YOU bend down to accept the medal and someone else kicks you up the backside. Pep Guardiola was given the medal of honour by the parliament of Catalonia last week but, at the weekend, the praise turned to gentle criticism as his team selection contributed to Barcelona dropping two points behind Real Madrid in the title race.
Guardiola was given Catalonia's highest award, and, after his emotion-charged acceptance speech, there was talk from his supporters of him one day becoming president - not of FC Barcelona but of Catalonia itself. "I'm just a coach" he told fans and, on Saturday in San Sebastian, he was a coach taking gambles that did not pay off.
He rested six first-team players for the away fixture with Real Sociedad, most notably leaving out defenders Javier Mascherano and Eric Abidal. The Spanish champions were already without the injured Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. With converted midfielder Sergi Busquets in defence next to the inexperienced Andreu Fontas, BarAa squandered a two-goal lead in drawing 2-2.
On 11 minutes Cesc Fabregas scored his third goal in three games for Barcelona to add to Xavi's opener and it seemed, after a week of debate about Spain's two-team league, Barca were about to stroll to another easy victory.
But on the half-hour Alexis Sanchez tore a hamstring - an injury that will sideline him for at least six weeks - and David Villa had to leave his place on the bench alongside Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta to replace him. It was Villa who gifted Real Sociedad a point with a back pass from the halfway line that was intercepted by Imanol Agirretxe, whose shot came back off the bar for Antoine Griezmann to head in the rebound. That came after Agirretxe had headed in the first.
The draw left Barcelona two points behind Real Madrid who beat Getafe 4-2, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the second from a dubiously-awarded penalty. He is La Liga's joint top scorer on four goals with Roberto Soldado. The Valencia striker is pushing hardest to edge Fernando Torres out of Vicente del Bosque's squad for next summer's European Championship and scored his side's goal in their 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid. That result leaves Chelsea's Champions League opponents joint-top with Jose Mourinho's Real.
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