Relive Sports Mole's live commentary of the La Liga clash between Barcelona and Real Sociedad from Camp Nou.
Evening all! Sports Mole's live La Liga coverage continues from Camp Nou as Spanish champions Barcelona welcome Real Sociedad. Only a win will do for Barcelona as they look to stay in the title race entering next weekend's El Clasico, but Sociedad kept themselves in European contention with a strong home win over Sporting Gijon last time out. Stay tuned for all of the action from this key fixture!
Sociedad have actually won three of the last five La Liga meetings between the two teams, although each of those victories came on home soil. Barcelona recorded a 5-2 victory in the reverse match at Camp Nou earlier this season, and the Catalan outfit do have a very strong record against Sociedad in this particular stadium. Will that run continue tonight? Stay tuned to find out!
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has made four changes to the team that started against Juventus during the week, with Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer all coming into the XI. Neymar misses out tonight through suspension, while a calf problem keeps Javier Mascherano on the sidelines. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, however, both start for the Spanish champions.
So there we have it. The two teams are in and we are now just about 40 minutes from kickoff on this warm evening in Spain. I shall speak about Sociedad a little bit later, but let's start with Barcelona, who simply have to win tonight. Real Madrid's 3-2 victory at Sporting Gijon earlier this afternoon has left Los Blancos six points clear of second-place Barcelona at the top of the table.
Worryingly for Barcelona, Real Madrid have opened that six-point gap having played the same amount of games as the reigning champions. Luis Enrique's side have the chance to cut the gap to three points tonight, but Real Madrid are still very much in charge of their own destiny this season. One thing is for certain, next weekend's El Clasico at the Bernabeu is going to be a slightly important.
Barcelona responded to that defeat at Deportivo by scoring 11 times in victories over Valencia, Granada and Sevilla, but they were poor against Malaga last time out. As mentioned, the Catalan outfit simply have to win when they travel to Real Madrid next weekend, although they also have the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final at home to Juventus on Wednesday night.
Barcelona created Champions League history in this season's round of 16 against Paris Saint-Germain when they overcame a 4-0 first-leg deficit at Camp Nou to triumph, and they will again have to come from behind in the quarter-finals if they are to make the semi-finals. Indeed, the Spanish champions were well beaten at Juventus on Tuesday night - losing 3-0 in Turin. In truth, it is very difficult to imagine Juventus conceding at least three times at Camp Nou without scoring next week.
As for Sociedad, a run of four victories and just one defeat between February 5 and March 3 led to suggestions that the Basque outfit could sneak into the top four this season. They failed to win between March 12 and April 4, however, suffering defeats to Athletic Bilbao, Alaves and Atletico Madrid as Eusebio's side fell down to eighth position in the table, leaving them off the pace.
Sociedad picked up a vital three points at home to Sporting Gijon on Monday night, however, and the 3-1 success saw them jump above Bilbao and Eibar into sixth position. They are now down in seventh, but actually just two points behind fifth-place Villarreal, although nine points seperates them from fourth-place Sevilla, which is a big gap to close at this stage of the campaign.
It has been a case of 'all or nothing' for Sociedad on their travels this season, with the Basque outfit winning eight and losing seven of their 15 away games in the league. They have only suffered four home defeats this season, although have only won seven of their 16 fixtures at San Sebastian, which has harmed their push for a Champions League position. Kickoff is fast approaching here!
In terms of what is ahead for Sociedad, Eusebio's side will welcome Deportivo next weekend, before ending the month with fixtures against Valencia (A) and Granada (H). The Basque side have finished 12th and ninth in their last two La Liga campaigns, but are on course for a return to European football for the 2017-18 campaign. A win tonight would give them a lot of confidence.
Here we go then - both sets of players have joined us on the pitch for the first 45 minutes of action. The home supporters are expecting a strong response from their team tonight following back-to-back defeats without scoring. Only a win will do if the Catalan side are to stay in the title race.
... as expected, Barcelona have taken control of the possession in the opening couple of minutes, with Sociedad dropping into a deeper shape. I fancy Barcelona to win tonight, but Sociedad have the potential to cause a lot of problems. It is very much win or bust in terms of the title race.
CHANCE! Super chance for Sociedad as Willian sets up Yuri inside the Barcelona box, but the defender's goal-bound effort is blocked by Pique. That was going in!
Super work from Luis Suarez as the striker collects a pass from Alba in a wide position before attempting to find Rakitic, but Navas is across to make the challenge. Open start to this match.
CHANCE! Big chance for the home side this time as Alba finds all sorts of space down the left before delivering a low cross towards Suarez, but the striker slips at the vital moment.
You just get the feeling that the first goal tonight - if there indeed is one - will be vital in terms of the final result. The atmosphere inside Camp Nou will be very interesting if Sociedad can take the lead, but if Barcelona open the scoring then you would have to fancy the Catalan side to be quite comfortable.
Brilliant goalkeeping from Rulli as the Sociedad stopper comes out to deny Alcacer, before flying out to palm behind when Roberto looked favourite to deliver into the middle of the box.
SAVE! Super chance for the away side as Yuri breaks down the left before finding Oyarzabal unmarked inside the Barcelona box, but the youngster's effort is straight at Ter Stegen!
Sociedad fancy it tonight. That is obvious in the opening 15 minutes of this match. There is just something with this Barcelona defence at the moment. It is all over the place once again here.
Oh my goodness what a strike. Barcelona take the lead in the 17th minute of this match as Messi works some space outside the Sociedad box before drilling a low effort into the bottom corner!
SAVE! Wonderful goalkeeping from Rulli as the Sociedad stopper keeps out a close-range attempt from Messi, who had been found by an excellent cross from Luis Suarez.
Half-chance for Sociedad as Oyarzabal drives to the edge of the Barcelona box before curling one towards the top corner, but his effort was always moving wide of Ter Stegen's post.
Yuri continues to break forward from defence, and the full-back has another strike towards the Barcelona goal, but his effort is deflected into the arms of Ter Stegen. Sociedad continue to cause problems in the final third of the field, and in truth, they do not deserve to be behind here.
CHANCE! Super chance for Barcelona to score their second of the night as Roberto finds Alcacer inside the Sociedad box, but the former Valencia striker gets his effort all wrong!
Little over 15 minutes of the first period remaining, and Messi's goal still separates the two teams at Camp Nou. Sociedad have had two or three very good chances to get their name on the scoresheet, but poor finishing has cost them. It has been a very enjoyable game of football.
Just a reminder that a win for Barcelona would see them return to within three points of Real Madrid at the top of the table. Sociedad are far from finished here, however, as they continue to cause problems in the final third of the field. The visitors are very unfortunate to be behind tonight.
Half-chance for Sociedad as Willian Jose finds space in a dangerous position, but his effort is straight at the home side's goalkeeper. Little over 10 minutes of the first period to play here.
Barcelona double their lead at Camp Nou, with Messi scoring his second of the night. It was a horrible goal from Sociedad's point of view. A mistake from Zaldua allowed Luis Suarez to have a strike on goal, and the forward's effort was saved into the path of Messi, who could not miss.