On Saturday FC Barcelona visited Real Sociedad at the redeveloped Anoeta. Did the curse remain broken in the shiny, sort of new Anoeta… er… yes but it’s still the place of nightmares.
The curse was allegedly broken last season with our 2-4 comeback win. It didn’t feel like it on Saturday. Ernesto Valverde made a move which seems somewhat inexplicable… dropping Sergi Busquets to the bench. As a Barça fan, the sheer mention of a trip to La Real makes my blood run cold but a trip without Busquets starting, that reduced me to rocking steadily back and forth in a corner having Anoeta defeat flashbacks.
The first half of the game was an object lesson of how to play into the hands of the opposition. Slow, lethargic, seemingly uncoordinated. Both on and off the ball. The passing was woefully predictable and without pace. Off the ball the lack of energy, pressing and drive were palpable. After Aritz Elustondo scored his 11th min goal, even that early it felt like when the builders had taken out the running track of the Anoeta they had replaced it with a new curse. La Real were determined and dogged in closing down any space, they were cool and effective.
At halftime the “Mister” decided changes were needed, he hooked Semedo off, which I think has happened at a very early point in every game he’s started, for Philippe Coutinho pushed Sergio Roberto back to right back and hoped for the best. Did it work instantly? No. Sociedad had 2 gilt-edged chances, Mikel Oyarzabal lacked composure and blazed his shot wide and Theo Hernandez, on loan from Real Madrid no less, was expertly stopped by Ter Stegen. If La Real would have gone 2-0 up I think that would have been that. Barça had 69% possession but largely did nothing with it, not enough to suggest that if Sociedad had taken one more of their chances we could have come back from it.
But, on the 57th min, the hero that we both needed and deserved came to rescue us. Sergio Busquets. Now I know to some reading this, he might seem like an unlikely hero but he was. Not all heroes wear capes. As soon as he set foot on to the pitch, the tide changed, the dark clouds parted and order was restored. Busquets is the foundation, he’s the platform. He is as important to this team as Lionel Messi, his contribution shouldn’t be undervalued or underrated. A Barça without Busi, is a Barça that is going to struggle, especially against teams as combative and relentless as Real Sociedad. It’s not a coincidence that 6 mins after his introduction, Luis Suarez scored his 3rd League goal in 2 games. And a further 3mins after that on the 66th min Ousmane Dembélé showed his growing influence by scoring what turned out to be the winner. La Real shot themselves in the foot somewhat, poor defending and goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli did not cover himself in any sort of glory for either of the goals. Unlike his opposite number, Marc-André Ter Stegen, who made several key saves and was exceptional, he was the other hero for FCB, he kept us alive before Busquets and the goals of Suarez and Dembélé could fully resuscitate us.
The curse, for now, is still broken but it’s still there waiting to rear its ugly head.