After a disappointing start to a campaign that was predestined to be one with the promise of redemption, Barcelona travels to San Sebastián on the second matchday of the new season. Although the Anoeta is a difficult ground to conquer, Xavi’s team will try everything to make up for the lackluster draw against Rayo last week, and clinch their first victory in the new season against Real Sociedad.
The Basque team enjoyed a decent campaign last season, finishing 6th on the table, earning them the right to participate in the Europa League. But considering the expected points metric, calculated from the created and conceded xG of a certain team, La Real was the 4th force in the Spanish league, ahead of the Sevilla-Betis duo.
Despite the quality, they possess in their attacking section, with stars like Alexander Isak, David Silva, and Mikel Oyarzabal, the area where they lacked last season was the finishing, underperforming their xG by a vast 10-goal margin. While both Portu and Januzaj left this summer, they seemed to strengthen even further with the addition of Mohamed Ali-Cho, a very direct, talented forward, and Brais Méndez, an experienced, creative asset in the team.
However, perhaps the most exciting transfer is the fallen wunderkind of Real Madrid, Takefusa Kubo. The curse of La Fábrica has become his personal tragedy too, as he, without the chance to show himself in the first team, was thrown out to clubs inappropriate for a developing youngster on loan. Finally, Sociedad bailed out the struggling youngster, offering him the possibility to rebuild his career.
The Japanese talent is a perfect mixture of the above-mentioned two arrivals: a creative, skillful winger who can also threaten the goal with his shooting ability. At La Real, he kicked off his new chapter with a goal to make his debut one to remember, and still, he is just a 21-year-old kid – once deemed as the ‘Japanese Messi’ – seemingly getting back on track. Ironically, he was a La Masia graduate at one point.
Besides the quality of the squad, the Basques have a very capable manager in the name of Imanol Alguacil. The Txuri-Urdin master who has been coaching the team for more than 3 and a half years now, has deployed an essentially proactive concept, with the dominance of the ball and attacking intentions, seasoned with high pressing and defensive stability. Flexible tactically, he likes to adapt the team’s style to different oppositions like a chameleon, which makes it difficult for the big teams to beat them.
On the other side, Barcelona had problems beating the defensive structure of Rayo and failed to create high-quality chances. Still, they could have won the game with just one of the 21 shots hit slightly better, and we would talk about a whole different game. Given the quality of the players, we don’t have to worry about finishing these chances, but some problems on the team level need to be addressed.
A spectacular insufficiency was the attacking output of the right fullback. Ronald Araújo struggled to prevail in the role of an inverted fullback, especially when it comes to helping the attacks. And, to be fair, he cannot really be blamed for that, as he played out of his natural position. As Koundé is still not registered, Dest can finally start at the right flank, and his skillful liveliness can relieve others in the attacking third, and enhance the attacking potential of the team.
Another idea, a somewhat weird one, can be the inclusion of Frenkie de Jong as the inverted right-back. In this quasi midfielder role in possession, the Dutchman can start from a deeper position and penetrate the opposition lines with his ability to carry the ball into dangerous areas if needed. In addition, his stability and press-resistance can add further safety in possession, while his defensive focus would be limited to just the side. An attempt worth trying.
Another talking point is the unnecessary suspension of Busquets and who will replace him as the pivot of the team. Frenkie proved to be unable to operate as a single pivot, Kessié is an interior in Xavi’s conception, while Nico has just left on loan to Valencia, so Miralem Pjanić remains the only option in the heart of the Blaugrana. He was tried in this role in the preseason, but this can be his first real test to show if he is capable to prevail in the Garnet and Blue midfield.
Some decisions are still hanging in the air, but one thing is sure: victory is the aim of the visit to San Sebastián, and no matter how difficult this challenge seems, the expectations have to be placed high. A truly exciting matchup we look forward to, let’s see what happens today evening in the Anoeta.