Luis Enrique’s team face one of the most difficult away fixtures of the season looking for a victory at a ground they haven’t won at for years to keep pace with the league leaders.
After the 0-0 draw with Málaga last week, FC Barcelona have ground to make up on Liga leaders Real Madrid, who they host in next week’s Clásico and who survived some scares on their way to a 2-1 defeat of Sporting Gijón on Saturday. But the challenge of a trip to San Sebastian is not an easy one. Real Sociedad are one of the most in-form teams in the competition right now, and Anoeta is a ground where Barça have a dismal track record in recent seasons.
Gerard Piqué’s foot is still sore but that won’t stop him from playing. But Arda Turan has been left out of the Barça squad through illness, while none of Andrés Iniesta, Samuel Umtiti and Jeremy Mathieu are over their injuries. It means that defender Marlon Santos and midfielder Carles Aleñá from Barça B are joining the first team on the trip to the Basque Country.
The full squad is as follows: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Suárez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alcácer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes, Aleñá (28) and Marlon (33).
Real Sociedad are without three midfielders: Ruben Pardo, Jon Gaztanaga and Markel Bergara.
Speaking on Saturday, Luis Enrique claimed not to be bothered about his side’s poor run of results at Anoeta. “I’m not interested in the past” he said. “None of that has anything to do with tomorrow’s game.” Neither will his approach be conditioned by the meeting with Real Madrid next weekend, arguing his case with the reminder that “the games in San Sebastian and the Clásico are both the exact same three points.”
The Barça manager also spoke highly of Eusebio Sacristán, who like Luis Enrique is also a former Barça B and Celta manager. The Real boss agrees that past results matter for little. “They are something for us to feel happy about but those wins will count for nothing on Sunday” he said. “We’re playing against a great team, with great players, including the greatest of all.” One assumes he was referring to Leo Messi!
Barça have more points on the road than at the Camp Nou this season, having won every away fixture apart from the defeat at Celta. But the two points dropped at home to Málaga mean that there’s a momentary gap of seven points between the Catalans and league leaders Real Madrid.
Real Sociedad are on a terrific run of four wins in a row, scoring 10 goals and receiving just one against Alavés, Leganés, Atlético Madrid and Sporting Gijón. It means they’re currently fifth in the table, and that’s only on goal difference behind Villarreal.
Barça’s recent record at Anoeta makes for woeful reading. Four straight defeats and not a single win in six visits, dating all the way back to 2007 (because of the spell Real spent in the second division). It’s hard to understand why that should be, but not even Leo Messi seems to have his best days in San Sebastian. He’s only scored twice in his last seven visits – but records are only there to be broken. Let’s look on the bright side – Barça are well due a win at Anoeta!