Flat Barcelona keeps La Liga title race alive with tight 3-2 win over Real Sociedad

Alcacer got the game-winner for Barca. (Reuters)
Alcacer got the game-winner for Barca. (Reuters)

Unlike Real Madrid earlier in the day, Barcelona didn’t rest very many regulars. It didn’t make any assumptions before hosting seventh-place Real Sociedad. Recent history advised caution.

Whereas Barca had comfortably beaten Sevilla and Valencia in recent weeks, it had also lost to Deportivo La Coruna and Malaga. They had been costly defeats, as Real Madrid remains three points ahead in the title race, with a game in hand. Barca’s attempt to win a third Spanish title in a row is facing ever long odds as the advent of Spring closes the window of opportunities.

Although Sociedad was at least Barca’s equal on the balance of Saturday’s contest, the Catalans hung on for a 3-2 victory that kept them on the heels of Real Madrid, which won by the same score at Sporting Gijon earlier in the day – thanks to Isco’s injury-time winner. Two Lionel Messi goals and a Paco Alcacer tally were good for three points.

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Yet, as so often lately, and just days after another disheveling Barca away loss in Europe – 0-3 at Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal – it was anything but comfortable for the team of the departing Luis Enrique.

Sociedad began the game as the more threatening and fluid side and ended it that way as well. It coaxed several chances from the run of play early on and forced a few saves from Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who would be busy all day.

But Messi opened the score in the 16th minute, when an incisive play from Alcacer gave Luis Suarez a little room to lay off for Messi. He fired off a pin-point precise rocket to the far bottom corner from well outside the box.


On the half hour, Alcacer had a wide-open shot. But he scuffed his finish completely in a typical display from him, indicative of a somewhat disastrous debut season in Barcelona after his expensive arrival from Valencia last summer.


Still, a short while later, Suarez won the ball in the box and hit a blast at goal that fell right to Messi, who had some work to do to keep the trickily bouncing ball in front of him and bundle it in. That seemed to put the points safely on Barca’s ledger.


Except that Sociedad just kept on getting back into the game. In the 42nd minute, a scrambled goal for the away side required a tad of luck. Inigo Martinez smashed the ball across goal and it dinked into the net off Samuel Umtiti’s arm for an own goal.


Alcacer, finally connecting well on a ball, restored the two-goal lead before halftime. On strong Sergio Busquets preparatory work, Messi pinged through to Alcacer, whose clean finish beat Geronimo Rulli.


But seconds before the break, Xabi Prieto applied a splendid touch on a William Jose pass to make it 3-2.


Sociedad threatened throughout a less eventful second half and forever seemed closer to getting an equalizer than to giving up another goal. The excellent Asier Illarramendi’s long, lofted free kick almost tricked Ter Stegen, for instance. But Rulli had to make several big saves to keep his side in the game, most notably on Suarez in injury time.

That made it 21 straight Barcelona victories over Sociedad at the Camp Nou. But in truth, a tie would have been a fairer outcome. And Barca is sort of lucky to still have any hope of pushing past Real Madrid to win the league with six games remaining.

Next Sunday, of course, the sides face off head-to-head in El Clasico in Madrid. A Barca win puts them even on points, albeit with one less game played by Real. A Real win and it’s all over.

But, for now at least, Barcelona remains in the chase.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

 

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