It is now four years since Real Sociedad have had what could be clearly recognised as ‘a good season’. In recent years they’ve promised much, frequently been a thorn in the side of the big clubs but have failed to deliver on anything like a consistent basis. However La Real’s 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Saturday, their third straight league victory has further raised optimism in San Sebastián that this season might just turn out differently.
The 21st Century has been an era of underachievement overall for Sociedad with a couple of notable exceptions. Their most recent successful campaign came under Philippe Montanier when La Real finished 4th and qualified for the Champions League in 2012/13. Despite boasting a dangerous forward line consisting of a firing Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann they failed to build on that success with a disappointing European campaign and 7th place finish in La Liga the following year.
Griezmann, the hottest emerging talent in the division, soon left and the club have effectively been treading water ever since with Jagoba Arrasate and David Moyes failing to halt the decline while Eusebio Sacristán steadied the ship more than instigated a massive revival last term. There have been moments of promise that indicated the potential in the side which still contains a number of the players that impressed under Montanier, however more than anything Sociedad have become a model of inconsistency.
They beat all of the ‘big three’ at home during the 2014/15 campaign but only won eight other league matches to slump to a disappointing 12th place finish. Last term they once again beat Barcelona to extend an extraordinary home record against the Catalans. There were also impressive away wins at Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and Valencia but home defeats against Las Palmas, Getafe and Espanyol and 16 defeats in all left them again having to settle for a mid-table finish.
Therefore it would be unwise to conclusively suggest that Real Sociedad are back and a force to be reckoned with in La Liga on the back of one excellent result but the signs are clear that they are improving under Eusebio.
Already they’ve broken new ground this term. La Real’s victory over Atleti at the weekend means they’ve recorded four straight home wins in La Liga for the first time since the middle of the 2013/14 season. It is also three consecutive wins overall for only the third time since the start of 2014 and they are back in the top six of La Liga, an all too rare occurrence in recent times.
The foundations have always been there for Sociedad to be a comfortable top half side but there have always been underlying factors that have halted their progress. This term everything might just be clicking into place. Integral to their side is Asier Illarramendi, who has matured as a player since returning from a challenging spell at the Bernabeu. He now looks like someone ready and capable of controlling games from the middle of the park and his calm, sensible approach is certainly rubbing off on his teammates.
The summer of addition of Willian Jose up front has given Real Sociedad real cutting edge. Too often in recent years they’ve lacked that with lots of pretty football but frequently little in the way of end product. They’ve often boasted an attacking threat from the wide areas but now the likes of full-backs Yuri and Carlos Martinez who have impressed in recent weeks can attack with purpose and Real Sociedad are suddenly looking much more dangerous in the final third.
The resurgence of Carlos Vela is one reason for that. He only netted 5 goals in 35 league appearances last term, way down on the 16 he managed alongside Griezmann two years previously. However the more physical approach of Willian Jose, complements his game nicely and the Mexican has netted 4 times already this term from a wide role.
On the other flank, the Basques look to have unearthed a real gem in Mikel Oyarzabal. The 19 year old only made his senior debut 12 months ago but has already cemented himself as a regular fixture in the side. Only Toni Kroos and Pablo Piatti have created more goals in La Liga this term than the winger and he is certainly one with a big future.
In defence Raúl Navas, who missed all of last season through injury, has been like a new signing and has been a big factor in the side’s ability to keep clean sheets in all of their last 3 outings, something they’ve managed just once previously in the past five years.
So fans of La Real, finally have cautious reason for optimism. A trip to Sporting Gijon following the international break gives them a good opportunity to extend their winning streak and potentially move into the top four ahead of the visit of Barcelona in their next game at the Anoeta.
Whether Real Sociedad have enough quality to challenge for Champions League football this season is more doubtful but they ought to be knocking on the door of the top six. Poor starts derailed their previous two campaigns before they really got going but most Spanish football predictions suggest this time around they have the foundations from which to build and it’s certainly time they delivered.