Real Sociedad coach Eusebio Sacristan’s long history with Barcelona is giving Ernesto Valverde more cause for concern than the Blaugrana’s miserable recent record at the Anoeta stadium ahead of Sunday’s clash.
Barca have picked up just two points from their last seven league trips to San Sebastian and, despite Sociedad’s current poor form, the fixture represents a serious risk to the Catalan club’s 28-match unbeaten run under Valverde.
However, those past failures in the Basque country are not something that is concerning the Barca boss – unlike the presence of Eusebio in the Sociedad dugout.
Eusebio spent over 16 years on the playing and coaching staff at the Nou Camp and Valverde is aware that the 53-year-old’s inside knowledge could be invaluable, recalling how many problems the Celta Vigo side of former Barca assistant Juan Carlos Unzue have caused his team this term.
Valverde told a press conference: “We’ve not talked too much about Barca’s record at Anoeta. But Eusebio, like Unzue, knows this club from his time here and that means he also knows how to hurt us.
“It’s a challenge for us. Everyone finds it tough there. Sometimes there are grounds where you find it harder to win than others, but that (Barca’s record) is the past. We need to write the future.”
Something else Valverde feels Sociedad have in their favour is the fact their participation in the Copa del Rey ended back in November.
Barca, meanwhile, could have five Copa del Rey ties in January alone and face a derby showdown with Espanyol in the first leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday.
“It is an advantage for Real not to have had any cup game this week while we’ve played on Thursday, as will be the case next weekend against Betis,” said Valverde, who will not be able to call on new signings Philippe Coutinho and Yerry Mina for the trip to Sociedad.
Despite Barca’s fixture overload, they are still in contention to lift three trophies this season and are overwhelming favourites to win LaLiga after opening up a nine-point lead at the summit.
It is a different story for Sociedad, though.
They finished sixth last season but could find themselves being sucked into a relegation battle this term if they do not halt their slide down the table.
Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Leganes was a fifth loss in Sociedad’s last seven competitive matches and has turned the heat up on Eusebio as he approaches his 100th game in charge.
However, he said in Marca: “I’m the coach and I know what my job entails, but rather than thinking about negative possibilities I prefer to focus on working day by day and not thinking about the future.
“Backed? I’ve always felt happy at this club, with everything I have around me, but I know I’m the coach and I depend on results, and that’s what I’m working for.”
Sociedad welcome back Imanol Agirretxe after a long injury lay-off.
Real Madrid lost more ground in the La Liga title race after Pablo Fornals’ stunning late chip secured a 1-0 victory for Villarreal at a rain-drenched Bernabeu.
Yet another home defeat on Saturday night has piled more pressure on boss Zinedine Zidane, with Los Blancos trailing La Liga leaders Barcelona by 16 points.
Here, we look at the player ratings from the match.
Navas 6. Had little to do until the winning goal, when he saved well from Unal but could do nothing to keep out Fornals’ follow-up effort.
Carvajal 7. Constant source of attacking width down the right flank, persistent and consistent both in defence and attack. Perhaps his team’s best player on the day.
Varane 6. Defended well and occasionally drove forward with the ball to carry possession higher up the pitch. Came up with a great interception to deny Bacca a run through on goal.
Nacho 6. Made a perfectly-timed tackle on Bacca inside the area and defended with sharpness and vigour, but couldn’t do anything to prevent Villarreal’s late winner on the break.
Marcelo 7. Whistled by some fans after an early misplaced pass, but an improvement on recent displays and always an attacking threat, including a thunderous long-range shot which was well saved.
Modric 6. Buzzing performance, covering plenty of ground as he probed for openings. Sent through Ronaldo for his best first-half chance. Forced Asenjo into a low save after an hour and should have scored when he fired over the bar with 10 minutes remaining.
Casemiro 6. More solid and reliable than many of his recent performances, defending with energy and commitment and keeping it simple in possession.
Isco 6. Looked bright and alert as he received plenty of the ball, attempting to link midfield with attack. Played some dangerous passes into the box but was more wasteful in the second period and was taken off with 20 minutes left.
Kroos 5. Perhaps best sums up Madrid’s current predicament: he wasn’t terrible, but clearly something isn’t quite right. Sent a couple of hopeful shots well over the top in the opening half. Came closer with a left-footed volley after the break.
Ronaldo 4. Had plenty of chances, forcing Asenjo into two good first-half saves as well as sending two shots off target, including a dinked effort he really should have scored. Had another low shot saved early in the second but continued to be frustrated. Some of his link-up play was very poor.
Bale 5. Initially very quiet but grew into the game and sent a curler with his right foot just wide shortly before the break. Little impact after the break and was substituted. Had a header rightly ruled out for offside.
Asensio 5. Came onto the left wing as Zidane switched to a 4-3-3 formation in the final stages but had little impact.
Vazquez 6. Added more directness down the right flank, creating a clear chance for Modric with a neat cut-back.
Asenjo 9. An outstanding performance from a man Madrid just couldn’t beat. Made three excellent saves in the first-half, keeping out 25-yard piledrivers from Marcelo and Ronaldo, along with a reflex stop from Ronaldo’s close-range stab. Made some more routine saves after the break and showed solid handling throughout.
Mario 6. Could have conceded a penalty for a challenge on Ronaldo but otherwise defended very well. Couldn’t get forward as much as usual due to the attacking threat offered by Marcelo.
Bonera 8. Defensively excellent from the start until the 92nd minute, when he summed up his outstanding display with a brilliant stretching goalmouth clearance to deny Ronaldo.
Alvaro 7. Got himself out of position for Ronaldo’s first chance, and later survived a penalty appeal after an inadvertent handball. Sent a headed chance from a free-kick straight at Navas. But also made some important defensive interventions.
Costa 6. Solid in defence and constructive in possession, although he faced a stiff test from Carvajal and put his team under needless pressure with a couple of poor clearances.
Raba 5. A quiet outing for the promising youngster on the right wing, and he was replaced at the interval by Cheryshev.
Trigueros 6. Less influential than usual with his passing lacking its normal incisiveness, but he worked hard to contain Modric and Kroos and showed good positional sense.
Rodri 8. The game’s outstanding outfield player. Knitted together everything for Villarreal in the centre of the field with intelligent use of the ball, and worked extremely hard defensively to support his back four. Made an astute pass to spring the counter-attack for the winner.
Fornals 7. Played a spectacular first-half pass to release Bacca inside the box and was always looking to create, but was relatively subdued until he showed his undoubted class with a perfectly controlled chip for the winner.
Castillejo 6. An early danger down the left but soon faded. Switched to the right wing in the second half and became more of a threat, making one excellent run to create a chance for Bacca. Replaced near the end.
Bacca 7. Worked hard in the demanding lone frontman role. Regularly threatened to get in behind the home team defence and had a half-chance well snuffed out by Nacho in the first half. Sent a second half snapshot into the side-netting. Substituted, clearly very tired, with 15 minutes left.
Cheryshev 6. Former Madrid winger came on at the break and promptly cut inside for a great chance, but dragged it badly wide. Was quiet thereafter until making a surging run and playing a brilliant pass inside to set up the winner.
Unal 5. Came on for Bacca near the end and squandered a great chance to score on the break…but was then hugely relieved to see Fornals convert the rebound.
Rukavina Late introduction to shore things up at the back.
Struggling Real Madrid risk falling further behind in La Liga after a cheeky late chip from Pablo Fornals saw Villarreal escape with a 1-0 win on Saturday, their first ever victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Fornals struck with three minutes left to leave Zinedine Zidane’s wasteful side fourth and a whopping 16 points behind runaway league leaders Barcelona, a deficit which will turn into 19 should Barca win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Villarreal meanwhile move up to fifth on 31 points thanks to midfielder Fornals’ stunning goal, which puts Javier Calleja’s side just a point behind off-form Madrid.
Fornals was on hand for the away side just after it looked like Enes Unal had fluffed his team’s chance after a blistering counter-attack following a Real Madrid corner.
Turk Unal shot straight at Keylor Navas when put through by Denis Cheryshev, but with Navas still recovering from making the save Fornals lifted the ball over the flailing Madrid stopper.
So often Real’s saviour, Ronaldo had a bad day at the office, with his worst miss coming just before half-time, when the five-time Ballon d’Or winner managed to shoot straight at Sergio Asenjo after being laid on by Isco in front of a practically open goal just yards out.
The Portuguese was livid with the referee, as he thought that he was tripped by Daniele Bonera just before he shot.
Real dominated the second period, but after failing to break down the resolute visitors, Fornals stepped up to make history and pile the pressure on Zidane.