Manchester United failure David Moyes’ quest to rebuild his managerial reputation received a huge boost on Sunday evening when his Real Sociedad side secured an unlikely victory over Barcelona.
The Camp Nou side had the chance to go top of La Liga with a win after Real Madrid’s 22-game winning streak was brought to an end with a 2-1 defeat at Valencia earlier in the day, but Luis Enrique’s side could not exploit this slip-up.
Lionel Messi and Neymar were left on the bench by the new Barcelona boss in an attempt to ease them back into action after they only returned from the winter break on Friday, leaving Luis Suarez to lead the attack with Pedro and emerging youngster Munir.
Barcelona got off to the worst possible start, however, and Jordi Alba opened the scoring by heading a cross into his own net inside the first two minutes at the Anoeta Stadium. It was an ominous blow for the Catalan club, who had failed to win in their previous six visits to the Anoeta Stadium.
Moyes’ men were resolute in defence against the inevitable onslaught from the visitors, though this did not mean they were toothless in attack. Xabi Prieto, Sergio Canales and former Arsenal star Carlos Vela all looked dangerous on the counter-attack when Barcelona lost the ball high up the pitch.
Messi was introduced at half-time for Munir and Neymar was thrown on not too long afterwards, as the pressure being applied by the visitors was ratcheted up as time ticked away. Suarez stayed on the pitch and was presented with two golden opportunities to level the match, but wasted both.
Liverpool’s top scorer and Premier League player of the season last year, the £65million summer signing is struggling to gel with the system used at Barcelona since his ban for biting at the World Cup came to an end and he has looked uncharacteristically subdued so far this season – a single La Liga goal in nine appearances is all he has to his name.
Messi & Neymar Thwarted
Despite the introduction of Barcelona’s two most prominent stars, Sociedad held on with some magnificent defending reminiscent of Moyes’s best Everton sides to hold out for an unlikely win. It was a fourth victory of the campaign and took the San Sebastian club to 13th in the Primera Division.
The decision to move to Spain was a brave one from the former Everton boss
Three of those victories have come under Moyes since he took over in November and the Scot had made them a tough side to beat in that time, suffering only two defeats in seven matches. What is peculiar about Sociedad’s four wins is that three of them have come against Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
Something to Build On
Moyes will be hoping that this was a watershed for his team and will be looking for more consistency in the coming weeks following the win.
"We've talked about Barcelona at my past clubs, at Everton and at Manchester United. I've watched them with admiration and we used to wonder how to possibly get a result against them," he said after the game.
"Tonight I had the opportunity; it was a long night, we scored early and I would like to have given them a harder game. We did make it very difficult for them, though.
"I would like to be competing against Barca, Real Madrid, Atletico, Valencia and Sevilla at the top of the league. To do that we have to make the squad stronger."
The decision to move to Spain was a brave one from the former Everton boss, but seemed a sensible choice for a place to rebuild his career following the disastrous spell in charge at Manchester United. He lasted barely 10 months after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson and oversaw the worst season at Old Trafford for two decades.
A seventh place finish in the Premier League severely damaged his reputation in England and he would have been under greater scrutiny than normal had he taken a job there.
La Liga provides an opportunity for him to experience a new culture and regain confidence – this victory over Barcelona would suggest he is beginning to do just that.