Aubameyang helps FC Barcelona to recover second place in La Liga

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his eighth league goal as FC Barcelona defeated Real Sociedad 1-0 at the Reale Arena on Thursday, ending a two-game losing streak at the Camp Nou. The Catalans have reclaimed second position, equal on points with third-placed Sevilla (63) and three points clear of fourth-placed Atletico de Madrid.

Xavi’s team is still 15 points behind league leaders Real Madrid, and the La Liga crown remains out of reach. Real Sociedad currently sits in the sixth position with 55 points. Barcelona’s 5th consecutive road victory and first clean sheet in four games in all competitions came against Sociedad.

So far this season, the Catalans have only kept 10 clean sheets in 30 La Liga matches. Barcelona goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen had to make several spectacular saves to deny Real Sociedad from scoring, especially in the second half.

Sergio Busquets overcame Andres Iniesta to take the third position on Barcelona’s all-time appearance record with his 675th appearance against Real Sociedad. Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez and PSG striker Lionel Messi are the only players ahead of Busquets, who took over as club captain when the Argentine left in August 2021.

Before the game, Real Sociedad supporters paid homage to Real Sociedad veteran and former player David Zurutuza, who will retire in 2020, with a ceremony held behind closed doors owing to COVID-19. The 35-year-old La Real academy graduate made 409 appearances for the club over his whole career.

The game began as predicted, with Barcelona dominating possession and pressuring Real Sociedad high, forcing them to defend. The visitors had a handful of half-chances until the 10th minute when Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele hit the post but the danger was not averted on the rebound. Gavi won the ball and passed it to Ferran Torres, who unselfishly helped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who headed it into the goal to put the Catalans up 1-0.

Frenkie de Jong was playing like a box-to-box midfielder, finding little pockets of space and taking a few shots, going dangerously close to scoring at times in the first half.

Real Sociedad did not do much offensively in the first quarter but came close to scoring in the 43rd minute. Alexander Sorloth exploited an opening in Barcelona’s defense to find Sociedad striker Alexander Isak, who fired wide. The Swedish international has struggled to rediscover his shooting touch this season, scoring only five goals compared to 17 last season.

Real Sociedad were missing striker and birthday boy Mikel Oyarzabal, who is sidelined indefinitely after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. In addition, experienced midfielder David Silva was serving the first of a two-match suspension after being sent off against Real Betis the night before.

The hosts made a strong start to the second half, with Sorloth having a good opportunity inside the first two minutes of the restart, but he couldn’t connect with the cross, sending it wide. Real Sociedad continued to bang on the door, leaving Barcelona’s defense vulnerable. They could have scored two goals in a row if it hadn’t been for a save by Barcelona goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen and some excellent defense by Pique, who was applauded by the audience throughout the game.

When spectators in the stands threw an item toward Pique, the referee was obliged to delay the game for a minute. Real Sociedad had a lot of possession in the second half, but lacked the finishing touch, failing to score once again. Due to repeated injury stoppages, there was an additional ten minutes of playtime. Barcelona was obliged to make substitutions when Dani Alves and Ronald Araujo were injured.

This season, Imanol Alguacil’s side have held 19 clean sheets in 23 games, but they have also scored the fewest goals (32 in 32 games). La Real has lost nine of their past ten meetings against Barcelona, and they have not won this match since April 2016. Since 2013, when they finished fourth, Sociedad has never finished higher than fifth in the league.

Barcelona has collected 46 points from 20 league games since Xavi took control in November, and they have the league’s second-best away record, with 28 points from 16 games this season. The chase for the top four in La Liga will be decided by a six-point difference between second-placed Barcelona and fifth-placed Real Betis.

FC Barcelona will play Rayo Vallecano and RCD Mallorca in back-to-back La Liga games before traveling to Real Betis in May.

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