Barcelona continued their perfect start to the 2018-19 La Liga season on Saturday by beating Real Sociedad 2-1 on the road. The Catalans went down in the first half, but Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele completed the comeback.
Aritz Elustondo gave the fans at the renewed Anoeta stadium a reason to celebrate after just 12 minutes, and La Real comfortably defended their lead until half-time. The Blaugrana came out with renewed energy in the second half, however, and turned the situation around from two corners in a matter of minutes.
The win puts added pressure on Real Madrid to keep up, with Los Blancos in action against Athletic Bilbao later on Saturday.
Here are the key takeaways from Saturday's match.
Valverde's Gamble Nearly Backfires
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde opted to rotate his squad a bit on Saturday knowing the Champions League fixture against PSV is just around the corner and the schedule is about to get busy for his team.
Sergio Busquets and Philippe Coutinho took a spot on the bench, with Sergi Roberto moving into midfield and Nelson Semedo coming in at full-back. Rafinha also got his shot. It was a solid setup, but Valverde overlooked one key detail.
This was a trip to the dreaded Anoeta, where the Catalans have suffered heartbreak countless times over the years. La Real were extra motivated for this match as they made their return to the renovated ground, and they also honoured fan-favourite Imanol Agirretxe before kick-off, which handed the squad even more motivation.
It was a recipe for disaster, with a predictable result:
Semedo was pulled off at half-time and Coutinho made his way on to the pitch, but La Real had plenty of chances to double their lead before some set-piece struggles gifted the Catalans two goals.
It was a good comeback from the Blaugrana, but they got more than a little lucky and came dangerously close to more heartbreak at the Anoeta.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen deserves credit for an amazing afternoon, as he made several key saves on Juanmi late on. The former Southampton man should have converted at least one of his many chances.
Rotating a team is fine, but Valverde needs to pick his spots better. An afternoon at the Anoeta, where the Catalans had won just once in La Liga in the last decade, was not the time to do so.
Semedo's Audition Should Worry Barcelona
It's hard to sugarcoat just how poor Semedo was on Saturday.
La Real gladly allowed him time on the ball, found plenty of space down his side of the pitch and even had the Portuguese to thank for their goal, as he was beaten by Hector Moreno:
Semedo is supposed to be the main backup plan at right-back, but he doesn't appear a viable option in top matches. That's a serious problem for Barcelona, who already have similar issues on the other side of the pitch, where there's no quality replacement for Jordi Alba.
With the schedule set to heat up considerably―Barcelona face a run of matches against Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur, Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in a matter of weeks―the Blaugrana won't be able to rest either of their star full-backs without taking a major dip in quality.
Semedo could have taken a step toward more playing time against La Real, but instead, he may have dropped even further down the pecking order.
Brave Txuri-Urdin Undone by Set-Piece Struggles, Bad Finishing
Real Sociedad came agonisingly close to celebrating their return to the Anoeta with a big win, and they only have themselves to blame for the outcome of Saturday's match.
After a solid first half, the Txuri-urdin failed to put their opponents away, missing several big chances. And goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli twice made errors on corners in quick succession, resulting in two goals:
Even after those setbacks, La Real's struggles in front of goal cost them. Juanmi's dreadful miss with a close-range header in the final minutes summed up his outing.
It hasn't been a great start to the season for the Txuri-urdin, who haven't been aided by several key injuries, but this amount of mistakes makes it difficult to win matches against top teams.
Barcelona host PSV in the Champions League on Tuesday, while La Real visit SD Huesca in La Liga on Friday.