Real Sociedad blew the La Liga title race wide open as Mikel Oiarzabal’s fifth minute strike condemned Barcelona to a second straight League loss on Saturday.
The Catalans hadn’t beaten La Real away from home since 2007, during which time the latter had been relegated and promoted back to La Liga, although their 1-0 defeat in January 2015 served as the turning point in their treble-winning campaign.
Yet the defeat appeared to come back and haunt them after just five minutes as a high cross from Real’s right was met by teenage attacker Oyarzabal, who guided a looping header over former teammate Bravo.
Claudio Bravo’s return in goal was the first of five new faces brought in by Luis Enrique as Rafinha started his first game since damaging knee ligaments last September, while La Real were without three of their four first-choice defenders.
With no Suarez to press the hosts’ backline or Andres Iniesta to pull the strings from deep, Barca’s movement on and off the ball was laboured, their passing too predictable, as Real committed numbers behind the ball but were highly organised and broke away at pace.
Such an approach led to Neymar’s selfishness almost being punished as David Zurutuza released Oyarzabal, who in turn found an unmarked Alberto de la Bella down the left, but the full-back’s shot after he cut into the penalty area was blocked.
Barca’s only meaningful chance, on the other hand, came from Arda Turan, whose overall game again fell short of the Catalans’ standard as he ended the first half with a booking but had a deflected volley pushed away by Geronimo Rulli.
Ten minutes into the second half, for the first time all night, Barcelona attempted a shot from outside the area through Iniesta, which forced Rulli into a save. With the Real Sociedad area completely clogged, attempts from distance were there for the taking to potentially loosen up the Real Sociedad defence, but Barcelona hesitated to do so, sticking to their quick pass-and-move style.
Alba for Turan at the hour mark was Luis Enrique’s second change, presumably to add more width to the Barcelona attack. Neymar then had a crack at goal via a free kick only to curl his effort just a hair wide.Luis Enrique’s last roll of the dice came with Rakitic replacing Sergi Roberto 20 minutes from time and finally Barcelona’s attack had a spark.
Messi was presented with a great chance after some good work from Piqué in the area, but Rulli was there to make the save. The Argentine had another look at goal late on, but his header landed right in the arms of Rulli. There would be no late miracle as Barcelona again returned home from San Sebastian empty handed.