How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Real Sociedad
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The visitors have enjoyed something of a mixed start to this campaign. Their fabulous win against Lyon in the Champions League qualifiers has been tempered by a stuttering start in La Liga.
A solitary win against Getafe was followed by disappointing draws against newcomers Elche and struggling Levante and a home loss to Atletico Madrid. Saturday's game against Malaga saw them share the points yet again in a 0-0 draw.
Factor in a further loss to Shaktar Donetsk in the Champions League group stages, and a sharp dose of reality has been brought to San Sebastian.
To add insult to injury, on-loan playmaker Esteban Granero has been ruled out for at least six months after rupturing anterior cruciate ligaments in the game against Shaktar.
A season that promised much for Jagoba Arrasate's men needs a kick start, and what better way than to stop Gerardo Martino's all-conquering Barca machine in its tracks.
Step forward Xabi Prieto, Antoine Griezmann, Inigo Martinez et al. Arrasate is likely to stick with a 4-3-3 formation for this one, with the industrious Prieto offering support higher up the pitch on occasion in a 4-2-3-1 when necessary.
Despite only scoring four goals this campaign, make no mistake, Sociedad will mount a decent and compelling challenge to Martino's unbeaten record as Barca manager.
We only need recall the comeback win at the Anoeta Stadium last season if proof were required of their credentials.
For this reason, expect a near full-strength Blaugrana XI, with a view to resting players again for the upcoming fixture at Almeria. This will in turn allow Martino's trusted generals the recovery period necessary to be fresh for the Champions League game at Celtic just over a week from now.
Sergio Busquets will likely be restored to the spine of the Barca side to marshal La Real's attack to the less fruitful wider areas.
The visitors are likely to lean towards their left, Barca's right, as their next point of attack, and Dani Alves will be kept on his toes by Griezmann. The Brazilian will certainly have to work much smarter than in the last matchup between the sides, per Inside Spanish Football.
The rest of Barca's defence inevitably picks itself at the moment, despite the form of Gerard Pique—which requires vast improvement. There is certainly a case for Marc Bartra's inclusion, though Martino has steadfastly refused to use him in a starting berth to this point.
Adriano Correia should comfortably contain Carlos Vela if the latter continues to be utilised in the right-sided role, leaving Javier Mascherano to complete the back four. Victor Valdes, of course, will continue to provide exemplary cover between the posts.
Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta's roving patrol will complement Busquets' more defensive role, ideally keeping the forays of Prieto and others to a minimum. Expect the front three to remain unchanged—again.
The buds of the Neymar-Lionel Messi partnership are beginning to bloom. It would be fairly safe to suggest that much of Barca's attacking play will be down the left channel. It's a pattern that has served the Blaugrana well this season, and there is no reason to think that this will not continue.
The threat that Neymar possesses has been in stark contrast to a far less confident Alexis Sanchez-Pedro Rodriguez-Cristian Tello triumvirate.
Until last Saturday, that is.
Although all three started the season poorly in general terms, Pedro well and truly laid claim to the right-sided berth with a match-winning performance against Rayo Vallecano. It's an easy decision, therefore, for Martino to give him the nod for this one.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Sociedad won't represent too many problems for Barca in an attacking sense, yet only three goals conceded also give a flavour of just how difficult it might be for the home side to continue their sparkling La Liga form.
However, for the first time in 317 games on Saturday, Barca had less overall possession than their opponent. That will be something everyone will be looking to immediately put right.
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