Real Sociedad, a football team based near the French border in the northern city of San Sebastian, has been one of the revelations of the Spanish league season.
A revelation that has been building for some time.
During his five-year tenure, Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil has led the club to the Copa del Rey title in 2020 and turned it into a regular Europa League participant. Now, the team is on course for a top-four finish, a Champions League berth, and perhaps even more.
Sociedad visits the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday and can pull even on points with second-place Real Madrid to make the Spanish title race a three-team fight at the season’s midway point.
Sociedad, which won the Spanish league in 1981 and 1982 and last reached the Champions League in 2013, trails defending champion Madrid by three points and is six points behind leader Barcelona. Both powerhouses also have one more game to play than third-place Sociedad.
The Basque club will play in Spain’s capital four days after Barcelona ended its nine-game winning streak in all competitions when it beat Sociedad 1-0 to reach the Copa del Rey semifinals. Sociedad played with 10 men from the 40th minute on Wednesday after attacking midfielder Brais Méndez was sent off with a direct red card for a dangerous tackle on Sergio Busquets. Ousmane Dembélé then scored the winner for his eighth goal of the season.
“We are hurting because we wanted to advance, but now there is no other choice than to think about Real Madrid and the Bernabeu,” Alguacil said.
Sociedad was without its top playmaking midfielders at Camp Nou after David Silva joined Mikel Merino on the injured list. Silva injured a calf muscle, and it is unclear if he will be ready for the match against Madrid. Merino is likely to also miss the game with a muscle injury.
But Sociedad’s deep squad will still give it a reason to hope it can compete with a Madrid team that completed a Spanish league-Champions League double last season and is led by Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.
Norway striker Alexander Sorloth has scored 12 goals in 24 appearances in all competitions this season. Brais, who will serve his suspension in the Copa del Rey next season, has scored 10 times since joining from Celta Vigo in the offseason. Takefusa Kubo, a former Madrid player, is a threat on the wing while holding midfielder Martín Zubimendi has reportedly caught the attention of both Barcelona and Premier League leader Arsenal.
Barcelona heads north to play a Catalan derby at Girona on Saturday in what will be the final of a three-game suspension for striker Robert Lewandowski.
The league’s leading scorer, with his 13 goals, had two more games tacked onto a one-game suspension for his disrespectful display toward a referee in a win at Osasuna in November.
Barcelona won the other two games that Lewandowski missed. Dembélé scored in a 1-0 win at Atletico, and Pedri scored in a 1-0 win over Getafe.
Girona’s 1-0 loss at Villarreal last weekend ended a seven-match unbeaten streak in the league. The team is in 11th place.