Goals from Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, plus superb goalkeeping from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, helped Barcelona earn a comeback 2-1 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday afternoon at the Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian.
Aritz Elustondo gave the Basques an early 1-0 lead against a Barcelona side bereft of ideas, but the inclusion of Philippe Coutinho would spark the Catalonians’ attack, yielding goals from Suarez and Dembele just three minutes apart midway through the second half.
Coming off the international break, manager Ernesto Valverde opted to rotate his starting XI, giving rest to midfielders Sergio Busquets and Coutinho, while Rafinha and Semedo got the nod, meaning Sergi Roberto was pushed forward into midfield.
It just wouldn’t be a Real Sociedad-Barcelona match at Anoeta without an opening goal from the Basque side, and so the hosts happily complied by producing the game’s first score. After a silly Sergi Roberto foul in the Barcelona half, a free kick was served up and headed down by Mexican centre-back Hector Moreno, falling perfectly for Elustondo to latch onto and fire in past Ter Stegen for a 1-0 lead.
Barcelona were out of sorts due to Real Sociedad boss Asier Garitano and his spot-on tactics. Mikel Oyarzabal was tasked with shadowing Jordi Alba, essentially following the Barcelona left-back wherever he went; the idea being to disconnect Alba from the Barcelona attack and snuff out Alba’s preferred overlapping runs down the left.
Things were also difficult for Lionel Messi. The Argentine was swarmed by Asier Illarramendi and Igor Zubeldia any time he touched the ball and that left the playmaking to the likes of Rafinha and Sergi Roberto, a far less dangerous duo than Alba and Messi. Barcelona’s best sequence of the half came shortly before halftime when efforts from Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic just missed, otherwise it was slow going for Valverde’s men.
Valverde had to make a change during intermission, so Semedo was hauled off and Coutinho came on to bring more creativity to midfield, thus sending Sergi Roberto to his customary right-back position. Soon thereafter, Valverde had his preferred XI on the pitch when Busquets replaced Rafinha.
Barcelona were creeping closer to goal and the spaces that weren’t there for Messi in the first half started opening up in the second 45 minutes. Still, Real Sociedad had three good cracks at goal via counterattack, but Oyarzabal missed over the bar while Ter Stegen made huge saves from point-blank range on Theo and Juanmi.
The San Sebastian side was left to rue those missed chances, as minutes later Suarez pulled Barcelona level 1-1 after Real Sociedad stopper Rulli was unable to punch clear a Pique header and it eventually bounced for the Uruguayan, who volleyed in from a few yards out.
Rulli redeemed himself with a superb save of a curling Coutinho effort, but the Argentine would again commit an error on a corner kick and a poor clearance rolled to Dembele, whose shot deflected in off of Ruben Pardo’s foot and into net for a 1-2 lead to Barcelona.
Barcelona looked to salt things away with a third, but instead they had to deal with a late charge from Real Sociedad. The Basques came within a whisker of an equaliser when a Juanmi header sailed just wide, allowing Barcelona to collect their second away win of the season.
1- Real Sociedad: Rulli; Theo, Moreno, Elustondo, Zaldua; Zubeldia, Pardo (Sangalli, min. 83), Illarramendi (Merino, min. 82), Zurutuza (Bautista, min. 73); Juanmi, Oyarzabal
2- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Jordi Alba, Umtiti, Pique, Semedo (Coutinho, min. 46); Rafinha (Busquets, min. 57), Rakitic, Sergi Roberto; Dembele (Vidal, min. 77), Suarez, Messi
Goals: 1-0, min. 12: Elustondo; 1-1, min. 63: Suarez; 1-2, min. 66: Dembele
Referee: Del Cerro Grande (Madrid). Yellow Cards: Illarramendi (Min. 43) for Real Sociedad, Umtiti (Min. 87) for Barcelona. Red cards: None