Madrid: With a win against the mighty Real Madrid and a draw with Real Betis, their close rivals for a spot in European competitions, Real Sociedad have cemented their hold on the fourth place in the La Liga standings.
Real Sociedad were on the road last week for the midweek Matchday 31 and the weekend Matchday 32 and they ultimately returned to San Sebastian 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 Friday, earning a 2-0 victory.
As if that wasn’t enough, Alguacil’s side this week extended their good run of form with a win over reigning champions Real Madrid, no less. Goals from Take Kubo and Ander Barrenetxea handed all three points to La Real at the Reale Arenam a result which sees them cement their hold on the fourth and final Champions League spot.
As such, 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 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 La Liga, with FC Barcelona top, Real Madrid second and Atletico de Madrid third.
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 Sebastian 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 and 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 La Liga, 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 Martin 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 Mendez and Mikel Oyarzabal, all of whom know how to dribble and pass and get the ball to centre-forward Alexander Sorloth.
Making all the pieces of the puzzle fit together is Imanol Aiguacil, the coach who knows Real Sociedad inside-out, having also been a player and youth coach, the La Liga informed in a release here on Thursday.
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 understand 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.”