The heady days of two successive titles in the 1980s are long gone but that does not stop Real Sociedad fans dreaming their team can challenge again near the top of La Liga. Whether they can do it in the foreseeable future is another matter, yet the emphasis the Txuri-urdin have placed on youth in recent times could well bear fruition if moulded correctly by Montanier.
The Frenchman underwent an uncomfortable first few months with his new club at the start of last season after taking over from the axed Martin Lasarte, finding his side bottom of the pile after two months. However, after club President Jokin Aperribay had made a stern public defence of his appointment the 47-year-old weathered the storm and steered his team to an eventual 12th-place finish
This time around he finds himself with a resilient, youthful squad at his disposal. In fact, every member bar Ion Ansotegi is under the age of 30 and it is not inconceivable that Sociedad could easily find themselves contesting the European places.
One area for Montanier to work on is the Basque’s away form, with only bottom club Racing Santander with fewer victories on the road in the 2011-12 campaign, but his team may well surprise a few people with its attacking capabilities. Hence, exciting Uruguayan international Gonzalo ‘Chori’ Castro has been recruited from Real Mallorca and, more importantly, Carlos Vela has been tied to a permanent deal after his season-long loan.
Montanier has also bolstered his defence with the acquisition of highly-rated left-back Jose Angel from Roma, who joins impressive central defender Inigo Martinez in a back line that will need to tighten up considerably if the San Sebastian club is to make an impact.
The difference maker – Antoine Griezmann
The enigmatic Antoine Griezmann has been tipped for greatness but appeared to take his eye off the ball last year when a big-money move to Atletico Madrid was mentioned. The France Under-21 international possesses enormous ability, is a vital component in the side, and has now made his peace with fans who jeered him after wanting away.
Best signing – Carlos Vela
The Mexican international has been snapped up from Arsenal on a permanent arrangement after last year’s loan spell at Anoeta. Vela notched 12 goals from 35 appearances and his partnership with Imanol Agirretxe produced a combined 22 League goals, almost half the team’s total.
His time? Ruben Pardo
The 19-year-old started just two La Liga games last term but is an exciting midfielder who has come through the youth system and is already being compared to Xabi Alonso. The retirement of Mikel Aranburu should see him get plenty of opportunities to showcase his blossoming talent.
Coach – Philippe Montanier
Some fans considered the former goalkeeper out of his depth early on last year. However, it appears he has now won them over and the former Boulogne and Valenciennes boss is looking to improve on a mid-table finish, although his counter-attacking policy may need to be revised for a more attack-minded approach.
The big question…
Inexperience and the ability to overcome any injuries or suspensions that might see Montanier’s squad stretched to the limit will be tested. There is also the concern of getting off to a good start, something that could prove difficult given their opening fixture is at the Camp Nou against Barcelona.
Probable line-up: Bravo; Estrada, Martinez, Gonzalez, ANGEL; Elustondo, CASTRO, Prieto, Griezmann; VELA, Agirretxe
IN: Jose Angel (d, Roma), Gonzalo Castro (m, Real Mallorca), Carlos Vela (a, Arsenal)
OUT: Tono (g, Guadalajara), Vadim Demidov (d, Eintracht Frankfurt), Jeffrey Sarpong (m, NAC Breda), Mikel Aranbaru (m, retired), Borja Viguera (a, Alaves), Joseba Llorente (a, Osasuna)