Playing at Anoeta has never been an easy task for Barcelona. Over the years, it has gained the reputation of being a stadium where the Catalan giants are bound to drop points despite having a team full of superstars. Thanks to Ernesto Valverde, a 9-year curse was stabbed to the floor during his maiden tenure with the club.
This season, though, the possibility of facing the best Real Sociedad sides in years in a do or die game, Barça went into the game with optimism owing to their incredible run of form. The optimism was replicated on the pitch as the game ended 1-6 in favour of the visitors. Barça Universal runs the rule over Ronald Koeman’s men.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 7
Ter Stegen did not have an awful lot to do on the night, with the Barcelona attack taking care of the game. But, he did make four saves including a low driven strike from Alexander Isak, which came as a result of a poor pass from the German himself. Could barely do anything for the goal.
Oscar Mingueza: 8
Oscar Mingueza’s meteoric rise from being the third-choice centre-back in B team to becoming one of the first names on the team-sheet for the senior team has been sensational. He proved it again yesterday with a solid performance. Was also responsible for winning the ball, and starting the move for Barcelona’s jaw-dropping sixth goal.
Frenkie de Jong: 8.5
Every step de Jong takes on the pitch is calculated, and every pass results in an attack. Playing in the centre of the Barcelona defence yesterday, the Dutchman won all his ground duels (3/3), all his aerial duels (1/1), and completed 2/2 of his long balls. Losing possession just four times, it was yet another standout showing from de Jong.
Clement Lenglet: 6.5
After a series of more than decent performances, Lenglet looked shaky yesterday. He had to deal with the marauding runs of Portu while Jordi Alba ventured forward. While usually he makes up for that with some brilliant piece of passing, the Frenchman completed no more than 2/6 long balls.
Sergino Dest: 9.5
Sergino Dest perfectly encapsulates the modern-day fullback — a player who loves to venture with the ball at his feet, taking on players with bravery and skill. The American also loves to shoot and got his reward with a brace yesterday. Not only that, he managed to hit the woodwork — AGAIN —, too.
Sergio Busquets: 8.5
2021 has been incredible for Sergio Busquets, who seems to have rediscovered his best form in the ever-changing system of Ronald Koeman. Slotting as a pivot alongside Pedri yesterday, Busquets not only assisted Lionel Messi for Barcelona’s fourth but was able to resist the strong winds of press of La Real’s midfield.
Not the best day for Pedri, facing Mikel Merino and Ander Guevara in the centre of the pitch. The Spaniard won two tackles, but was unable to create any chances.
Jordi Alba: 9
Jordi Alba has been in some bizarre form in 2021. Playing as a left-wingback as helped him find the right balance of duties in the attack and defence. Yesterday, too, the former-Valencia man assisted two goals, creating a total of four chances, including a beautiful pass to Lionel Messi for the final goal of the night.
Lionel Messi: 10
Lionel Messi’s genius is such that you have to stand up and applaud even though you are watching the game in front of a TV screen. Reaching the milestone of the highest appearances for Barcelona, yesterday was one of those games.
The Argentine helped double the lead with a slick through ball to Sergino Dest who made no mistake with his finish. 20 minutes after that, he got one of his own, with a perfectly-timed run which Busquets simply could not miss. Finally, a sensationally-constructed goal sealed a flawless performance as the six-time Ballon d’Or winner contributed directly to three goals for the second game running. Messi should be celebrated.
Antoine Griezmann: 7.5
It has become increasingly difficult for Antoine Griezmann to fit into the Barcelona setup, but he came up with the goods, again, yesterday. After Alba’s cross was not put to bed by Ousmane Dembele, Griezmann’s perfect positioning helped him slot the ball into the goal with ease. Additionally, he created one chance, and won three tackles.
Ousmane Dembele: 7
Ousmane Dembele is not a centre-forward, and it has been proved several times over this season through his poor finishing, including the last three games. The Frenchman, against Sociedad, scored one, when he had the chance to score at least three. One of his goals was wrongly disallowed for offside, but an overall quiet outing for Dembele.
Preview: Barcelona’s strongest XI against Real Madrid
The title race is well and truly wide open. With Atletico Madrid still leaking points and Real Madrid trying to cope up with the tight schedule the Champions League brings with it, Barcelona would hope to be the favourites.
Barcelona travels to Madrid to face a team missing some big names. Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Eden Hazard and Daniel Carvajal all miss out on the decisive clash. Nevertheless, if Los Blancos‘ performance against Liverpool is anything to go by, El Clasico will be a battle to remember. Meanwhile, Barcelona will once again have the services of Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
The result on Saturday will count for so much in the title race. In this creme-de-la-creme of clashes, here is how Barcelona could lineup against Real Madrid.
Marc Andre ter Stegen is always the first name on the list for Ronald Koeman. At the Alfredo de Stefano, the German wall will don the gloves and aim to keep the Madrid attack at bay.
Gerard Pique finds himself back in the Squad, however, it seems unlikely he will be given a start considering lack of match fitness. The three-man defence system has worked wonders for the Catalans, and Koeman will not look to change the system. A trio of Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, and Clement Lenglet could possibly start on Saturday.
Oscar Mingueza has been rock solid and on a constant rise. With every passing game, the youngster’s confidence grows, and so does the performance. Meanwhile, Clement Lenglet had a tremendous game against Real Valladolid, hardly placing a foot wrong. The Frenchman finally looks to be hitting his stride. Ronald Araujo is fit and ready to start once again and will have to be the leader on the field on the night.
The midfield is where the game will be won or lost for Barcelona. The hosts boast of one of the most fearsome trios in midfield, who reiterated their greatness against Liverpool midweek.
Up against Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it will be crucial for Frenkie de Jong to start in midfield. The Dutchman is one of the best in the business in controlling the tempo of the midfield.
The No.21 will be accompanied by Barcelona’s veteran maestro Sergio Busquets. Busquets will account for so much of controlling the midfield. Moreover, his distribution and defensive contributions will be invaluable.
Pedri will complete the midfield alongside the others. The recently internationally capped Spaniard will have to be on the top of his game at the di Stefano. He will be the fulcrum of Barcelona’s creative outlet.
Sergino Dest did face stagnation in performance last month. In the last few games, however, there has been a resurgence. The USMNT fullback has been more lively than ever in attack and has been completing take-one for fun. It will be crucial for him to exploit the right-wing on the night.
Jordi Alba will unsurprisingly continue to start at left wing-back. With Real Madrid being weakened at right-back, Alba will have his chance on a platter to once again come up trumps.
Ousmane Dembele has often been Koeman’s go-to option as a central player in the new formation. Once again, a two-man forward line could see the Frenchman return to duties in the front line.
Lionel Messi had a relatively quiet game against Valladolid, his first one in 2021. However, he will look to step up on the biggest stage in El Clasico, as he always does. The Argentine has been at the peak of his powers this year, and he could inspire the side to another title with a great game tonight.
Dembele · Messi
Alba · Pedri · Busquets · de Jong · Dest
Lenglet · Araujo · Mingueza
Antoine Griezmann, who recently welcomed his third child, will be more motivated than ever to return to his peak powers. The Frenchman undoubtedly has a celebration or two in store for the latest member of his family and will hunt for a chance to showcase it on Saturday.
Fransisco Trincao could come on for Ousmane Dembele late in the second half to bring in fresh legs. His intricate dribbling could prove invaluable on the night.
Ilaix Moriba could be utilized to ramp up the pressure in the midfield, while Riqui Puig is bound to get a few minutes as well.