Barcelona arrived Anoeta with a lot of pressure on their backs given their two predecessors, Atlético and Real Madrid, had won their respectives matches. And it wasn’t the best field to achieve this: the culés had not been able to beat the Basques in San Sebastián since 2007. And moreover, Luis Enrique made some rotations: Sergi Roberto was the left-back, Rafinha and Arda Turan were the midfielders and Munir was placed in Luis Suárez’ (the Uruguayan was suspended) usual position.

Right from the start, Real Sociedad pressured high up the pitch in a 4-5-1 scheme with Vela up front. Taking the lead in the scoresheet was fundamental for Eusebio’s plan to succeed and if last season the local team’s goal came in the second minute, this time around they scored in the 4th. A cross from the right band and a beautiful and precise header by Oyarzabal -one of Eusebio’s greatest merits- who was left unmarked by Piqué. Barcelona had overcome in seven of the last eight matches they began trailing in the scoreboard but Anoeta is a Via Crucis for the Catalans.

As the minutes went by and especially after the goal, the Basques changed to a defensive pressure in their own half, benefiting of how disorganized, slow and predictable was Barcelona’s attack. Only from a Neymar’s or Messi’s conduction and the subsequent alley-oop to the opposite band could the visiting team create some danger. This was the case in the 32th minute, with a play that ended up with a Turan’s shot and a great save by Rulli. It was the only occasion in which the Turk footballer contributed to the collective game. He was once again languid, without adjusting to the squad’s dynamic and he was booked again given his despair and will miss the next match.

To witness Dani Alves or Sergio Busquets failing easy passes was a clear example of Barcelona’s low morale and physical state when the referee whistled for halftime. Real Sociedad pressured during the first few minutes, went ahead in the scoresheet and from that moment on they executed a positional defense by accumulation -in some phases they even defended in a 6-3-1 formation- closing the internal lane spaces and with few troubles. Without Rafinha’s and Arda’s leadership, Messi and Neymar lowered their positions to command the game but they just had a well-covered Munir up front and Alves’ attacks on the right flank. Real Sociedad was thankful of the lack of attacks to the space behind their backs.

The match demanded Andrés Iniesta to enter the pitch for Barcelona, the Manchego replaced Rafinha after the halftime break and the team’s performance indeed improved. Without being a siege, the Spaniard enabled two chances for his team: a shot on target by himself which demanded a great block by Rulli and a pass to Messi which the Argentinian couldn’t control properly. With Andrés on the pitch, Barcelona is another team. Jordi Alba was also subbed in, moving Sergi Roberto to his more usual position in the midfield. With that substitution, the left wing was a menace once more. And with Rakitic entrance -his 100th game wearing the Blaugrana jersey- Barcelona regained his main XI, not counting Luis Suárez. It was too late.

Not even with Piqué as the center forward in the last ten minutes. Real Sociedad was bold from the kickoff and with their one-goal lead they knew how to deny Barcelona the internal lanes, to defend by accumulation and positioning -especial mention to Zurutuza’s match- and to take advantage of Barça’s disorganization with individual efforts that did not help to maintain a coordinated attack. Atlético are now three points behind in the league table and Real Madrid four points behind.

As we said when they met against those two rivals, Barcelona biggest issue is not their physical state but it’s related to their game and low morale. They have lost their confidence and the script they use to act as a team, move the ball around and choose where and when to verticalize. Messi’s lowered and centered position is not helping to resolve this but there’s yet to be seen if this is a cause or a consequence of the culés poor performances. Barcelona need a great Messi and receiving the ball with the whole opposite team in front of him seems to be an impossible solution to make a difference.

What happens next Wednesday, in a way or the other, will be very important to face the season’s final stretch. To survive or not at the Calderón, that is the question. At San Sebastián, it was once again the groundhog day.

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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Ismael Ledesma.