Real Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil has said it is impossible to stop Barcelona's Lionel Messi ahead of the La Liga showdown between the two sides on Saturday.
The Blaugrana head to the Reale Arena level on points at the top of the table with rivals Real Madrid, who will travel to Valencia on Sunday. It's unlikely the Catalans will face a straightforward 90 minutes in the Basque Country, as La Real sit in an impressive fifth place in the table.
Minimising Messi's influence in the match will be key if Sociedad are going to take any kind of positive result. However, speaking on the eve of the game, Alguacil said it's difficult to contain the 32-year-old, per Oscar Badallo of Marca:
"There is no way of stopping Messi. He has played against many teams and against many coaches.
"The only thing to hope for is that he does not have a good day. For me, he is the best player that has existed in history, no doubt. And alongside him are players who are not at his level, but who are close."
Messi was rested for Barcelona's UEFA Champions League clash with Inter Milan on Wednesday but is set to return to the team for Saturday's encounter. In his last La Liga outing, the Argentina international grabbed a remarkable hat-trick in the 5-2 win over Real Mallorca.
Premier Sports showed the highlights from that encounter and put the latest treble from Messi into some context:
Premier Sports 📺 @PremierSportsTV
Just another weekend for Lionel Messi.. 🎖 Presented his 6th Ballon d’Or by his 3 sons 🎩 Scores his 35th LaLiga hat-trick, overtaking Cristiano Ronaldo for the most ever 🥇Now LaLiga top scorer (12) despite missing first 6 games #MondayMotivaton 🐐 https://t.co/1GIqdUBPjY
Per the La Liga Twitter feed, at the moment there aren't many attacking records in the division that Messi doesn't hold:
Most goals in #LaLigaHistory. Most assists in #LaLigaHistory. Most hat-tricks in #LaLigaHistory. Most wins in #LaLigaHistory. Most goals for @FCBarcelona. Most goals for Argentina. Most Ballon d'Ors in history. Most European Golden Shoes. The list goes on... 🌟💙 LEO MESSI ❤️🌟 https://t.co/MBosXkGeNe
The match at Sociedad represents a huge challenge for Barcelona at what is a crucial point in the campaign.
On Wednesday, they will host rivals Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in the first Clasico of the season and if both teams win this weekend, it'll be a huge occasion. However, it's important the team don't look past what will be a significant examination in San Sebastian.
Sociedad have been one of the most entertaining sides to watch in European football this season, with Alguacil bringing the best from a talented crop of stars. Martin Odegaard and Mikel Oyarzabal have been especially impressive in their attacking midfield berths.
Per Scouted Football, Sociedad's key performers and most productive operators have all been younger players:
Barcelona were vulnerable away from home earlier in the campaign and Sociedad will be hoping they can reopen some old wounds in what promises to be a packed stadium.
However, there appears to be more solidity about Barcelona at this stage of the campaign, while Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann have started to show signs of improving as a trio. With the former in red-hot form again, the Blaugrana will fancy their chances of emerging from the fixture unscathed.