Well, Pep and the boys just blew a fantastic opportunity to wrap the league up. Real Madrid had lost earlier this evening 3-2 at home against Real Zaragaoza, meaning a win tonight would have taken us to 11 ahead, needing only 1 pt in the next four games. In stead, we played an embarrassing game of sluggish, un-purposeful, nearly arrogant football against a team scrapping for survival. Extremely disappointing.
We started with an expectedly different starting 11. Pinto got a start, Fontàs started on the left, Montoya the right, while Milito joined Pique in the middle. Still, we had Xavi in the midfield (joined by Keita and Thiago) and Messi upfront (along with Afellay and Jeffren).
Montoya however only managed 13 minutes after a Raúl Tamudo tackle injured the youngster and Alves came in.
Sociedad had their first chance in the 14th minute, when after a botched freekick, the ball fell back to Griezmann who lobbed it into the path of Tamudo, who could not get the shot on target.
Nothing much really happened aside from a decent run from Jeffren until the goal in the 29th minute. Xavi was given time in space in the middle of the park, he then slid the ball towards Messi, but it either missed him or he purposefully touched it on, and fell to Thiago. The young midfielder took a touch into the box and then lopped it nicely over Bravo to make it 1-0.
That was the first half. Far from inspiring and for me, very disappointing. It was clear how uninspired and unmotivated we were to play purposeful attacking football. Sure we kept the a ball a lot, but barely anyone was committing themselves forward and our attacks fizzled out tamely.
The second half started much the same, but bit by bit you could sense Sociedad fancying their chances. We were so clearly in 1st gear (maybe even neutral) and they began to notice our lackadaisical approach. In the 60th minute a poor backheader from us fell into the path of Tamudo, who got his shot on target but too central so Pinto stopped it.
In the 67th minute Messi had one of his few moments in the game. He did brilliantly tracking back to steal the ball off Rivas about 15 meters in our half. He then burst away all the way to their box before slipping it right to Jeffren. He managed a decent shot on target and then nearly followed up on the rebound, but alas, no goal.
Pep then strangely decided to take off Pique for Mascherano. I was not a fan of this move as it happened.
Sociedad coach Lasarte then made his move by bringing on fresh legs. Ifran came on for Tamudo, while a talented attacking midfielder called Zurutuza came on for the more defensive minded Rivas.
The substitutions paid almost immediate dividends when Ifran made it 1-1 in the 70th minute. After we nearly cleared a set piece, the ball came back into the box, it fell to Zurutuza who slipped it nicely behind our defense into open space where Ifran ran onto it and lopped it coolly over Pinto with his first touch of the ball. This was no less than they deserved with their more purposeful play and positive attacking substitutions.
In the 76th minute a Diego Milito headered goal was called offside rather harshly. The offside rule is one of the messiest in the game, but whether the saying of daylight must exist between the defender and attacker or advantage must go to the attacker do apply, the linesman ignored both because that was barely anything in his call. Milito was well level with the last defender and the goal should have stood. But it didn’t and it remained 1-1 and we had plenty of time to score again.
In that play Milito seemed to injure his troublesome hamstring and Busquets came on. That was a pity as it looked as if young sensation Deulofeu was about to come on.
We then went behind in the 82nd minute with a penalty from Xabi Prieto. Pinto played the ball out short to Masch on the right, the two of them then played some risky and foolish passes between each other instead of just clearing the danger. Eventually Masch had a heavy touch, lost the ball, and when trying to recover clearly fouled our opponent in the box. It was a clear-cut penalty. Prieto then took one of the most useless spot kicks I’ve seen in a while and Pinto really should have saved it. But he didn’t and we were behind 2-1 and deservedly.
That finally (bit late really) sparked us into life and we looked more like ourselves than ever before. The best chance fell to Thiago in the 86th minute after Afellay did the only positive thing in his 90 minutes when he split the defense and tried to poke the ball past Claudio Bravo. The ball then eventually fell to Thiago with an open net, but a Sociedad defender put enough pressure on Thiago to put him off this shot.
So we lost our first game in the league since Hércules way back in game 2 on September 11, 2010, and deservedly so. I hope Pep has some stern words for the boys tonight because the level of effort and attacking purpose we put forth was not of the standard expected. We just passed the ball around without really trying to score, if we lost it we just sort of accepted it, and failed to react to a team that was picking up momentum. Sure we’ve had a crazy last few weeks, but we are good enough and should be professional enough to at least play a bit better. Furthermore, all the bench players that played tonight didn’t were fresh as can be and did themselves no favors with their performance. Afellay really disappoints me. He is amazingly wasteful with the amount of ball he gets. I think the lack of a proper striker really didn’t work tonight and Messi really was not involved much. The only good news is that Madrid did at least lose and we are still 8 points clear with Espanyol at home, Levante away, Deportivo at home, and Malaga away left. That was both an unmemorable game and unpleasant report to write. I’m not one at all to expect us to win every game but I do expect better play and character than that. The only comfort I take is that it is highly unlikely this game will matter at the end of the season.
Pinto – 5.5, Montoya – 6 (Alves – 6), Pique – 6.5 (Mascherano – 5), Milito 6.5 (Busquets – 6), Fontas – 6.5, Keita – 6, Thiago – 6, Xavi – 7, Jeffren – 6, Afellay – 5.5, Messi – 6.5