One loss, and even two consecutive matches without a win, aren’t the end of the world. Still, it’s always shocking to see Barcelona lose, but not when you see that Lionel Messi did nothing but score one goal and Gerard Pique leaves his team with 10 men after two yellow cards.
This was the strongest lineup Barcelona can field: Dani Alves, Puyol, Pique and Jordi Alba defending, Xavi, Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas in the midfield while Lionel Messi and Pedro complete the lineup up front. One can argue about a name here and there, but when all are healthy, I’m pretty sure this is the default lineup in Tito Vilanova’s mind.
For almost an entire half, everything was fine. The goals came quickly and easily. First from Lionel Messi, making it 10 consecutive games with a goal, equaling a club record. Next came Pedro, who hasn’t found the net quite often this season, but no longer having to play out of position or fight for his place in the lineup with Alexis (demoted, justified due to his poor scoring record), he’s looking much more confident and dangerous.
And then came the drop. Real Sociedad changed their lineup a bit and stopped attacking with only one player who couldn’t do a thing, and Carlos Vela moved a bit to the left and allowed more teammates to join the attacks. The Barcelona midfield, especially Busquets and Xavi, were not on their finest day, which led to too many turnovers and chances for the hosts. When Lionel Messi started dropping down to help with the passing and play building, it was already 2-2 and Barcelona were with 10 men.
And there’s always going to be the argument about Pique deserving or not that red card. Two yellow cards, one for blocking a free kick attempt by Sociedad, another for a foul in the second half, leaving Barcelona a man down for more than half an hour.
But the game went wrong for Barcelona, who lost all momentum in the first half already, way before Pique was sent off. It looked like Sociedad not giving up surprised them in a way, and the team hardly created any chances after scoring the first two goals. Maybe it was the attitude from the get-go: Complacent, relaxed, too relaxed. Still, it’s hard to keep an edge when you’ve dropped only two points all season. Draws in the Copa Del Rey don’t bring enough of a shake up to this kind of team.
Maybe there are deeper things to look into. Victor Valdes won’t be the name people will remember years from now when they think about this era and this team, but he has been a member of all the lineups for a decade and more, and his departure, the way of his departure more accurately, isn’t something we usually see in a club that puts continuity and unity on a pedestal.
This won’t be the match that costs Barcelona their fourth league title in five seasons, but it is some sort of wake up call. That the season is only half over, and there are still tests and hurdles to pass, both in Europe and in the Spanish league.