One decade later, Real Sociedad are dreaming of a return to the Champions League

Real Sociedad were on the road last week for the midweek Matchday 31 and the weekend Matchday 32 and they ultimately returned to San Sebastián with four very important points in the bag. The Basque side visited one of their direct rivals for Champions League qualification, Real Betis, last Tuesday and earned an important and impressive 0-0 draw, before travelling to Pamplona to take on Jagoba Arrasate’s tough CA Osasuna side on Friday, earning a 2-0 victory. Those four points mean La Real are comfortably in fourth place, now boasting a five-point lead over Villarreal CF in fifth.

As such, Real Sociedad have earned the right to dream of a return to the Champions League. Since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992, the team from the north of Spain have only entered European football’s top competition twice, in 2003/04 and in 2013/14. They want to keep up that run of qualifying for the tournament every decade by reaching the 2023/24 group stage.

When Real Sociedad qualified last time, they also did so by finishing fourth in LaLiga Santander, with FC Barcelona top, Real Madrid second and Atlético de Madrid third. Curiously, that is the exact current order of the standings.

Back then, there was a need to navigate a qualifying playoff and Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela put Lyon to the sword, leading the Spanish side to a 4-0 aggregate victory. For many Real Sociedad fans, that remains an all-time highlight of supporting the club and it’s common to see fans on the streets of San Sebastián donning the black away shirt that Griezmann was wearing when he scored his spectacular bicycle kick in Lyon.

The current Real Sociedad squad is very different. In fact, there isn’t a single member who is still at the Reale Arena. Yet, Imanol Alguacil’s 2022/23 squad is just as impressive to watch. In defence, Igor Zubeldia and Robin Le Normand have formed one of the best central defensive partnerships in LaLiga Santander, with the team conceding the third-fewest goals in the division at a rate of just 0.91 per 90 minutes. In midfield, the 24-year-old Martín Zubimendi has had his best season yet and has formed a dominant duo alongside Mikel Merino.

Up front, Real Sociedad have put together an impressive collection of creative players in Takefusa Kubo, Davis Silva, Brais Méndez and Mikel Oyarzabal, all of whom know how to dribble and pass and get the ball to centre-forward Alexander Sørloth. Making all the pieces of the puzzle fit together is Imanol Alguacil, the coach who knows Real Sociedad inside-out, having also been a player and youth coach.

It also helps that the majority of this Real Sociedad squad have come through the youth academy at Zubieta, many of them with Imanol. There are 16 academy graduates in the current first-team squad and they know exactly how La Real want to play, as well as understanding how special a return to the Champions League would be, since they experienced the last participation as young fans of the club.

Even the non-academy graduates realise that Real Sociedad are on the verge of something historic, players such as Japan international Takefusa Kubo. After scoring the second goal of the team’s 2-0 win at CA Osasuna, Kubo stated: “I think we need to go one game at a time, but with the performance we are producing, especially this one, we have the right to dream. The fans are dreaming and so are we. We have to take it one game at a time, but I think it’s getting closer and closer. We know that we have six matches remaining and we’ll play these matches with our bodies, but also with our hearts.”

Real Sociedad prepare to host Real Madrid

The next of the six remaining fixtures is just around the corner, as Real Sociedad will host Real Madrid on Tuesday night at the Reale Arena in the next midweek round, that of Matchday 33. This is a huge match, but Real Sociedad managed to draw 0-0 at the Bernabéu earlier this season and always compete well against Los Blancos. With Imanol in the dugout, the Basque side’s record against Real Madrid is three wins, three draws and four defeats from 10 matches

With the fans set to pack the Reale Arena for this important Tuesday night match, everyone at Real Sociedad will be dreaming of the Champions League and fighting for the three points with their bodies and their hearts.  

MG Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *