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Saturday, 30 May 2020

Preview: Wounded Barca face little respite from fearless Sociedad

Reuters , Thursday 5 Mar 2020
Barcelona
Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi reacts to Real Madrid's secong goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on March 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Barcelona would like an easy fix after last week's defeat to Real Madrid knocked them off the top of the table, but Saturday's La Liga fixture against a soaring Real Sociedad could be the last thing they need.

The Basque side are on a remarkable run of six straight victories in all competitions and visit the Camp Nou fresh from qualifying for the Copa del Rey final for the first time in 32 years after overcoming Mirandes on Wednesday.

Sociedad's rise this season was somewhat unexpected as they have the youngest team in the league, while coach Imanol Alguacil is in his first full season after spending most of his career in charge of the club's youth set up.

Yet he has built one of the most exciting teams in the league, buttressed by midfielder Mikel Merino and playmaker Martin Odegaard, who has got his career back on track after a premature move to Real Madrid aged 16.

They are led in attack by a rotating cast of free scoring forwards including Spain international Mikel Oyarzabal, Sweden striker Alexander Isak and former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj plus Brazilian striker Willian Jose.

Sociedad's recent barnstorming run has included a 4-3 away win over Real Madrid and a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Champions League Valencia, while playing a thrilling style of football based on slick passing that must have Barca looking on in envy.

Ever since Pep Guardiola left in 2012 after producing one of the most mesmerising teams in the game's history, Barca's style of play has been a subject of fierce debate, even as the club's silverware count has continued to rise.

Concern that the team had abandoned its attacking philosophy led Barca to sack proven winner Ernesto Valverde in January and replace him with Quique Setien, who has never won a trophy but was seen to embody Barca's principles of possession football.

The experiment has had mixed results, with the team certainly having more of the ball but looking less effective.

Sunday's defeat in Madrid was their third loss in 11 games under Setien and now Real are in the driving seat in the title race, with Sunday's trip to Real Betis up next for Zinedine Zidane's side.

Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid have a chance to return to the top four when they host third-placed Sevilla.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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