Barcelona subjected fans to one of the most uninspiring performances of the Xavi era as they somehow escaped with a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad on Saturday evening.
Sociedad were on top throughout as Barcelona offered embarrassingly little in attack, with the Catalan side instead spending plenty of time holding on in defence.
It took until second-half stoppage time for Barcelona to show any real attacking impetus and Ronald Araujo beat the offside trap to head home and bail his side out.
How the game unfolded
Sociedad came out hot and Marc-Andre ter Stegen needed to make a strong save to deny Ander Barrenetxea after just a few seconds.
That set the tone for the opening stages, with Barcelona well below their best and relying on Ter Stegen to keep the score level. Xavi’s side looked lethargic at both ends of the field and were losing the possession battle as the clock ticked over to 30 minutes.
The lack of attacking spark was particularly alarming for Barcelona, who watched as Sociedad punished their sloppy play and threatened to open the scoring time and time again. Xavi will have been relieved to get into half-time level.
Ter Stegen saved well from Brais Mendez as the second half kicked off, before Takefusa Kubo fizzed into the side netting with a strike that was eventually pulled back for offside anyway.
Sick of his side’s poor performance, Xavi called on Pedri and Ferran Torres shortly before the hour mark in an attempt to change anything, but the latter’s first involvement saw him run the ball straight out of play.
Raphinha sent a timid free-kick on to the roof of the net but their best chance of the game fell to Gavi in stoppage time. The midfielder found some space in the box but his low strike was well stopped by Alex Remiro, who had barely been involved up until that point.
Somehow, Barcelona escaped with all three points as Ilkay Gundogan’s cross was headed home by Ronald Araujo in the 93rd minute. The defender happily accepted the on-field referee’s verdict that he had strayed offside, only for VAR to intervene and correctly award the goal.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 7/10 – A really impressive showing in goal. Had to be alert from the opening second as the poor defence in front of him repeatedly left him exposed.
CB: Ronald Araujo – 7/10 – Some very uncomfortable moments early on as he was dragged out wide. Eventually recovered and impressed in the second half. Took his goal well.
CB: Jules Kounde – 6/10 – Lacked composure in possession. Stepped up in the second half as Sociedad continued to roar forwards.
CB: Inigo Martinez – 7/10 – Booed relentlessly by the fans of his old side but was comfortably Barcelona’s best defender.
RM: Joao Cancelo – 4/10 – Definitely not a winger. His attacking impact was very limited and he clearly lost his head towards the end of the first half with a frustrated foul.
CM: Ilkay Gundogan – 4/10 – Marked into oblivion but Gundogan is supposed to be better than this. Slow in possession and poor with his passing. A nice cross for Araujo’s winner but that doesn’t gloss over what was an otherwise atrocious showing.
CM: Gavi – 5/10 – Typically excellent work rate but Gavi simply had too much to do in midfield. Tried to cover every blade of grass but was often out of position because he was trying to do too much.
LM: Alejandro Balde – 4/10 – Made the occasional nice run as he tried to actually do something, but it wasn’t often enough.
AM: Fermin Lopez – 4/10 – Couldn’t get into the game at all. Credit to Sociedad’s midfield for swarming him constantly.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 2/10 – His poor pressing contributed to Sociedad’s comfort on the ball. Didn’t get any service in attack but didn’t do enough to help his teammates find him anyway. Hooked early in the second half, which tells you everything you need to know.
ST: Joao Felix – 2/10 – An embarrassing attempt to win a first-half penalty summed up a bitterly frustrating performance from Felix.
SUB: Ferran Torres (57′ for Fermin) – 5/10
SUB: Pedri (57′ for Lewandowski) – 5/10
SUB: Lamine Yamal (69′ for Felix) – 6/10
SUB: Raphinha (69′ for Cancelo) – 5/10
Subs not used: Inaki Pena (GK), Ander Astralaga (GK), Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Oriol Romeu, Marc Casado
Xavi – 2/10 – This formation was the wrong call. So, so poor. Took Xavi far too long to change things and he was ultimately bailed out by a late goal.