Barcelona strolled to a 4-1 win that failed to their almost effortless dominance justice over a much-changed and lackluster Real Sociedad. The victory extends their perfect start to the season in La Liga to six matches, but they could surely scarcely believe just how easy it was for them on Tuesday at the Camp Nou.
Neymar and Lionel Messi put the hosts 2-0 up inside eight minutes and from then on out it was a virtual training exercise. Sergio Busquets fired home a third midway through the first half, while it was incredible that the lead was not far greater by the half. Messi was in uncharacteristically profligate mood in front of goal.
In the Argentina star's defense, it must have been hard to maintain a clinical edge when there was so little opposition. Sociedad coach Jagoba Arrasate had made seven changes to the lineup that drew 0-0 with Malaga at the weekend, showing that his priorities lay elsewhere, with the likely belief that a trip to the Camp Nou offered little prospect of points. The problem was that his players appeared of the same mindset.
Even when Sociedad had men back in decent positions they failed to apply any pressure on the ball. For the most past, though, they were an organizational shambles. It was only in the second half that Sociedad made the match anything resembling a contest. Barcelona’s intensity dropped around the hour mark and in the 64th minute, Sociedad grabbed a consolation through Alberto de la Bella, following an error from Gerard Pique.
The concession of a goal when they were in so much control will doubtless be a worry for coach Gerardo Martino. However, after Barcelona lost the possession battle for the first time in five years on Saturday, he can now point his critics toward a resounding domination of the ball against Sociedad. In case there was any doubt about the result, Barcelona brought the lead back to three goals with substitute Marc Bartra supplying a close-range finish.
Sociedad may reflect that the result could have been different if Haris Seferovic’s strike against the crossbar after just two minutes had been a couple of inches lower, but that would be a denial of the harsh reality. After that early escape, Barcelona took complete control while their opponents capitulated. The first goal arrived just five minutes in. Alexis Sanchez was confronted with nothing worthy of being labeled a challenge as he went down the right of the box before his low cross was left by both defender and then goalkeeper and Neymar bundled the ball home.
Having got his first La Liga goal, Neymar was doing an admirable job as selfless provider. The Brazilian was sticking to a role as almost an orthodox left winger, something which led to goal number two. After showing some trickery to get down the left he chipped a cross to the back post where Messi was criminally unmarked and stooped to head past Claudio Bravo.
It could and probably should have been 4-0 to the hosts as early as the 15th minute. Neymar tried to be too audacious to get past the goalkeeper when clean through on goal, while he was then wrongly flagged for offside before pulling back for Xavi to slot home.
Barcelona would hardly have to pine long to hit the back of the net once more. The goal should have belonged to Messi, but he had a flick blocked by Bravo before somehow crashing the follow-up against the crossbar. Still Sociedad were compliant in gifting Barcelona another chance. Griezmann passed the ball straight to Busquets 25 yards out and the midfielder took a touch before firing low into the corner for his first goal of the season.
Sociedad were in complete disarray and Barcelona were running rings around them. There was almost one of the great goals scored when Messi and Andres Iniesta combined with a full array of tricks and flicks, but the Argentinian missed his kick in front of goal from Neymar’s cutback.
That became something of a theme with Neymar laying on two more chances for Messi that he would normally be expected to take, but on this most comfortable of nights went begging. After the break Messi was denied a second goal this time by a smart save by Bravo, while moments later a brilliant run by Barca’s star man culminated in a disappointing shot over from 12 yards.
At that point the score could have been into double figure, there was an element of bewilderment then when Sociedad made it 3-1. Pique summed up the carelessness that had just crept into their game with a terrible bit of defending. The center-back overran the ball in the box and substitute Agirretxe took control and drove the ball across goal for De la Bella to tap home.
With 13 minutes remaining, a more fitting disparity returned to the scoreboard when Bartra capitalized on Messi’s brilliant run to the byline to cap a comfortable evening for the Catalans.