Luis Enrique relishing Real Sociedad test

Luis Enrique was speaking at the Ciutat Esportiva / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The FC Barcelona manager discussed a variety of different matters at his first press conference of the new year

Luis Enrique discussed the latest goings-on at FC Barcelona in his first press conference of 2015. The main topic was Sunday’s game with Real Sociedad at Anoeta, where the team has not won a league fixture for four years. “We are hoping to get all three points from the game” said the FCB manager. “We are thoroughly looking forward to it and have taken on board what happened on the last four visits.” Asked how he feels the Basque club has changed since the arrival of Scottish coach David Moyes, Luis Enrique said “they have gained in intensity and aggression when they have the ball … If we don’t find our best game, we’ll suffer. This will be a good test for us”.

[[CITA_1]]In response to the ratification by the CAS of FIFA’s decision to ban FC Barcelona from signing players, the first team boss admitted that “I wasn’t surprised, although we would have preferred a different verdict. But that’s the way it is and we’ll have to deal with it. It shouldn’t affect the way we work with the team. We have to keep going. This club has faced many unfortunate situations in the past and has always managed to get through them. This is a special situation that we have before us, but all we can do is concentrate on doing a good job.”

[[CITA_2]]He went on to say that the fact that they can’t sign anyone during the next two transfer windows “is good stimulation for our reserve players. This has opened a door for them. It’s an invitation for them to show us how good they are … There are some players in the Barça B team that I like a lot. Barça always looks to its academy, so La Masia will be our source for players. In the B team, we put training ahead of results, and it’s not easy when players are always being taken away for first team duty, but from what I can see, Eusebio is doing a spectacular job”.

He was also asked about the players that have been farmed out on loan, and accepted that recovering them was always an option, although he preferred not to reveal any details. He also refused to give much away about what has been discussed regarding Dani Alves, whose contract expires at the end of the season, but did say that “I have been impressed his performances this year. You can see that from how he’s been a regular starter. Given the TAS situation, we have to examine every possible departure with extreme caution.

[[CITA_3]]Luis Enrique’s new year wish is simply for “everyone to have the best possible year,” and in strictly sporting terms, he’s convinced that the next few months are going to fruitful. “But it’s too early to start saying that there’s no margin for error” he remarked when asked whether that was the case. “The other teams will drop points along the way for sure. There’s a long way to go in the league and there will be all kinds of results. The teams just below the leader have plenty of time to get back into contention. In fact, we are in contention now.”

He was also questioned about the relatively late return of his players from their winter break compared to other clubs, especially with such a busy January schedule ahead. “We are used to playing games every three days” he answered. “The players deserved a holiday in order to recover both physically and mentally.”

This club has faced many unfortunate situations in the past and has always managed to get through them
Barça always looks to its academy, so La Masia will be our source for players
It’s too early to say there’s no margin for error. The other teams will drop points along the way

Last session before Anoeta

Iniesta and Alves were among the players that trained on Saturday / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB
All of the first team, including Dani Alves, who has yet to be declared fully fit, were joined for training on Saturday by Munir of FC Barcelona B

The first team trained today for the last time before heading north for Sunday’s game at Anoeta (9.00 PM CET), the first of 2015. Luis Enrique had his full squad with him, including Dani Alves, who has not yet been declared fully fit, and Munir of Barça B.  

The Brazilian full back pulled his left hamstring against Getafe and has missed the last two FC Barcelona matches.

The team will travel to Sant Sebastian on the morning of the match following the announcement of the squad.

Messi, Neymar and Alves back with the squad

Leo Messi, back in training on Friday, with Gerard Piqué / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The three players returned to training after spending the New Year in their respective countries

Before travelling to San Sebastián on Sunday to take on Real Sociedad in their 17th league game of the season, Barça trained on Friday as they continue their preparations for the game in Anoeta. The session followed Claudio Bravo’s appearance before the press earlier in the day and saw the first post-holiday appearance for Leo Messi, Neymar and Dani Alves. The three players had spent New Year in South America with the Club’s permission and they joined up with the rest of the available squad under the watchful eye of coach Luis Enrique.

Dani Alves is still to receive the medical all clear following a calf strain. The right back, however, is in the final straight of his recovery and trained on Friday with the rest of his team mates.

The squad returned to training on Tuesday of this week and with the latest incorporations, coach Luis Enrique now has all his players back as of Friday. With Thomas Vermaelen still recovering from surgery, the Barça boss had all his available players for the session with Munir from the Barça B squad also present. There was a festive atmosphere amongst the players at training despite the fact that the Christmas and New Year break is now over.

There will be final session on Saturday ahead of the team’s first fixture of the new year and on the day of the game coach Luis Enrique will announce his squad before leaving for the Basque Country.

Real Sociedad stronger at Anoeta

Barça drew 1-1 at Real in the 2013/14 cup semi final / FCB
FC Barcelona’s first opponents of 2015 have won 11 of their 15 league points at home, scoring 13 goals and conceding 10

Since David Moyes took over, they have one win, three draws and just one defeat

Barça start the year with the traditionally tricky trip to Real Sociedad. The Basques haven’t been having the best of seasons and would rather be higher than 14th in the table. This has largely been due to their woeful form on the road, where they have only picked up four points in eight games. The other 11 of their 15 points have all been won at Anoeta, where they have three wins, two draws and three defeats this season.

They have also been more inclined to score goals on home turf. Their overall goal difference is 17-22 this season, but at home the balance is positive, 13 for and 10 against. And Real Sociedad has not been a happy hunting ground for Barça in recent years, where they have not won in any of the last four seasons.

Managerial change

The club got off to such a poor start this term that Jagoba Arrasate was shown the door and replaced by David Moyes, formerly of Everton and Manchester United. In his first five games in charge, the Scotsman has seen his side win one, draw three and lose just one league fixture, and also progress in the cup with a 2-0 aggregate win against Oviedo.

Claudio Bravo returns to Anoeta

Claudio Bravo is on his way back to Anoeta / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
On Sunday, the FC Barcelona goalkeeper is going back to Real Sociedad for the first time since leaving after eight years of service

This Sunday at Anoeta at 9.00 PM CET, Claudio Bravo will be appearing for the first time as a Barça player in the stadium where he defended the Real Sociedad goal for eight seasons, and also wore the captain’s armband. It was in 2006 that the Chilean made his first appearance in European football.

In eight years in San Sebastian, Bravo made the second highest number of appearances ever for a foreigner at ‘la Real’, and was also the third most used goalkeeper in club history.

In the summer of 2014, Bravo came to FC Barcelona after being a huge success both at Anoeta and for his country, and soon won the confidence of manager Luis Enrique, who has played him in every league game so far with a wonderful record of just seven goals conceded in sixteen matches.