Barcelona will look to remain atop La Liga when they travel to San Sebastian on Saturday for a tough fixture against Real Sociedad.
As things stand going into Matchday 24, Barca are on 60 points, the same amount as both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
Recent history says that it's going to take a total in the high 90s in order to win La Liga, so points dropped from any of those three teams is a big deal. A three- to six-point gap could prove almost insurmountable at this point in the season.
Real Sociedad lie sixth in the table. They started out the season slowly and got run out of the Champions League group stage in relatively short order.
By October, La Real hit their stride and began moving up and looking like the side that finished fourth last year.
However, Sociedad have leveled off a bit, posting a 2-2-2 record in their last six league matches. Despite falling back to earth, they present a tough matchup for Barcelona.
When: Saturday, Feb. 22, at 2 p.m. ET; 7 p.m. GMT
Where: Anoeta, San Sebastian, Spain
Watch: beIN Sports (U.S.); Sky Sports 3 (U.K.)
Live Stream: beIN Sports Play (U.S.)
Chances (courtesy of Bloomberg Sports)
Real Sociedad win: 22.4 percent
Barcelona win: 58.0 percent
Draw: 19.6 percent
Top Storyline: Will Barcelona's Poor Run at the Anoeta Continue?
The Anoeta hasn't been kind to Barcelona since Sociedad were promoted in 2010. La Real have two wins and two draws against Barca in San Sebastian since 2007—the last time the Catalans won. The highlight of that run was the 3-2 win in January 2013, when Sociedad fought back from a two-goal deficit to win 3-2.
So far this season, Real Sociedad have the fifth-best home record in the league. They've taken 24 out of a possible 33 points. On the other side, Barcelona hold the second-best road record in the league, which isn't a huge surprise.
Now that the Champions League has started back up again, Barca are dealing with fixture congestion a bit, which is both a positive and a negative. If you're Barcelona, you want to advance deeper in the Copa del Rey and Champions League, but it ultimately means more matches, which can take the focus away from and make your players tired for the league fixtures.
Manager Gerardo Martino remains confident that his team won't have lost any focus after its 2-0 win against Manchester City earlier in the week, per Barca's official site.
“Now we have to concentrate on the league” he said. “We have to aspire to winning every game we have left. It would be improper not to perform well in San Sebastian. Our intention is to play well and win."
Between that and Real Sociedad's impressive home record against Barcelona, there's a good chance the Catalans could drop valuable points on Saturday.
Real Sociedad won't be phased by Barcelona's possession-based attack. According to WhoScored.com, they're used to controlling the ball for about half of the game, far lesser than Barca's league-leading 66.5 percent.
Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela are impressive on the counter-attack. Both players have eclipsed double digits in goals this year.
Even better for Sociedad is the fact that Jose Angel is there sitting behind Griezmann to offer support down the left, as Bleacher Report's Allan Jiang writes:
So you presume Barca manager Gerardo Martino is warning his players ad nauseam about Griezmann's tendency to score headers (35.7 percent of his league goals have come from headers) and his shooting ability (he scored against Barca in the Copa del Rey).
But who plays on the same flank as Griezmann?
Angel will throw caution to the wind and bomb forward as he looks to hurt Barca, a club he nearly signed for.
As good as Sociedad's counter is, it can't match up to Barca's attack, which has looked to regain its form. Neymar should be returning to the lineup, and Lionel Messi has scored six goals in his last four matches, one of which came against La Real in the 1-1 Copa del Rey draw in the Anoeta a little over a week ago.
The bigger question surrounds the defense. Although Barca have shipped just 17 league goals this season, there have been plenty of possible warning signs.
Vela isn't what you'd consider a physical target man, so Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique shouldn't have much trouble should Sociedad go a more direct route to goal.
Barcelona will control this match and keep Real Sociedad at arm's length. They'll earn the pivotal three points.
Barcelona 2, Real Sociedad 1
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