Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's La Liga showdown between Barcelona
and Real Sociedad!
Barca can surely now be regarded as the champions-elect with just three wins needed to guarantee the title, although another slip-up tonight could make things interesting after Atletico edged past Eibar earlier in the day. The Champions League semi-finalists are unsurprisingly big favourites, but Sociedad have won away at Real Madrid this season so it is by no means a foregone conclusion already.
We have just five minutes until kickoff, so let's start with a look at the team news...
BARCELONA STARTING XI:
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Vidal, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
SUBS: Alena, Cillessen, Umtiti, Busquets, Roberto, Malcom, Coutinho
REAL SOCIEDAD STARTING XI:
Rulli; Zaldua, Llorente, Elustondo, Munoz, Pardo, Merino, Zubeldia, Willian Jose, Juanmi
SUBS: Navas, Gorosabel, Sangalli, Sandro, Bautista, Moya, Barrenetxea
KICKOFF: Here we go! Barcelona get us underway at the Camp Nou!
Barcelona have, as expected, taken early control of the possession here as they probe for a quick breakthrough. Messi has made one menacing dart towards the defence, but his pass went astray.
Sociedad have struggled to get out of their own half in the opening exchanges here, with Barcelona keeping them pinned back whether they are in possession of the ball or not so far.
Arthur tries to thread a pass through to Semedo, who then tries to drop it back to Messi in what would have been a dangerous position. However, the offside flag is raised - and the replay shows that it was the wrong decision.
The visitors are beginning to see more of the ball now and, while much of it is still coming inside their own half, it is not a monopoly of possession for the hosts at the moment.
Danger for Sociedad here as Suarez wins a free kick just inside shooting range...
Messi, of course, takes it, but it is by no means his best as he sends it straight into the wall.
Munoz is a lucky man here! Semedo puts him under heavy pressure and eventually forces him to give the ball straight to Messi, but just as the Barcelona number 10 is about to turn and run at the defence the whistle blows for a free kick.
Almost our first piece of Messi magic tonight as he clips a cross into the box which is an inch or so too high for an unmarked Suarez - although the VAR review would have shown that he was offside had he scored.
YELLOW CARD! Merino picks up the first yellow card of the night for a challenge on Messi.
It has been a relatively low-key contest so far. There have only ever been nine goalless draws between these two sides in La Liga, but after almost 20 minutes we are yet to have a shot of any note.
It is interesting to note that Rakitic is carrying out the usual Busquets role tonight, with Vidal in one of the more attacking midfield positions.
Well, this isn't exactly a thriller so far. Sociedad, to their credit, are determined to play football when they do get the ball, and Barca are only just edging the possession 53%-47% as we approach the quarter-way mark.
The visitors can be very pleased with how they have defended in this one so far. Barcelona have not really had a sniff of a chance yet, with the likes of Messi, Suarez and Dembele being kept quiet.
Important goalkeeping from Ter Stegen as he comes a long, long way out of his area to mop up a long pass forward which threatened to undo the Barca defence.
The last free kick was perhaps a little further out than ideal, but Vidal has just won another in perfect Messi territory. Can the maestro do it again?
CLOSE! Messi opts for a clipped effort over the wall this time, but he just doesn't get enough dip on it and it lands on the roof of the net. The keeper may have struggled to get there had it been on target!
Messi takes another free kick early and almost catches out the defence by releasing Suarez, but the Uruguayan is forced wide and eventually has to make do with the first corner of the game.
Messi has overhit a few of his passes in this match so far, which is very unlike him. This time he tries to poke it through to Dembele, but puts too much on it and it runs through to the keeper.
Sensational footwork from Messi as he twists and turns away from Merino, beating him twice despite some very close attention. He then tries to play a one-two with Suarez, but the return ball has too much on it.
Sociedad have the chance to hoist a free kick into the box from deep, but the delivery is easily dealt with by Barcelona. There is half a chance to break for the hosts, but they cannot take advantage of it.
Just 10 minutes left in this first half now, and in truth it is not one that will live long in the memory. Barca drew 0-0 in their last league outing and they could be on course for another.
CHANCE! Just as I say that, Sociedad manufacture by far the best chance of the game so far! Pardo clips a lovely pass into the box for Juanmi, who chests it down but is then denied by a sprawling Ter Stegen save. The ball rebounds out to Willian Jose, but he stabs his follow-up effort over the crossbar.
Could that chance jolt Barcelona into life? Elustondo is forced into a vital interception here to deny Suarez a golden chance inside the area.
SAVE! Messi finally finds a bit of space to shoot from open play, cutting inside from the right flank but then firing a relatively tame effort into the arms of the keeper.
Five minutes left of this half now and it is Sociedad who have had the best chance of the contest so far. The game has struggled to get into any sort of rhythm for the most part, though.
CHANCE! Messi collects the ball in the area and bides his time, twisting and turning before picking out a lovely pass to Alba inside a packed area. Alba moves it on to Suarez, who draws a smart low save from the keeper at the near post.
Alba tries to bend a cross into the box which Suarez is interested in, but Elustondo is again there to nod it behind for a corner.
GOAL! BARCELONA 1-0 REAL SOCIEDAD (CLEMENT LENGLET)
It has not been a vintage Barcelona performance, and this is by no means a vintage Barcelona goal - but it is a special one for Lenglet as he opens his La Liga account for the club!
It comes from a corner which is swung into the area, and Lenglet climbs highest to glance his header home.
HALF TIME: BARCELONA 1-0 REAL SOCIEDAD
Barcelona go into the break with the lead, then, but it was by no means a classic and Ernesto Valverde
won't be particularly pleased with how his side have played on the whole.
The hosts have seen the majority of the ball, but clear chances have proved difficult to come by and it wasn't until virtually the last action of the half that they finally made the breakthrough.
was the unlikely hero of that first half with the only goal in the 45th minute, opening his La Liga account for the club with a glancing header into the far corner.
Dembele swung the delivery into a good area and it was a decent header from Lenglet too, but the manner of the goal is an example of how Barcelona have had to look for different solutions to the norm so far today.
Aside from the goal, the best chance of the half fell to Real Sociedad, who should have taken the lead with nine minutes remaining.
Pardo's pass into the box found Juanmi, who chested the ball down nicely but then saw his effort from a tight angle denied by Ter Stegen. The rebound then fell at the feet of Willian Jose, but he could only stab his effort over the bar with the goal gaping.
Barcelona did end the half on a high after that scare, though, with Suarez forcing a smart save from the keeper and Messi also having a shot on target.
It wasn't until the 27th minute that we had our first shot of any note, though, when Messi's free kick landed on the roof of the net.
KICKOFF: Sociedad get us back underway at the Camp Nou!
Bright start to the second half from the visitors as they look to put Barca under pressure immediately after the interval.
Here is the goal which separates the two sides as things stand...
SAVE! Ter Stegen is forced into another save, scrambling across to push away Pardo's deflected strike. It may have been going wide, but Ter Stegen was not to know that.
REAL SOCIEDAD SUB: Sociedad are forced into their first change of the night as Luca Sangalli replaces the injured Zubeldia.
Almost a catastrophic mix-up at the back as Alba gets in the way of Ter Stegen, who almost drops the ball at the feet of Willian Jose. Ter Stegen does well to poke away from the Sociedad striker, though.
BARCELONA SUB: Change for the hosts here as Sergio Busquets replaces Arthur, who may have picked up a slight injury to be hooked this early.
CHANCE! Dembele should do better here! Messi gives it to Vidal, who helps it on to Dembele, and the Frenchman rather snatches at his effort as it goes wide of the far post. You can see what he was trying to do - just curl it into the far corner - but it ended up a yard or so wide.
Sociedad survive two scares in quick succession as first Messi is correctly flagged offside when through on goal and then Rulli escapes giving the ball away with a poor clearance.
Another hint of a chance for Barca as Messi advances into the box but delays and delays his shot until Llorente is able to get a crucial tackle in.
GOAL! BARCELONA 1-1 REAL SOCIEDAD (JUANMI)
GOAL! Sociedad have the equaliser just past the hour mark, and suddenly Barcelona are staring at more dropped points! It is a superb pass from Merino into the box for Juanmi, whose movement gets him in front of Lenglet and from there he slides his finish past Ter Stegen.
GOAL! BARCELONA 2-1 REAL SOCIEDAD (JORDI ALBA)
What a response from Barcelona! Almost immediately after conceding the equaliser, they regain their lead through Jordi Alba
as he fires a right-footed effort into the far corner. The full-back cut inside and rather swung his weaker foot at it, but he could not have placed it better.
The goal is checked by VAR for a potential offside against Dembele, who may have been impeding the keeper's view as the ball flashed past him, but the goal stands!
Barcelona have the ball in the back of the net again as Suarez races through on goal, rounds the keeper and slides the ball home, but the flag is already raised for offside. It was a close one - which shouldn't usually see the flag go up with VAR to call upon - but he got it right.
Here is that Jordi Alba strike, which restored Barca's lead less than two minutes after Sociedad's equaliser...
Messi plays a quick one-two with Suarez, whose return pass is chipped over for the Argentine. Rulli does just about enough to put him off, though, and catches a thigh in the face for his troubles too.
BARCELONA SUB: Change for the hosts here as Philippe Coutinho replaces Dembele. Big cheers for the Brazilian initially before a few whistles creep in.
Just over 15 minutes remaining in this match now and Sociedad are still in this game. They have created a few decent chances tonight and only need one more to rescue a point here.
SHOT! Ambitious from Sangalli as he tries his luck from range, but the ball is always flying well over the top.
This has not been a vintage Barcelona performance by any means, but they are still on course for another important win. It is a microcosm of their season in many ways - not spectacular but still on course for a treble.
CHANCE! Chance for Barcelona to put this game to bed as Suarez slides Rakitic in with a lovely reverse pass, but the Croat can only pick out the side-netting with his shot.
CHANCE! Another chance goes begging as Messi's free kick is flicked on to the back post, where Vidal reacts well to get a foot on it but cannot keep his stretching effort down.
Sociedad may be losing this game, but their defence has played really well - in particular the centre-back pairing of Elustondo and Llorente.
Suarez releases Messi with a great pass out to the right and the La Liga top scorer cuts inside before again turning down a shot and a pass this time too. In the end it is the wrong decision from Messi with teammates in a better position, but I'm sure we can let him have one of those!
REAL SOCIEDAD SUBS: Two changes for the visitors late on as Llorente and Juanmi are replaced by Sandro Ramirez and Ander Barrenetxea.
BARCELONA SUB: Barca make a change of their own with Sergi Roberto replacing Vidal.
There will be four minutes of added time at the end of this match.
Sociedad are applying the pressure late on, and an equaliser would not flatter them here. It has been a lacklustre performance from Barcelona tonight.
FULL TIME: BARCELONA 2-1 REAL SOCIEDAD
The referee blows the full-time whistle and it is another win for Barcelona as they inch ever closer to retaining their title, although this was not a performance that will put fear in the hearts of their Champions League opponents Liverpool.
The hosts needed to rely on some unlikely sources - Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba - for their goals either side of Juanmi's equaliser, and the result leaves them just two more wins away from securing the title - something they could achieve next weekend.
Right, that is all we have time for this evening!
Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole for tonight's match as Barcelona take another step towards the league title with victory over Real Sociedad. I will leave you with our match report, and be sure to stick around for reaction too.
From me, though, it is goodbye for now!