There were two surprising results over the weekend in La Liga action, as the top two teams were beaten on the road by smaller clubs. League leaders Real Madrid gave up a one-goal lead and fell 2-1 to Valencia (4th place), while Barcelona (2nd place) were beaten 1-0 by Real Sociedad, a club currently in 13th. Sociedad’s win over Barcelona was particularly impressive, as the club has now earned wins over the top three teams in Spain this season, after previously beating both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid at home. In Sunday’s win over Barcelona, an early own goal by Barca defender Jordi Alba gave Sociedad a 1-0 lead, which the club protected for 88 minutes to earn a massive three points. David Moyes, who took over as Sociedad’s manager in November, was full of praise for his team’s ability to match up against the league’s best. “It is the happiest night since I arrived in San Sebastian. We worked very hard. The players showed courage and defended incredibly,” said Moyes. “This team has shown it is capable in the big games against the best teams in the league.”
As a player, part of pushing yourself to become better involves testing your abilities against the very best competition you can find. These games can often cause many players to feel more nervous than usual, and fearful of the likelihood of losing against a more talented opponent. Many coaches and players recommend seeing these matchups just like any other game. While it is true that your physical and mental preparation should remain consistent regardless of your competition, it is okay to acknowledge that one opponent may be more challenging than another. Instead of fearing this challenge, accept it, and view each of these games as an opportunity, rather than something to shy away from. If you want to become a top team or a top player, you must be able to compete with, and beat, the very best. Your preparation for doing so starts with focusing on what you can control. Rather than dwelling on possible outcomes of the game, focus your attention on the process. This is where a pre-performance routine can be especially helpful. If you have an effective pre-performance routine, refine it to focus on what you need to specifically do to beat a talented opponent, but resist the temptation to make significant changes, just because you are facing tough competition. Identify, and rely on, what has worked for you in the past – and draw confidence from this past success. Heading into Sunday’s match against Barcelona, Real Sociedad had not lost against the Catalans at home in six previous meetings. Recognizing that you’ve had success like this on prior occasions can boost your belief that you can do so again. As Sociedad attempt to climb further up the league table, Moyes’s men can continue to draw courage and confidence from their ability to match up against the best Spain has to offer.
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