Real Sociedad 1-2 Barcelona: LaLiga Santander 2018-19
The Liga champions came from behind to win 2-1 on their traditional bogey ground, with the home side making life easy with two defensive howlers.
Barcelona took another step towards redressing their balance in Anoeta with a 2-1 win on Saturday although the visitors stumbled towards victory rather than striding purposefully to a second consecutive triumph in a stadium that has proved a testing ground for the reigning Liga champions over the past decade.
Real Sociedad, inaugurating their recently improved stadium that has allowed spectators to be much closer to the action, laid out a game plan in the opening 45 minutes that frustrated Barcelona to perfection, reducing Ernesto Valverde’s side to a single shot on goal and containing the visitors’ lightweight midfield to good effect. The Barça boss had promised changes to his line-up after the international break but it became swiftly apparent that Sergi Roberto and Rafinha were no match for the hardened old hands patrolling Asier Garitano’s five man midfield set-up.
The home side opened the scoring when Aritz Elustondo latched on to a loose ball in the area unattended to fire an unstoppable shot past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, his effort clipping the post on its way past the despairing grasp of the German. Ter Stegen would later keep his side in the game but it was his opposite number, Gerónimo Rulli, who would prove the decisive factor.
After the break Barça improved with the introduction of Philippe Coutinho, the Brazilian adding his eye for a pass to an attack that had been utterly stunted in the opening period. Coutinho drew a fine save from Rulli with a curling effort on the hour mark and it was the resulting corner that proved La Real’s undoing. The Argentinean came for a punch, missed, had a second chance to bash the ball clear but was beaten by the hardly imposing presence of Ousmane Dembélé and the ball eventually landed at the feet of Luis Suárez, who needed no written invitation to belt home from a couple of yards.
La Real left to rue Rulli mistakes
La Real did not recover from the blow – not least because they had enjoyed three excellent chances to extend their lead in the few minutes preceding it. Three lightning breaks had Barça’s high defensive line backpedalling furiously as the blue and white shirts poured forward and Ter Stegen made two game-saving saves with Mikel Oyarzabal obligingly firing the best chance of the onslaught into the stands when he had time to steady himself first.
Suárez’s goal owed a little to good fortune but Dembélé’s, which came just three minutes later, was hit straight off a four-leaf clover on the Anoeta turf. Rulli was again at fault, trying and failing again to punch clear and the ball broke for the Frenchman, whose left-footed shot would nine times out of 10 been smothered by the sea of defenders in front of him. A first Sociedad deflection ricocheted into the face of a second defender, steering the ball past the helpless Rulli as surely as if it was on a piece of string controlled by Valverde, who celebrated wildly on the touchline.
The Barça boss may be less enthused when he sees replays of both goals but his side maintained their perfect start to the season under the most testing scrutiny and largely in the absence of Leo Messi, who appeared to have been hampered by his two-week break rather than energised.
For Garitano and Real Sociedad it was a case of what might have been. Had one of those glorious chances created at 1-0 been seen through Barça may well have crumbled. As it was, the renovated Anoeta was denied a dream inauguration while the visitors essentially sleepwalked to a barely deserved victory.