Barcelona travelled to the challenging San Sebastian on match day 12 of La Liga EA Sports. They arrived at the game fresh off the defeat to Real Madrid, hoping to make amends for the points dropped.
Real Sociedad, their opponents on the night, did not make that easy. The Basque side are one of Spain’s most in-form teams and dished out a clinical all-round performance at Reale Arena.
Xavi Hernandez opted for wholesale changes to his starting lineup before kickoff. Marc Andre Ter Stegen started in goal with a centre-back trio of Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo and Inigo Martinez starting on the night.
Alejandro Balde and Joao Cancelo were deployed as wide midfielders down both flanks while Ilkay Gundogan and Gavi manned the midfield.
In front of them was Fermin Lopez, the team’s attacking midfielder on the night. Robert Lewandowski completed the lineup alongside Joao Felix in the final third.
Immediately after kickoff, it was La Real who got off to a bright start. In just the second minute of the game, Barrenetxea unleashed a vicious shot at Ter Stegen’s goal only to be denied by the German international.
Two minutes later, Barcelona were lucky to not concede on a defensive error. The ball fell straight at the feet of Oyarzabal, and while he had only the goalkeeper to beat, he missed his opportunity.
Barcelona’s lean patch continued for the opening ten minutes, as they very much looked like a team coming off a big defeat.
La Real dominated the possession, chances created and efforts on goal, and even came close to scoring in the 15th minute after a Barrenetxea cross almost found Kubo in the Catalan box.
It was only as the 20-minute mark arrived that Barcelona began to string together some passes and make attacking transitions. By the 30th minute, they were fighting the 50-50 challenges and even coming out on top on occasion as they struggled to find their rhythm.
Real Sociedad’s defence did not make it easy for the visitors either. Their resilient partnership made it close to impossible for the Catalan forwards to make inroads into their area, rendering them without any clear-cut chance in the entire first half.
Heading into half-time, Imanol Alguacil’s side were in seventh heaven. They had everything going for them except a goal to their name. Truth be told, they could have been three goals up by the midway stage.
La Real picked up where they left off after the break, threatening with their attack and putting Xavi’s defence under pressure.
Robert Lewandowski and Fermin Lopez came off for Ferran Torres and Pedri Gonzalez close to the hour mark. It appeared the latter’s return could not have come at a better time, for the team sorely needed a ball controller in the match situation.
The 65th minute saw a crucial moment when Kounde brought down a Real Sociedad player in the box. While it was looked at by the VAR, the foul on Oyarzabal was brushed aside in Barcelona’s favour.
Lamine Yamal and Raphinha replaced Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo respectively in the 68th minute. Barcelona were, after all, still without a big chance and control of the game.
The chances for the hosts kept coming. Barrenetxea’s shot tested Ter Stegen in the 71st minute before Kubo could not make the most of his chance moments later.
Barcelona grew into the game in the final minutes once again, with the ball even falling kindly for Ferran Torres in the hosts’ area. He could not make the most of his chance and also completely missed the target two minutes later.
Pedri and Gavi combined in extra time to create a sensational chance, perhaps Barcelona’s biggest of the game, but the latter was denied by Alex Remiro.
Completely against the run of play, Ilkay Gundogan unbelievably lobbed the ball into Ronald Araujo’s path. The Uruguayan was at the right place at the right time to net the winner in the final minute of the game.
Xavi’s side thus took all three points home on a night where they were completely dominated. Ironic, considering how they were at the other end of a similar result against Real Madrid last week. Nevertheless, they will take the win no matter how it comes.