Feb 5, 2014, 9:19 PM EDT
Barcelona used their Copa del Rey semifinal to get back in the win column, but in the process of posting a win over Real Sociedad, the Blaugrana failed to quell linger doubts. Needing an own goal and an Iñigo Martínez red card on their way to a 2-0 result at the Nou Camp, Barça eventually claimed a commanding lead after leg one, even if La Real nearly snatched a lead just before halftime. For a team that plays as much to a standard as against an opponent, Wednesday’s performance was a mixed result.
Their victory was secured just before half time when Sergio Busquets gave Barcelona a 44th minute lead – a score that sparked protests that led to Martínez’s dismissal. Moments earlier, Real forward Carlos Vela had come close to scoring but was obstructed by Javier Mascherano penalty in Barcelona’s penalty area. Though Vela still got a shot off (one that drew a kick save from Pinto), Sociedad players were left incredulous at the lack of a whistle. The missed opportunity appeared close to Martínez’s mind when Busquets put them behind two minutes later.
After a half playing against 10 men, Barcelona statistical edges were gaudy. They kept 81 percent of the ball, held La Real to one shot on goal, and finished with +23 advantage in overall shots (26-3). Against a Sociedad team already set up to play on the counter, Barcelona went the match’s final 47 minutes without allowing a shot.
Despite those advantages, the only goal Barça was able to find in the second half required Real Sociedad’s help. Attempting to clear a ball Alexis Sánchez put off his team’s post, midfielder Gorka Elustondo hit Zubikarai in the back, the resulting ball ending up Sociedad’s goal. Up 2-0 after an hour, Barcelona would cruise through the rest of the game, outshooting Sociedad 7-0 over the final 30 minutes.
Up two and having preventing La Real from finding an away goal, Barcelona will be heavy favorites to reach Copa’s final next week in San Sebastián. In the bigger picture, there were enough minor issues to fuel ongoing (if minor) questions about the Blaugrana. Though they nearly went up through Lionel Messi early, Barcelona also left the door open for Real Sociedad to strike first, something they nearly did just before half time. Though Barça eventually broke through, they also failed to put the tie away after playing a man up over the final 56 minutes. They finished the match with a valuable two-goal lead, but the second goal came after some freakish fortune.
All teams have their off days, but for Barcelona, this off day comes on the heals of a loss to Valencia. At a time in the season when Gerardo Martino’s team should be building for challenges from Manchester City (Champions League), Atlético Madrid, and Real Madrid (Copa and league), Barcelona has lost some of their mojo.
They’re still outplaying most of their opponents, but they’re not meeting the standards we typically associate with Barcelona soccer. Until they can ascend to that level, it’s unclear Barcelona can be considered favorites to claim any of the honors they’re pursuing. Martino’s still got work to do
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