There seemed no stopping them. As they headed for San Sebastian, Tito Vilanova’s men had accumulated 18 wins from 19 matches. They had collected 55 points from a possible 57 – a La Liga record for a team at the half way stage of the season. Away from home, they were gunning for their 11th victory on the trot. They seemed quite literally unstoppable.
The Blaugrana’s all-conquering march towards the League title had many at a loss as to just how to beat them. In the lead up to the game, Real Sociedad’s Carlos Vela said, “Nobody knows what to do against them”, while after his side’s 4-0 drubbing in the Catalonian derby last weekend, Espanyol boss Javier Aguirre lamented that his side had faced “an impossible task against Barcelona at Camp Nou”.
As is common to speak in outer-worldly terms when discussing Lionel Messi these days, Real Sociedad captain Xabi Prieto even hinted that perhaps Barcelona were also of another planet and not human like the rest of us when he said, “They are a machine”.
But, after 90 drama-filled minutes at the Anoeta, La Real proved that the Catalans are human after all. They are mortal. They may have taken a beating and they may have ridden their luck but Real Sociedad finally did what no other team has been able to do all season - defeat Barcelona.
It took an injury-time winner to seal the points for the hosts. After beating two Barca defenders, Carlos Martinez sent an inviting cross into the box and Imanol Agirretxe was there to poke the ball beyond Victor Valdes and send the home crowd into raptures. Last season in the same fixture, Real Sociedad had earned a draw after clawing their way back from two goals down. This time they went one better.
“I am very proud. We played a great game and it is great to win a game against Barcelona. We knew that we would suffer from the start because they love to keep the ball but my players somehow mentally stayed strong,” said a rightfully delighted Philippe Montanier after the match. The mental strength the hosts displayed was commendable. No team since Real Betis in 2008 had managed to do what Real Sociedad did on Saturday night; come back to win 3-2 after trailing by two goals against the Catalans.
They certainly did have their fair share of luck however. The outcome could have been very different had Pedro and Lionel Messi not seen two efforts deflect off the woodwork in the first half when the visitors were in the ascendency. Gerard Pique’s sending off before the hour mark helped their cause too. But, as Montanier continued, “We won because we our team were compact, hard-working and had a slice of luck."
Real Sociedad are now undefeated in six home matches – a form-guide that only the Catalans and the two Madrid giants can better. While Mundo Deportivo, the Catalan sports daily, blamed stadium lighting, the condition of the pitch and referee Undiano Mallenco who they accused of bias referring for Barca’s loss, Montanier’s side were deserving winners. They unrelenting pressed their opponents into making uncustomary mistakes and they registered almost twice as many efforts on goal than their more illustrious visitors.
Despite the shock of the result, comments from the Barca camp after the match suggested that even they knew that sooner or later they would be undone. Tito Vilanova admitted, “someday we had to lose”, similar sentiments shared by Lionel Messi who said, “It had to come sometime”.
And it did. While it may not change much in terms of the title race, it has reminded the competition that Barcelona are not infallible. They can be defeated. As the Marca headline read, “La Real shows Barca to be human”.