A goalless draw against Rayo Vallecano after 90 minutes at the Camp Nou was certainly not what Barcelona manager Xavi would’ve expected as his newly star-studded began their La Liga 2022/23 campaign last weekend. Barcelona were left visibly frustrated by a disciplined Rayo defence who also threatened on goal a couple of times. They will certainly be hoping to get their campaign finally off the mark when they travel to the Estadio Anoeta to take on Real Sociedad who began their campaign with a solid 1-0 win away from home against Cadiz.
Real Sociedad did extremely well to finish sixth in La Liga last season and there is plenty of optimism and renewed hope surrounding the club’s chances of pushing for a Champions League qualification spot this time around.
While Los Txuri Urdin began last season on an enthralling note and were among the top four in La Liga before losing their steam and ultimately fading away to the Europa League places, that is also considered to be a major achievement for a club that was competing in the second tier of Spanish football as recently as 2010.
Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil who claims to be a fan of the club first and boss next has been responsible for the gradual progression of the team since being handed the reins at the Anoeta in 2018. The 51-year-old has secured a top-half finish in La Liga in each of his last four full seasons and has also led the club to silverware after they won the Copa del Rey in 2021.
The club from San Sebastian collected a total of 62 points last season, which was coincidentally same as the prior season. The challenge is greater this time around as they will try to close the gap between them and the top four in La Liga. A meeting with Barcelona will signify how far they’ve come and whether they’re capable of punching above their weight in the domestic league.
They are arriving into this match on the back of a 1-0 victory over Cadiz on the road last weekend as former Barcelona youth product Takefusa Kubo scored in the 24th minute to secure the three points for his team. Alguacil’s side have a wonderful opportunity to derail Barcelona’s campaign fresh into the season on Sunday and they will be hoping to achieve exactly that.
While Real Sociedad represent clarity, calm and a gradual rebuild and progression of the squad over the years and with little help from the transfer window, the situation at Barcelona couldn’t have been more different. The Catalan club have been the busiest spenders in the summer transfer window.
Despite incurring significant debt to the tune of nearly 1.5 billion euros, Barcelona have been able to spend lavishly on world-class players like Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, and Jules Kounde while also signing Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie on free transfer deals. As a result, Barcelona suddenly look star-studded on paper and manager Xavi has plenty of resources and options to call upon, a luxury that some of his predecessors didn’t have.
On the boardroom level, there seems to be a lack of forward thinking and clear organisation as Barcelona have struggled to register several of these players and only found the room to register four of their five signings this summer merely 36 hours before the match against Rayo. Former Sevilla defender Jules Kounde hasn’t been registered yet and much to his annoyance the club is struggling to offload wantaway players like Sergino Dest, Memphis Depay, Martin Braithwaite, and Samuel Umtiti and clear their wages from the salary bill.
It’s fair to say that such disruptions and constant noise off the pitch tend to find themselves into results on the pitch and that was also the case against Rayo Vallecano at the Camp Nou last weekend where Barcelona clearly seemed to struggle.
Opposition manager Andoni Iraola managed to tactically outclass Xavi with his disciplined defence and despite having 21 shots and 68% possession throughout the game, they lacked the fluidity required to break down the stubborn defence implemented by Iraola.
It must also be added that with three new faces in the starting XI the obvious lack of chemistry and a mismatch of wavelengths was to be expected. Xavi will now hope that his big money signings leading the frontline in Raphinha and Lewandowski finally get going and ease into their surroundings in a new league. However, it will be easier said than done given the enormity of the task that awaits them at the Basque country this Sunday.
RSO vs BAR, La Liga 2022/23
Date: 22nd August, 2022
Time: 1:30 AM IST
Venue: Reale Arena, San Sebastian
Real Sociedad La Liga form:
Barcelona La Liga form:
Real Sociedad wins: 8
Barcelona wins: 37
Real Sociedad Team News:
Real Sociedad will miss their key figure in attack Mikel Oyarzabal who has been sidelined after rupturing his cruciate ligament and is expected to be out until at least the middle of October.
Diego Rico was withdrawn from the squad just a few hours before the clash with Cadiz and he is said to be suffering from a hamstring problem. As a result, he will miss this match as well and will be accompanied by Alex Sola and Carlos Hernandez on the sidelines with the same issue. Martin Merquelanz is also suffering from a knock to his knee and is unexpected to make it back fit in time.
Aihen Munoz may end up replacing Rico at the left back slot. Besides that change, Alguacil is expected to retain most of the starting XI that took on Cadiz last weekend. David Silva remains as wily as ever despite his age and his movements in between the lines could prove to be the key to unlocking Barcelona while in transition.
Barcelona Team News:
Barcelona took their own sweet time to finally register new signings in Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, as well as the contract renewals of Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto following a late activation of an economic lever and plenty of deliberation and consultation with La Liga.
Unfortunately, though, high-profile defensive signing Jules Kounde had to be left out due to issues with the wage bill and while he was unlikely to be fit enough to start against Rayo, Kounde hasn’t been registered in time to make the trip to San Sebastian either.
As a result, Barcelona may have to depend on the centre-back pairing of Eric Garcia and Andreas Christensen once again while Ronald Araujo will clearly be asked to deputize as a right-back as Barcelona have excluded Sergino Dest from the squad once again. If Araujo starts at his usual centre-back slot instead of Garcia, Sergi Roberto will start at the right-back and provide more natural ability and buildup in possession from the right flank.
Dest has been sidelined from the squad along with Umtiti and Braithwaite as the club has clearly stated that they do not count on them and want to facilitate their departure as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Xavi’s side will also miss club captain Sergio Busquets who has been suspended after seeing his second yellow card in injury time against Rayo Vallecano and the manager might struggle to truly replace him. While Frenkie de Jong, Miralem Pjanic, and Franck Kessie are some of the options, all of them have certain downsides when compared to Busquets.
In attack, Robert Lewandowski is set to lead the line once again but Ansu Fati, who looked sharp when he came off the bench in the second half against Rayo, may be preferred to either Raphinha or Ousmane Dembele on the left flank. Ferran Torres has received the medical green light but he might be eased into proceedings instead.
Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Elustondo, Zubeldia, Le Normand, Munoz; Zubimendi, Mendez, Merino; Silva; Isak, Kubo
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Christensen, Araujo, Alba; De Jong, Kessie, Pedri; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Fati
After dropping points at home after a lacklustre performance at home against Rayo Vallecano, Barcelona have had to witness arch-rivals Real Madrid mount back-to-back triumphs. Nothing less than a win here would mount significant pressure on Barcelona, who are clearly struggling to achieve their financial goals off the pitch. Xavi will come under intense scrutiny as well due to some of the decisions he has been making.
Real Sociedad could especially prove to be a tough nut to crack and the atmosphere at the Reale Arena is also hostile. It won’t be surprising to see the San Sebastian side push above their weight and another draw could might as well be on the cards here, much to Barcelona’s dismay.