Barcelona’s undefeated start to La Liga finally came to an end on Saturday at the hands of Real Sociedad.
This makes three straight seasons that La Blaugrana have left the Anoeta without picking up the full three points.
However, Barcelona has already faced many tests this season. Games against Sevilla and Deportivo brought out the fight and desire of Barcelona. So what caused the Catalans to finally lose in Spain?
There is a mixture of reasons for the loss, and certainly fans will be blaming various players.
But in this article, we will look at the real reasons why Barcelona left the Basque lands without a victory.
Though Real Sociedad was already pushing Barcelona, everything changed when Gerard Pique picked up his second yellow card and saw his exit.
The tall defender had been anchoring the defense and was instrumental in stopping many of La Real’s attacks. When the Catalan left the field, it gave Sociedad a real advantage.
Barcelona was now missing height and strength as Javier Mascherano was brought in to fill the hole in the defense. Though Mascherano made some key tackles, he is not Gerard Pique. But there will be more on that later.
It was not just the mere lack of height and being one man down that was brought on by Pique’s exit, however.
To put in a defender, it meant Vilanova had to take an attacker off. The unlucky attacker was Cesc Fabregas, who was having a stellar night.
Once Fabregas left the pitch, the offense began to suffer. Barcelona was left with only one playmaker, and Lionel Messi was forced to carry the attack alone. Andres Iniesta did his part on the left wing, but without help, he was often stuck alone.
It was clear that defense was preferred over offense. After the red card, Barcelona’s focus was to hold onto the win at all cost.
The man that replaced Pique in defense may be the most at fault for the loss. Javier Mascherano has proven that he can give cover at the back, but he continues to show that defense is not his first position.
Mascherano was involved in the last two goals for Real Sociedad.
First, a shot came off of the Argentine and gave Victor Valdes no chance of saving it. It was Mascherano’s third own goal of the season, but this was hardly his fault.
It is never wise to blame someone for allowing the ball to bounce off of them. He was in the right position and just happened to be unlucky with the path the shot took.
In fact, Mascherano was filling in well for Pique. The converted center-back made several strong challenges and was holding the Soceidad attack at bay.
Sadly, though, the stoppage time winner for Real Sociedad may be subject to the poor positioning of Javier Mascherano.
As the cross came in that eventually led to the winner, Mascherano was clearly out of position. The Argentine was caught flat-footed and was beaten. Carles Puyol rushed to make up for the play but was unable to arrive in time.
For all of his stellar defending on the night, this one play will be all that is remembered for Mascherano.
Though he may be a terrific substitute, Mascherano just does not possess the positioning ability of a true center defender.
Against Real Sociedad, Barcelona again had problems finishing and putting an opponent away. The starting lineup was easily the best the Catalan side could field, but it did contain one flaw going a man down.
Once Barcelona was seeking a goal to either win the game or make sure Sociedad could not come back, the scoring was not there. Often Messi and Iniesta were left on their own to create a chance that just did not come.
With Iniesta on the left, Barcelona was missing a second scoring threat to help Messi. This would have been the perfect chance for Cristian Tello to come into the game, or Villa if he had not been injured (via fcbarcelona).
The fact of the matter is that with a player gone, the offense was not the focus. With so much riding on the defense, Barcelona was not going to score again after the red card.
Though I have often sung the praises of Vilanova, he made a mistake in this game. Barcelona desperately needed a second option such as Tello on the left-= wing to help the attack, but no one was brought in.
This may just be the biggest reason why La Blaugrana was unable to put Real Sociedad away.
Granted, Barcelona was unlucky to hit the bar twice, but more scoring needed to come when things got difficult.
The shocking loss of Barcelona comes mere days after keeper Victor Valdes made it known that he was not going to re-sign with the Catalan club (via Goal).
Though it seems that Barcelona will stick with him until his contract expires, fans could begin to blame the keeper for this loss. Letting three goals in is always strange for Barcelona, and a big coincidence coming so soon after the big news.
However, allow me to be the first to claim that the goals were not the fault of Victor Valdes.
The first goal was a beautiful strike into the far corner, followed by a deflected shot and defensive error. Had Valdes saved the shot, it would have been miraculous.
But that does not mean that the news did not affect those on the field.
Barcelona’s defense looked nothing like the back line of recent weeks, and the connection with the keeper was almost non-existent. Could this have anything to do with the soon-to-leave keeper playing behind them?
There will be much made of what happened at Anoeta, but it is not too much of a stretch to say that the news has affected the team.
Hopefully this will be settled soon, but there is a chance it could create problems. Though the loss is in no way the fault of Victor Valdes, the keeper’s decision could have been on everyone’s mind.
When looking at this game, Cules will try to find where things went wrong. But the truth is that Real Sociedad won by putting in a strong performance.
The loss was clearly the result of facing a team that was prepared and refused to lose. La Real executed perfectly and made everything hard for the Catalans.
Real Sociedad must take pride on the game they played. Though Barcelona was not at their best, the loss still comes down to how well the Basque side played.
Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova said after the game (via goal.com), “Their win is more due to their merit, rather than us not playing well.”
Obviously, Vilanova knew how hard the Basques played. Instead of making excuses, Barcelona must admit that they were simply beaten. No club is invincible, and La Real has proven yet again that giants can fall.
Congratulations to Real Sociedad on an extraordinary win.
What are your reasons for the Barcelona loss? How would you rate the performance of Real Sociedad? Don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments below.
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