano as a precaution, but the Japan international trained normally on Monday and should also be in contention for a starting role here alongside Barcelona-linked Martin Zubimendi, who returns from suspension to take on the club interested in acquiring his services in the summer.
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Kounde, Araujo, Garcia, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, De Jong, Gavi; Dembele, Lewandowski
Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Elustondo, Zubeldia, Le Normand, Rico; Mendez, Illarramendi, Zubimendi; Barrenetxea, Sorloth, Oyarzabal
Despite the injury crisis that they have been suffering from, it’s astounding how Alguacil has still managed to steer the Real Sociedad ship to victory after victory. He will be aware of how the Getafe low block seemed to trouble Barcelona at the Camp Nou and will, no doubt, be looking to ensure safety in his backline over exercising offensive risks. He will also feel confident about keeping the Barcelona frontline quiet for most of the game.
However, the return of Lewandowski, Frenkie de Jong, and Ronald Araujo could improve the hosts significantly and their star striker provides a lethal edge upfront. The trio of players have also been well-rested in recent times and could end up making a difference. It will not be surprising to see Barcelona pick up a narrow win here and march into the next round.