Barcelona suffered their first league defeat of the season in dramatic fashion as Real Sociedad scored in the 91st minute to claim a memorable 3-2 victory at the Anoeta on Saturday.
Incredibly, the loss was just the second time in which Barcelona had failed to win after a record-breaking first-half of the campaign. But the second-half of the season began in unexpected fashion as Sociedad made the most of Gerard Pique’s second-half dismissal.
There was little to suggest an upset was on the cards when early goals form Lionel Messi and Pedro put the visitors into a two-goal lead. But Gonzalo Castor pulled one back before the break and Castro soon struck again after Pique was shown his marching orders. With both teams looking for the victory in the closing stages, Imanol Agirretxe popped up to grab the winner.
It would still take a turnaround of epic proportions in the remainder of the season to prevent Barcelona taking the title, although Atletico Madrid can now close the gap at the top of the La Liga standings to eight points with a victory at home against Levante on Sunday.
Although Barcelona’s buildup to the match had been dominated by Victor Valdes’s announcement that he would not be renewing his contract with the club, all appeared routine for Barcelona early on.
A fine move from the Balugrana led to the opener just seven minutes in. Lionel Messi picked up the ball after a clever dummy on the edge of the box and after turning back inside a defender onto his deadly left foot, coolly placed the ball into the bottom corner.
The second, after 25 minutes, was equally simple in its appearance. Xavi picked out Dani Alves with a chipped ball to the right of the box and the full back put a perfect pass across the face of goal to invite Pedro to arrive on the end of and divert into the net.
But Alves was perhaps culpable for Sociedad pulling a goal back four minutes before half time. A deflected cross from the left was worked across goal and with Alves tucked too far inside, Castro had far too much space to control and drill a fine shot across Valdes and into the corner of the net.
At that stage, it would still take a brave man to wager against Barcelona going on to take the three points, but any doubts greatly increased when Barcelona were reduced to 10 men after 56 minutes.
Having already been booked for blocking a free kick, Pique made a blatant trip on Carlos Vela and was given his second yellow.
Just six minutes later Sociedad were level. Castro again took up the ball on the back post and this time cut back onto his right foot before hitting a shot that deflected off the knee of Javier Mascherano as he turned away from the ball and, going the other way, Valdes was unable to get enough strength behind his palm to keep the ball out.
To their credit, both sides showed plenty of endeavor in the closing stages as they looked for the three points. But it was the home side that claimed them to the delight of their supporters. Carlos Martinez was the architect with a fine in-swinging cross from the right and substitute Agirretxe got in between the two Barcelona center backs to stretch and prod the ball home from six yards out.