In around 2 hours time we should find ourselves 2 points behind Real Madrid after only managing a 2-2 draw at the Anoeta early this evening. Nic worried the international break (FIFA virus) may have its affect, and I think his concerns were realized. However, I want to be super clear in the fact it is no excuse and Real Sociedad absolutely deserved their point today. It was a game of two halves, and my word did Real put in a serious 2nd half.
Pep put out a completely new looking team giving many of the key internationals a rest after the FIFA break, but likely also with an eye on Milan Tuesday night. Fontás got a start tonight with Busquets in the defense, with Alves and Adriano on their respective wings. Keita started in the holding role with Thiago and Xavi around him, and we had a loose front 3 of Alexis, Pedro, and Cesc.
The game started well enough with us breaking through in the 10th minute with Xavi. Cesc played it over the top of the defense to the onrushing Alexis who did great to take it down and quickly play it across the box to an open Xavi for an easy finish. Then just a minute later it was 2-0 with Cesc scoring his 3rd goal in just 4 games. Real were struggling with our balls over the top and this time Cesc peeled off on the left, received the pinpoint pass from Xavi, took it down and played it right to Pedro. Pedro then put in a miserable attempt to score, passing it right into Bravo’s chest, but thankfully Cesc was hungry to chase the rebound and he slid in to put it into the net. That was 2-0 and we were cruising.
The rest of the half was all us in terms of possession, though not too many clear cut chances. We were however easily breaking through the defense with balls over the top. In the 38th minute Alexis got injured after the trailing leg of a defender wrapped around his leg after a clearance. The news is that it’s a hamstring tear and he will sit out for 6 to 8 weeks. The half ended with Real’s only chance that was a pretty weak Xabi Prieto attempt on goal. But that chance was a sign of things to come.
Real came out the blocks blazing and created a great chance just 2 minutes in. The eventual man of the match in my opinion Agirretxe showed his strength and balance to shield off Alves and Busquets and then whip a good shot just wide of Valdes’s post.
They deservedly got their first goal in the 59th minute thanks to the exciting Agirretxe, who has 3 goals in 2 games this year. Some lazy defending from Adriano allowed Xabi Prieto to easily put in a cross and the big Basque number 9 rose up, comfortably muscled Busquets out the way, and headered it into the goal.
They were really fired up after this and then in barely 60 seconds later we conceded the 2 thanks to a ridiculous lapse of concentration from Villa. He blindly just smashed a back pass and there was absolutely nobody there to receive it. Agirretxe was clear on goal, rounded Victor, and then put a shot in destined for goal. Busquets then tried to disguise his blatant handball to block the goal, which deflected the ball onto the bar, but it fell down to Griezman who put it into the empty net. Now I’d say we came out of this situation pretty lucky. The ref was well within his right to send Busquets off and we can feel very fortunate he didn’t deflect it over the bar cause then it was an easy decision of red card and penalty.
We were seriously nowhere in these first 15 minute, and basically the rest of the game. The team looked exhausted and the Real players were just much hungrier and motivated. They hustled us on the ball, giving our players no time to settle into our game. Our tactics also looked miserable. That front 3 had no structure at all and Villa was doing nothing on the left. The gap between the mid and forwards was also far too large and whenever we did get the ball up, there was minimal support.
So at 2-2 we reacted by bringing on Messi for Thiago. In the 71st minute was the only legit chance we created to win the game, but Pedro blasted the ball over the bar after Alves had done brilliantly to recover a ball that looked destined to be shielded out of bounds. Pedro had a stinker tonight.
However he did do one thing well in the 75th minute when we showed quick feet to get past a few defenders, then slide it through to the onrushing Messi. The angle was very tight and with Bravo completely closing down the angle, Messi could only shot it right into the goalie. And that was our last chance of the 2nd half with 15 minutes left. Even the introduction of Iniesta, who was super for Spain during the past week, didn’t yield fruit.
We very nearly lost it as well with 2 super chances from Real in the 89th and 90th minutes. Alves had to make a brave diving header to stop a lovely cross from Vela and then from that corner a Real header bound for goal luckily hit one of our defenders.
The fact is Real Sociedad are a tough team, at home especially, and we simply were not going to win 38 from 38. The fans are very passionate and the atmosphere was hostile throughout. Credit also to new manager Montanier for what must have been a fantastic half time speech to create that reaction and belief. Real were the only team to beat us on their home pitch last year, at this ground, and tonight nearly did so again. I know there were internationals, but only 1 month into the season should we really be so tired? The fact is we look jaded and the high-energy play from our opponents had us rattled throughout the 2nd half, most clearly shown with that bizarre moment when Valdes wasn’t looking at a back pass that so nearly trickled into his net. The commentators were loving the fact we keep using a mid in defense, but I don’t think that was the issue tonight. Sure Busquets was very weak in the header for the 1st, and a big Pique or brave Puyol could have stopped that, but neither he nor Fontàs could do anything about the brain fart from Villa. The chances wasted in the 1st half and inability to control the games in the 2nd half were much more to blame. Keita had a shocking 2nd half, but you can add many names to the poor performers list, mainly Adriano, Villa, and Pedro. Even the legend Xavi tonight looked extremely uncomfortable.
It was an annoying game to lose after we were killing them in that first half. I’m not concerned or anything, we have started slow the last few years and like I said this isn’t an easy fixture. However I will say Villa is getting on my nerves a bit, as well as the fact we so stubbornly play him on the left all the time. He was totally useless tonight and looked very fatigued. Alexis cannot be fairly judged just yet, but he needs to show more goal threat for me.
It really is early days and no need to start blaming anyone and doubting anything. This team has proven their quality and ability so let’s give them some time to get things right. I would however really like to see Puyol back in the defense, and I was quite sad not to see him in tonight, though I can understand why. I do however feel Abidal could have helped the defense.
We have AC Milan Tuesday night, and traditionally, these sorts of results have been followed with a reaction. Pep was clearly not pleased tonight so the players are going to have a tough few days in training I suspect.
0 – 1, Xavi (9th), 0 -2, Cesc (11th), 1-2, Agirretxe (57th), 2-2, Griezmann (59th)
Valdes – 6.5, Alves – 7, Busquets – 6, Fontas – 6 (Iniesta – 6), Adriano, 5.5, Keita – 4.5, Cesc – 7, Xavi – 6, Thiago – 6 (Messi – 6.5), Alexis – 6.5 (Villa – 4), Pedro – 5.5