BARCELONA — Real Sociedad closed in on a place in next season’s Champions League as they beat LaLiga champions Barcelona 2-1 at Spotify Camp Nou on Saturday.

Mikel Merino opened the scoring early on and Alexander Sorloth added the second after the break as Barca lost at home for the first time in the league this season.

Robert Lewandowski pulled one back late on for the Blaugrana, who collected the LaLiga trophy after the match after clinching the title last weekend, but La Real held on for three vital points.

The win keeps Imanol Alguacil’s side five points clear of fifth-placed Villarreal with just three games to go in the race to finish in the top four.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)

Rapid reaction

1. Week of celebration takes toll on Barcelona

It’s been a week of partying for Barca. They sealed a first title since 2019 at rivals Espanyol last Sunday and, after celebrating with fans at the training ground after the game, carried on early into the morning at a beach club in the city. On Monday, the festivities continued with an open top bus parade through the city, before players, staff and their families toasted the team’s success with a more formal dinner on Thursday.

On top of that, Ronald Araujo and Pedri dropped out of the squad on Friday due to minor injuries and midfielder Gavi was suspended. It did not help with the preparation for Saturday’s visit from La Real.

Things started badly for Barca in the fifth minute when Sorloth took advantage of a Jules Kounde error to tee up Merino for the opener. It was the first goal Barca have conceded from an opposition player in open play at home in the league all season — only a Joselu penalty and an Araujo own goal have previously beaten goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barca did respond to that early setback. Ousmane Dembele, Franck Kessie and Lewandowski all had chances in what developed into an open game. However, once Martin Zubimendi robbed the ball from Frenkie de Jong in the 71st minute to spark a counter that ended with Sorloth converting, they were left with too much to do. Lewandowski’s 22nd goal in the league season was not the precursor to a leveller but the game ended with celebrations anyway as captain Sergio Busquets lifted the LaLiga trophy.

2. La Real on track for Champions League

The pressure was on Real Sociedad on Saturday. Villarreal’s win at Girona earlier in the day had moved them to within two points of the Basque side, who had not previously won at Camp Nou since 1991. On top of that, they were without a win against Barca in 17 games in all competitions.

After Merino scored from their first attack, they played their part in an entertaining game. A front three of Sorloth, Mohamed-Ali Cho and Ander Barrenetxea caused problems. Barrenetxea should have added a second after a sloppy pass from Raphinha. Sorloth could have scored, too, before he eventually did, heading a brilliant Take Kubo cross wide. The Norwegian then sealed the win after good work from Zubimendi.

Champions League football is now within touching distance for La Real. The gap to Villarreal is five again with three to play. They host Almeria and Sevilla in San Sebastian and travel to Atletico Madrid in the middle of those two games.

3. Objectives still in sight for Xavi’s side this season

Xavi said before the game that, while the league has been wrapped up, Barca still have objectives left this season. They want to ensure Lewandowski finishes as the top scorer in LaLiga, while they also want to break some long-standing defensive records.

Lewandowski’s late goal here edged him closer to his goal. He has 22 in his debut season in Spain and is five clear of his nearest challenger, Real Madrid‘s Karim Benzema.

However, Barca’s defensive record was dented by La Real, who became the first team to score twice at Camp Nou in LaLiga this year. As a result, Barca have now conceded 15 goals in their 35 league games and kept 25 clean sheets.

The league records over the course of a 38-game season were both set by Deportivo La Coruna in 1993-94. Depor, now in the third tier of Spanish football, conceded 18 goals and recorded 26 shutouts.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Martin Zubimendi, Real Sociedad.
The midfielder was involved in most of the good things his side did, including the move for the second goal. You can see why he’s so strongly linked with Barca.

BEST: Alexander Sorloth, Real Sociedad.
He has had some big misses against Barca in his career so will have been relieved to net the match winner after setting up the opener.

BEST: Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona.
Produced some dazzling footwork on his first start following his return from injury, but could not match it with an end product.

WORST: Jules Kounde, Barcelona.
Gave the ball away for the opener and was taken off at half time.

WORST: Marcos Alonso, Barcelona.
Replaced Kounde at the break but La Real found too much space in behind him. Araujo’s pace and presence was a big miss for Barca at the back.

WORST: Ander Barrenetxea, Real Sociedad.
Missed a glorious chance to give his side a 2-0 lead in the first half.

Highlights and notable moments

Xavi getting the ceremonial tossing-into-the-air treatment, he seems to be enjoying it.

After the match: What the managers and players said

Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, to the crowd after the trophy ceremony: “If you remember at the start of the season, I asked for unity. Now is the moment to say thank you. Firstly, to the president and his board of directors for the unconditional support they have given us. ‘We aren’t that bad, eh, presi?’ We are very grateful. Thank you to the staff, the players who have given everything on the pitch. And to the fans. Without you it would not have been possible. You have been spectacular. Those that have filled the stadiums, those that were at the bus parade. It’s given me goosebumps.”

Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets, to the crowd: “No one doubt that this is just getting started. Thanks to all the fans because it’s not possible without you. Thanks to the staff for helping us be at our best. Also, a word for [ex-Barca players] Hector Bellerin, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gerard Pique, Memphis Depay and our teammates from the team that have also helped us win this title.”

Real Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil, on the win: “The objective is to fight for the Champions League and this takes us a little closer. If wqe want to be in the Champions League, we have to beat teams that are in the competition. If we play like this again against Almeria, we will be even closer to our objective … Maybe we benefitted from the fact [Barcelona] had won the title, but you have seen how professional they are. I think we won because we produced a top performance against Barca. Even if they have been celebrating all week, they can beat anyone.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

– Real Sociedad nabbed their first league win vs. Barcelona at Camp Nou since 1991. The game also snapped a 17-game winless streak vs. Barcelona in all competitions, with this being the first win since 2016.

Up next

Barcelona: At Real Valladolid on Tuesday before the final home game of the season vs. Mallorca on May 28. The season finale will be on June 4 will at Celta Vigo.

Real Sociedad: Hosting Almeria on Tuesday before a visit to Atletico Madrid on May 28. Their season will wrap up on June 4 with Sevilla coming to San Sebastian.

Source link

Barcelona lift LaLiga trophy but Real Sociedad get key win