LIGA BBVA | BARÇA 4 - REAL SOCIEDAD 1
Barça hit four against Real Sociedad to keep up 100% start
Neymar and Messi took advantage of generous defending to give the hosts a quick-fire 2-0 lead. Busquets and Bartra also scored. De la Bella replied for La Real.
There’s no doubt now: Gerardo Martino is the man in charge at Barcelona. In moments of doubt, that’s when we truly find out an individual’s resolve – and in Tuesday’s La Liga encounter ‘Tata’ served notice that he has plenty of that. Having buried his father a week ago, Martino had stepped off the plane for the trip to face Rayo Vallecano with scarcely time to deliver his pre-match team talk. And, despite winning 4-0, he was criticised.
Yet far from wavering, Martino stood firm as ‘Los Blaugrana’ thrashed Real Sociedad 4-1 in an almost perfect game for the hosts. One in which Neymar played excellently and was substituted; one in which Lionel Messi gave a master class and was also replaced; one in which Marc Bartra and Sergi Roberto featured and Barça gave a performance reminiscent of some of their finest hours. Yes, it was a win for everyone; but above all it was a win for Martino, who came through his first bout of adversity with flying colours.
Speaking before the match, club president Sandro Rosell had done little to dispel doubts among the fans when he defined the somewhat senseless debate over possession as a “crisis”. With friends like that (Martino may have asked himself), who needs enemies? Once again a Barça coach found himself in territory well charted by his predecessors: proving yourself right with no help at all from anyone else. And he did so to perfection.
The Argentinian coach sprang a selection surprise for the visit of La Real, leaving Saturday’s hat-trick hero Pedro on the bench: here was the first reminder from Martino that he was the boss here. Alexis took the Spain international’s place in the starting line-up, joining many of his team-mates in delivering a complete performance.
In the first fifteen minutes, Barcelona took Real Sociedad by storm. With Neymar giving the Basque defence a torrid time, they cut Jagoba Arrasate’s men to pieces. La Real had in fact started brightly, Haris Seferovic picking up the ball after a collision between Barça’s Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets (which led to the Argentina international being forced off injured after 34 minutes) and shooting against the woodwork. But then home side took charge.
Neymar opened the scoring for Barcelona, taking advantage of indecision from Claudio Bravo and Liassine Cadamuro in defence to bundle in an Alexis cross. As Real Sociedad’s heads dropped, Messi headed in at the back post after terrific work by Neymar. The minutes that came after that saw a Barça side in full flow as the third arrived through Busquets. Messi was unlucky to see his close-range shot rebound off the woodwork, and the midfielder gathered the loose ball just outside of the penalty box and rifled in a left-footed shot low into the corner.
With Neymar, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi all still to reach full fitness, Barça took their foot off the gas in the second half – but with Busquets back from a rest and in stellar form, Martino’s men were never in danger of coming apart at the seams.
Real Sociedad reduced the arrears as Imanol Agirretxe produced an exquisite touch to shake off the attentions of Gerard Piqué and cross for Alberto de la Bella to score, but – unlike in recent weeks – Barcelona prevented their opponents from cutting the deficit further. What’s more, they re-established their three-goal advantage through Marc Bartra with 76 minutes played.
With his side 4-1 to the good, Martino reaffirmed his authority by substituting Messi. Having equalled Barça’s best ever start to a La Liga season, ‘Tata’ now has the chance to make the record his own against Almería on Saturday.