Barcelona continue the defence of their Copa del Rey title on Thursday night when they travel to San Sebastián to take on Real Sociedad. La Real have been in good form and they will be a difficult opponent for Luis Enrique’s side who have been enduring mixed fortunes this season.

There can be little doubt that the big topic ahead of the game will be Barcelona’s run of eight games at Anoeta without a win. Barça’s last win in San Sebastián came back in May 2007 so this will be the last chance to break the hoodoo before it becomes ten years old with the teams already having drawn 1-1 there at the end of November in La Liga. There are just two survivors from the Barcelona squad that beat Real Sociedad 2-0 in May 2007. Andrés Iniesta, who scored in that game, and a young Lionel Messi are the only two still at the club with the other 16 members of the squad since moved on. Since that victory it has been all doom and gloom for the Catalan side as La Real have beat them five times with the other three meetings ending in draws. Thursday nights result won’t make or break Barça’s season with the second leg still to come at Camp Nou, but it would be a huge boost to the team and supporters if the “Curse of Anoeta” could be put to bed at last.

La Real are having a great season and are currently 5th in La Liga after Monday night’s win over Málaga. Former Barcelona player, assistant manager and B team coach, Eusebio Sacristán has done a great job with the Basque side since taking over a team who were in a relegation battle in November 2015. Eusebio steadied the ship last season and now has the club battling it out at the right end of the table with a return to the Champions League well within the teams reach. Not only have results improved under Eusebio but the style of play has too. Under David Moyes, La Real weren’t particularly good to watch but they now play with a real free and attacking style which perhaps hit the heights in that draw with Barcelona in November. Although Barça left Anoeta with a point the truth was they were very fortunate to get it as they were outplayed for much of the game and La Real also had a late goal disallowed when the officials failed to notice Carlos Vela’s shot from distance had crossed the line, denying the Basque side what would have been a deserved victory.

With the competition now at the quarter-final stage it is expected that both teams will field their strongest possible eleven although La Real will have some selection issues due to their lengthy injury list. Carlos Martinez, Mikel González, Markel Bergara, Imanol Agirretxe, Joseba Zaldua and Carlos Vela are all likely to miss the game. Barcelona will have most of their squad available with the only player set to miss out being Rafinha who has picked up a hamstring injury. Not only do La Real have more players injured but Barcelona should have a much fresher team than Real Sociedad with Barça’s game last weekend kicking off a full 52 and a half hours before La Real got underway against Málaga on Monday evening. Luis Enrique was able to afford his players two days off this week which is a luxury Eusebio won’t have due to the short turnaround for his team.

Rafinha’s injury is a real blow for Barcelona as the young Brazilian has played very well in the last two games and was making a strong case for the third midfield slot alongside Sergio Busquets and Iniesta. Rafinha has been very unfortunate with injuries throughout his young career but hopefully his absence on Thursday is just a precaution and he can return to the team in the coming weeks as the team gear up for what will hopefully be a busy few months. Rafinha’s absence leaves an opening in midfield which will most likely be filled by André Gomes. Gomes had a good game in the 5-0 win over Las Palmas and should get the nod in midfield. It is likely Neymar will return in attack despite Arda Turan performing well on Saturday but another big call that Lucho will have to make will be who starts at right back. The much maligned Aleix Vidal got a chance at the weekend and he gave a man of the match performance which should really be enough to see him earn the start but there seems to have been some issues between him and Luis Enrique this season which could see Sergi Roberto return to the starting eleven. Jasper Cillessen will most likely return to the team after playing in the last game against Athletic Club and Javier Mascherano is expected to get the nod in defence ahead of Samuel Umtiti as the Argentine is suspended for the league game against Eibar this weekend so Lucho will most likely give him a run out in the Copa.

This will be a tough game for Barcelona and the recent history is cause for concern but runs like the one Barcelona have had at Anoeta have to end sometime and with Barcelona playing well in their last two games and La Real coming in off the back of a trip to Andalusia two days after Barça’s last game there is every chance the run ends this week. If Barcelona are to get the much anticipated win at Anoeta one of the most important things will be their work rate when not in possession. At times it hasn’t been good enough this season, especially away from home where Barcelona have only kept five clean sheets in 15 games across all competitions. That hard work starts at the front and must go right through the team as Real Sociedad are too good a side to stand off and allow them to have the ball. If Barça don’t play at their best they could be in for another long night at Anoeta but if they can put in a good performance and come away with a win it would be the perfect way to end what has been a superb week for the club with all three trophies very much back on the agenda.

Referee

The man in the middle on Thursday night will be González González. In Barça’s last five with him as referee they have won three, drew one and lost one. In those games he has booked 16 Barcelona players, awarded them one penalty and awarded the opposition two.

In the last five games he has refereed La Real they have won two and lost three. In those games he has shown Real Sociedad players 16 yellow card and one red card. He has also awarded two penalties against them.

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