With such a large cushion already built up, Barcelona’s defeat against Real Madrid last week didn’t matter too much in terms of the La Liga title race. The Catalan side are still six points ahead of Atletico Madrid and seven ahead of Real Madrid at the top of the table, but if they slip up again then they will need to be worried about their title hopes.
This Saturday’s trip to face Real Sociedad at Anoeta could provide one of those slip-ups that the two Madrid sides are counting on. The League leaders’ fixture trip to La Real is certainly a potential banana skin as Barca have struggled in San Sebastian in recent seasons. Last term, for example, David Moyes’ La Real defeated the treble-winners 1-0, and the result, along with the decision to leave Messi on the bench, almost cost Luis Enrique his job. It’s difficult to imagine that, now we know he would go on to win the 2015 FIFA Coach of the Year award, but Luis Enrique’s Blaugrana coaching career was nonetheless close to being destroyed in San Sebastian.
This Saturday, Enrique and Barca return to Anoeta, but they are not necessarily expected to come away with a better result this time. With this fixture sandwiched between the two legs of their Champions League quarter-final against Atlético Madrid, Barca have other priorities and may play a weakened team. It is unlikely that Enrique will risk keeping Messi on the bench after the furore which followed his decision to do so for the last Anoeta trip, but he may rest some of his other starters, with one eye already on Wednesday’s second leg at the Vicente Calderon.
If Enrique does rest some starters, however, he risks a seventh consecutive Barca visit to Anoeta without a win. Since Real Sociedad returned to La Liga in the 2009-10 season, Barca have yet to defeat them in San Sebastian. Four of their six trips in that time have been defeats, including the most recent two visits. It’s bizarre, given that Barca have won every home match against Real Sociedad since the Basque side returned to the top division. There just seems to be something about Anoeta that particularly troubles them.
La Real have been in quite good form at Anoeta recently as well, which is further reason for Barca fans to be concerned. They lost 1-0 at home to Las Palmas in a shock result last time out, but before that they had gone six matches in a row unbeaten at home. With a large crowd expected for Saturday’s primetime match at 8.30pm local time, Real Sociedad could be extra-motivated and extra-encouraged. If Barca are at all complacent or thinking about the Atleti match then La Real could take full advantage. They have certainly been capable of doing so in the past.