, August 02, 2021

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How Real Sociedad became La Liga's most entertaining team

  •   4 min reads
Martin Odegaard of Real Sociedad
21-year-old loanee Martin Odegaard is the metronome for La Liga's most exciting squad. Toni Albir/EPA.

Back in mid-December, Real Sociedad put eight goals past Club Deportivo Becerril, a fourth tier club hailing from a tiny town of around 1,000 inhabitants in the northern province of Palencia, in the Copa del Rey. Ordinarily, such a thrashing would be the source of great indignity, but Becerril’s fans had a rather unusual reaction.

They were so impressed by what they witnessed that 502 of them, and a group of Becerril players, accepted an invite from La Real to visit San Sebastian for a game. The Anoeta is, after all, arguably the best place in Spain to watch soccer right now. It’s little wonder so many took up the invitation to see Real Sociedad first-hand for a second time.

By almost every measure, Imanol Alguacil’s side are enjoying an exceptional season. La Real are currently sitting in fourth place in La Liga, on course for Champions League qualification, and had a global pandemic not got in the way they would have played a Copa del Rey final against their Basque rivals Athletic Club last month.

Style as well as substance

The impression La Real have made goes beyond results. This is a team that plays with pace and power, guile and–most importantly–glee. Imanol has forged a young and hungry side that has more than once proved itself capable of competing at the top level of the Spanish game, edging a seven-goal thriller against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, beating Atletico Madrid and taking points off Barcelona.

Martin Odegaard, the former Norwegian wonder-kid who signed for Real Madrid as a 16-year-old, has been one of La Liga’s very best this season, embodying all that is great about Real Sociedad right now. Still on Real Madrid’s books, Odegaard flourished to such an extent at the Anoeta that many speculate his parent club could cut short his two-year loan deal. Many view him as the natural heir to Luka Modric.

Another former wonder-kid, Alexander Isak, has also found a home at the Anoeta, with his brace at the Santiago Bernabeu a demonstration of the Swedish striker’s boundless potential. Then there’s Mikel Oyarzabal, the versatile and adaptable final third creator so highly rated he has been billed as a future replacement for David Silva at Manchester City.

Mikel Merino, Portu, Igor Zubeldia, Diego Llorente, Aritz Elustondo and Nacho Monreal, revitalised since his Arsenal exit last summer, have also played important roles, and those roles are clearly defined. There is no flab on Imanol’s side. They are lean and well-drilled in their duties and responsibilities, both as individuals and as a unit.

“The idea is clear - we will not wait, we won’t hedge our bets, we will always go for them, try to score as many goals as we can - and as long as I am sitting here, that will be the case,” Imanol explained when asked to describe his soccer philosophy earlier in the season. It’s an approach which has earned them fans across Spain, not just from the province of Palencia.

“You should see us training… if you did, you’d understand a lot,” Portu said in an interview, depicting the environment at the club with Imanol at the helm. “Everyone’s full on. No one relaxes ever, not even on a Monday, when it’s our day off.” This sort of energy carries into their performances on matchday.

Top four challenge

As the youngest team in La Liga this season, their season has risen and dipped at various points. Young players, even those as talented as the ones currently at the Anoeta, suffer inconsistencies, partly explaining their poor run of just one win five games over December and January. But on the whole, the peaks have been far higher than the valleys.

There’s still some work to be done if Real Sociedad are to hit their ultimate targets for the season. While Atlético Madrid could still claw their way back into the top four after a dismal season up to this point, the race for La Liga’s Champions League spot could come down to a straight spring finish between Real Sociedad and an equally impressive–yet very different–Getafe squad. The contrast between these two sides is stark, with the latter a dynamic, forward-thinking outfit and the former a decidedly conservative, physical team.

In this, the two extremes of the Spanish soccer scale can be found, but while Getafe are admired, but not beloved, Real Sociedad have captured the hearts and imagination of many, even those they have humiliated in the Copa del Rey. Whether it’s at the Anoeta or simply on TV, take the chance to watch La Real when it presents itself.

Real Sociedad Schedule

Real Sociedad's first match of La Liga's return will be Sunday, June 14 at 4:00 pm ET. The next subsequent three matchdays are scheduled, and a bout with Real Madrid looms large as one of the biggest matches remaining in the La Liga campaign.

Sun, June 14 at 4:00 PM – Real Sociedad vs Osasuna
Thu, June 18 at 1:30 PM – Alavés vs Real Sociedad
Sun, June 21 at 4:00 PM – Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid
Wed, June 24 at 1:30 PM – Real Sociedad vs Celta Vigo

TBD – Getafe vs Real Sociedad
TBD – Real Sociedad vs Espanyol
TBD – Levante vs Real Sociedad
TBD – Real Sociedad vs Granada
TBD – Villarreal vs Real Sociedad
TBD – Real Sociedad vs Sevilla
TBD – Atlético Madrid vs Real Sociedad

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