Real Sociedad go top of La Liga and begin to dream

When Real Sociedad equalised against Getafe before the international break, there was obviously the usual celebrations as for any goal, but there was also tangible relief at recovering at least something from a game everyone expected them to win. Many observers saw it as a missed opportunity regardless.

This weekend, they had another chance, not least because La Liga had postponed the matches of both their co-leaders: Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. Back home, in front of a home crowd at almost full capacity, there was a party atmosphere before kick off as the squad presented the Copa del Rey to the fans.

They had waited an eternity for this moment. The final was postponed a year due to the pandemic, this presentation a further six months, their first silverware for 34 years. The feelgood factor was all-encompassing. 

To the game itself, La Real were made to work hard for these three points by a determined and dogged Mallorca who effectively disrupted the flow of Imanol Alguacil’s side.

The frustration grew and the game became tense and spiky. Aihen Munoz was sent off for a second yellow card on the stroke of half time. The fans made their feelings known by waving the cards previously used for a mosaic like handkerchiefs in the direction of referee Pablo Gonzalez Fuertes.

La Real’s success so far this season has gone under the radar somewhat amid the drama at Barcelona and the dramatic matches involving the Madrid two.

In truth it has been a struggle, with Imanol having to cope with absences every week. Alexander Isak has missed three games, Carlos Fernandez is out long-term, while midfield maestro David Silva has only featured four times. At one point, there were nine players all unavailable at the same time. 

Many coaches would be tempted to use this injury crisis as an excuse, but not Imanol. He continues to find solutions, and often homegrown ones. In the game away at Granada, they found a winner from centre-back Aritz Elustondo in the final ten minutes of the game. It was a similar story at home to Elche, as talismanic captain Mikel Oyarzabal was the difference-maker again, offering consistent reliability. 

But even he was absent in the win over Mallorca, which makes the victory even more impressive. Playing with ten men for the entire second half, unable to turn to their main man, holding onto a stalemate would have been credible enough.

Not for this team, not under this coach. Another academy product – Julen Lobete – latched onto a forward pass, beat a man and curled it home. Somewhat scruffy yes, but special all the same. The roof of the Reale Arena almost came off.

The recently-revamped stadium is fast becoming a fortress. In five league matches there this season so far, La Real are unbeaten and unbreakable defensively: only Sevilla have come away with anything.

Across all competitions, the Gipuzkoan side are unbeaten in ten matches since their opening day defeat at Camp Nou. This side knows how to play football easy on the eye, and crucially they know how to get results too.

Seizing this opportunity to give the fans another reason to celebrate, they sit top of La Liga and will remain there until El Clasico at least.

Imanol’s side now face Austrian side Sturm Graz in the Europa League, before taking their lead to the home of the champions next weekend. This mouth-watering encounter will be another opportunity for them to demonstrate their cohesion and confidence against a heavyweight opponent. 

Next weekend will be fascinating in terms of evaluating their credentials. But now is the time to celebrate what has already been achieved and dare to dream of more euphoric days ahead.

Tags Real Sociedad