Real Sociedad host Barcelona in La Liga on Sunday.
Barca were frustrated 0-0 at home against Rayo Vallecano on the opening weekend, while Real Sociedad recorded a solid 1-0 win away to Cadiz.
After finishing sixth in La Liga last season, there is plenty of optimism surrounding Real Sociedad’s chances of pushing for a Champions League qualification spot this season.
Los Txuri-Urdin started last campaign brilliantly before ultimately falling away to the Europa League places, although there is certainly no shame in that for a club which was competing in the second-tier as recently as 2010.
Under Imanol Alguacil‘s tutelage, Real Sociedad have gradually improved since his appointment as head coach in 2018, with the 51-year-old guiding them to a top-half finish in each of his four full seasons in charge.
Last season’s points total of 62 was exactly the same as the prior season, so the clear challenge this time around is to improve on that and try to close the gap on the top four teams in La Liga in the process.
After beating Cadiz 1-0 on the road last weekend through Takefusa Kubo‘s 24th-minute strike, Alguacil’s side have the perfect opportunity to prove they achieve exactly that when they take on Barca at Anoeta Stadium on Sunday.
If Real Sociedad represent calm and steady progression having spent modestly over the years, Barcelona could hardly provide a more stark contrast after yet another busy summer in Catalonia.
Despite amassing significant debt in recent years, president Joan Laporta has spent close to £150m bringing Jules Kounde, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski to the club during the current transfer window, with Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie also joining on big wages having signed on free transfer deals.
There is a clear lack of organisation and joined-up thinking at the club, though, with Kounde unlikely to be registered for the second weekend running as the club desperately tries to clear the wage bill to make room for the former Sevilla defender in their squad.
Off-the-pitch disruption often finds itself disrupting matters on the pitch, and that certainly looked to be the case at Nou Camp last weekend. Despite having 21 shots and 68% possession against Rayo, there was a lack of fluidity throughout the proceedings as Xavi‘s side failed to break their stubborn opponents down.
In fairness, with three new signings named in the starting XI, a lack of chemistry was perhaps to be expected. The 42-year-old will be hoping big-money signings Raphinha and Lewandowski improve after another week of settling into their new surroundings, but they clearly face a step up in class when they arrive in the Basque country this weekend.
Real Sociedad will remain without their key attacker Mikel Oyarzabal, who is unlikely to return until at least mid-October after rupturing his cruciate ligament.
Diego Rico was withdrawn late on against Cadiz with a hamstring issue and will almost certainly join Alex Sola and Carlos Hernandez on the sidelines with the same injury, while Martin Merquelanz has a problem with his knee.
Aihen Munoz is likely to replace Rico at left-back, but otherwise Alguacil will not want to change a winning team, with David Silva‘s movement between the lines set to be key to unlocking Barca in transition.
With Sergio Busquets suspended after receiving a second yellow card in injury-time against Rayo, that could be especially true on Sunday, with no natural replacement for the Spain international.
After making positive impacts from the bench, Xavi could look to both Frenkie De Jong and Kessie to start alongside Pedri in midfield, with Gavi making way after a below-par performance.
Likewise, Eric Garcia could be benched to allow Sergio Araujo to move inside into his favoured central role, with Sergio Roberto the obvious introduction at right-back to provide more natural ability in possession.
In attack, Raphinha and Lewandowski will almost certainly start once again, but Ansu Fati may be preferred to Ousmane Dembele on the left flank after an extremely bright cameo last time out, especially with Ferran Torres still fighting for full fitness after suffering a foot injury in pre-season.
Real Sociedad possible starting lineup:
Remiro; Elustondo, Zubeldia, Le Normand, Munoz; Zubimendi, Mendez, Merino; Silva; Isak, Kubo
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Christensen, Araujo, Alba; De Jong, Kessie, Pedri; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Fati