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Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad: 6 Things We Learned

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

Barcelona vs. Real Sociedad: 6 Things We Learned

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Barcelona's Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Sociedad got off to a thumping start on Wednesday evening, with La Blaugrana earning a 2-0 victory in the Camp Nou's first leg.

    The Basque visitors were reduced to 10 men during the same exchange that saw them initially go behind, and it was a relatively simple run in for the pass-happy hosts to see out.

    That being said, nobody can be ruled out until next week's second-leg encounters. Her is a sample of key learning points from this first semi-final exchange.

     

    All statistics come courtesy of WhoScored.

Barca's Defensive Shortcomings Come to Light

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    It's long been known that Barcelona's biggest weakness at the moment lies in their lack of depth in quality defensive options, specifically in central defence.

    With Carlos Puyol on the bench, it was left to Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique to patrol the middle channels.

    The endeavour lacked cohesion, exposing La Blaugrana for the susceptible creature that it's capable of being with the current resources on hand at the Camp Nou.

    Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela were impressive to make as much of the chances afforded to them, which were few and far between.

    In fact, Vela was unfortunate not to receive a penalty for the pressure being applied to him just before Barca ran up the other end and opened the scoring.

    This summer, Gerardo Martino has to look at his back line as the focus for new foundations, as Real Sociedad opened Barca's ranks far too easily on Wednesday evening.

You'll Be Hard-Pressed to Find a Funnier Own Goal

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    At 1-0 down and with 10 men left on the pitch, Real Sociedad were putting up an admirable fight at the beginning of the second half, and they had a chance to walk away from the Camp Nou with dignity intact.

    However, the midweek visitors saw those hopes significantly reduced after Cesc Fabregas scythed through his opponent's defence, picking up Alexis Sanchez deep behind enemy lines.

    Gorka Elustondo was the man in the right place at the right time, however, attempting to clear Sanchez's effort, which thudded off the post.

    Instead, the anchor would end up ricocheting the ball comically into the back of the net via goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai.

    It was a cruel way for the Copa del Rey hopefuls to fall even further behind, but even Real Sociedad fans will look back upon the concession as one of the more ridiculous.

Andres Iniesta's Influence Is Sorely Missed

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    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Any side would be fortunate to have Andres Iniesta among the ranks, so it's no shocking revelation to say that Martino's men have been worse off while he is recovering from injury.

    However, Wednesday's meeting in Catalan country showed a lack of piercing movement from the hosts. The midfield three of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Xavi looked worryingly flat at times.

    As well as being the metronomic maestro who so often does the simple things right, Iniesta possesses a penchant for spark and ignition that Barcelona could have used in the opposition's final third.

    The Spaniard is easing his way back into the side, but it's as clear as ever that his return to full health couldn't come quickly enough, with a packed portion of the campaign quickly descending.

    After coming on as a second-half substitute on Wednesday, Iniesta's impact was immediate. He made those surging runs from deep and gave some much-needed urgency to the operation when he saw fit.

Jagoba Arrasate's Tactics Are Lacking in Logic

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    He made understandable choices given the daunting task that any trip to the Camp Nou poses, but as well as being commendable, Jagoba Arrasate's tactics are open to scrutiny.

    As hopeful as Real Sociedad may have been of keeping a clean sheet in Barcelona, it was always going to be a difficult hill to climb, even with five men at the back.

    In league competition, one might understand how shutting up shop is the tack to take, but considering the away goals rule stands in the Copa del Rey, chasing the result could have been the more logical route.

    It's highly likely that Martino's side will manage to get off the mark in Basque country, so the need for Real Sociedad to pinch a score of their own should have been intensified this week.

    Now, Arrasate's outfit find themselves with an uphill struggle regardless; a more expansive, higher-risk ploy should have been utilised in the first leg.

Messi's Magic Touch Has Gone Astray

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Of course, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner is deserving of the time he'll require to get back up to speed, but Lionel Messi has yet to regain that unique trait that separates him from other game changers.

    Wednesday's outing didn't come without its fair share of frustrations, and although Barca spent a lot of time knocking at the opponents' door, the home side seldom showed the necessary skills to unlock it.

    Usually, Messi is looked upon as the talisman who can provide that difference, but the Argentinian was more sluggish than his usual self for stretches.

    The 26-year-old scored his first La Liga goal since returning from injury against Valencia last weekend, but his contributions were in vain as Barca suffered a 3-2 defeat to Los Che.

    It's no been some time since he has given one of his characteristic, one-man-army displays, and whether it's psychological or something much more metaphysical, one could argue that the forward is under some strain to impress right now. 

    That's not to say his most recent outing wasn't impressive; in fact, he was the busiest of any attacker. However, it was more a case of plenty of huff and not enough puff.

You Can Get Ahead Without the Ball

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    By the time the watch had struck 30 minutes on Wednesday night, Barca were well on their way to doing what they do best: retaining a firm grip of the ball and racking up 85 percent of the possession.

    Of course, one would think that seeing so much of the ball would indicate a landslide was nigh, but Real Sociedad stood firm for the most part until Inigo Martinez's 44th-minute red card altered their posterior for the worse.

    Up until then, Arrasate's side were soaking up the pressure being thrust upon them and picking their chances to strike with a patience that's oh so necessary at the Camp Nou.

    Even after going down to 10 men, they continued to show good resilience and initiative when they were given a chance with the ball.

    Of course, it's always easier to get the desired result with more of the ball accounted for, but Real Sociedad's performance sends a message of hope to every underdog who is likely to go through a possession deficiency.

    The visiting team finished the match with just 19 percent of the ball but still managed to pose a threat. Real Sociedad may have come away with more if not for Martinez's sending off.

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