The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word ‘curse’ as evil or misfortune as if in response to imprecation or as retribution. Now, I don’t know what Barcelona could have done to turn the gods against them at the Estádio Anoeta back in 2007 and nor am I going to force any journalistic ties to incidents past to validate some unheeded omen. But the club must have known there was still bad juju wafting around the Real Sociedad away fixture when Neymar managed to wreck his Ferrari 458 Spider on the way to the training ground this past weekend before meeting up with the rest of the squad as they traveled to San Sebastián, the closet their boogieman calls home.
May 5th, 2007. That’s the last time Barcelona went to San Sebastián and took the entirety of the spoils. The only remaining member of that starting eleven, back in the days Frank Rijkaard was at the helm, that started this most recent contest for the blaugrana was a 19-year old Lionel Messi, now a decade on. But behind such a befuddling statistic are mitigating aspects from a Barcelona standpoint that chip away at the so-labeled “curse.” That same season (06/07) Real Sociedad were relegated to the second tier and did not return until the 2010/2011 campaign, which spared them three of the seasons in which Barcelona assumed the greatest version of themselves under Pep Guardiola. But regardless, with every new fruitless trek to Donastia the significance of failure there swells. And that number has now grown to eight visits without a win.
If you can name the last time the last time a Barcelona manager labeled the achievement of a draw, a single point, a “miracle,” then congrats. You’ve done more research than I have, but that’s exactly the word Luis Enrique chose to describe his side’s 1-1 result against Real Sociedad away. Contrary to the conclusion many extract from that comment, the manager isn’t referring to Barça’s poor record in the fixture. He’s calculated, realistic, and can’t put stock into such superstition. Señor Enrique is expressing his disappointment in his men’s performance on the day. By all accounts, Real Sociedad hammered their opponents and will feel cheated by unseen powers not to have won.
In Sid Lowe’s Guardian article, he wrote that at halftime La Real had totaled eight corners to Barça’s zero and that when the final whistle blew Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar had only managed two shots a piece, something 85th minute La Real substitute Esteban Granero managed to better in the briefest of cameos.
What puts the latest edition of Barcelona’s woes with La Real into the harshest of perspective is that in years’ past, it was Real Sociedad that would claim the miracles. What made the curse of Anoeta so gripping was that time and time again Barcelona would should up and completely slay the hosts only for the men in blue an white stripes to hold on to some undeserved, unpredicted result. This time that was far from the case as Barcelona’s execution of any plan seemed blurry at best. Real Sociedad manager Eusebio Sacristán has orchestrated a winning melody this season by resurrecting Carlos Vela’s outlook on football and by adding more potency to his attack through former Real Madrid academy product Willian José, the club’s latest goal scorer against Barcelona. So does the credit go to Real Sociedad, or is the fault Barcelona’s own doing? Perhaps a mixture of the two.
Bad results very rarely, if ever, arrive at a good time. That being said, it’d have been tricky to pick a worse time for the blaugrana to drop two points. The result with with La Real leaves Barça even on points with Sevilla and six points off of their rivals Real Madrid with the Clásico looming menacingly this weekend. If Barcelona manage to lose that encounter, that deficit will grow to nine points and will give the invisible and all too vital head-to-head point to Zinedine Zidane and company, now 31 matches unbeaten.
Madrid’s unbeaten run stretches all the way back to last season to which they lost the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal in Germany to Wolfsburg. Yet despite overturning that result at the Bernabéu and going on to win their 11th European title, Real haven’t always looked convincing this season regardless of their standing in the table, which makes for a fascinating contest between Spain’s two goliaths on Saturday. Barcelona will be eager to put the curse of Anoeta behind them until next season at least and snap Real’s streak. In doing so they can claim revenge for the 39-match unbeaten run Real broke at the Camp Nou last season. Moreover and less trivial, Barcelona will be looking to avoid digging their grave in La Liga any deeper.