Want to know how tight things are at the top of La Liga? Real Sociedad started Wednesday night in first and finished it in fourth. On Thursday, La Real returned to the top of the league, beating Celta Vigo 2-0 at Balaidos, cementing themselves as the biggest story in Spanish football so far this season.
While Barcelona continue to struggle with their new financial existence, Real Madrid find it difficult stringing together a run of any great consistency, and Atletico Madrid look to regain the foothold of their title-winning campaign 12 months ago, Sociedad have built from a solid foundation to become the Primera Division’s team to beat to this point.
They have been brilliantly led by Imanol Alguacil, a manager who has come through the club’s system from the youth team through the B squad to senior level after spending 10 seasons of his 15-year playing career with the White and Blues. And his knowledge of Sociedad as a club has helped to garner a first-team squad which boasts a huge number of locally-based talent.
It has always been a key tenet of Real Sociedad that their squad be representative of the Basque region, with John Aldridge in 1989 having become the first non-Basque player to play for the club in over 40 years. Continuing the trend, eight of the 16 players who took part in Thursday’s 2-0 win in Vigo are homegrown products, while another five club-raised players were either unused subs or missed out on the matchday squad.
Also, academy graduates Oyarzabal, Guridi, Gorosabel, Guevara & Barrenetxea didn't play.
Manager Imanol Alguacil developed at the club too.
@alexclapham visited Zubieta;
They have their fair share of eye-catching names from elsewhere too, with the highly-rated Sweden Euro 2020 star Alexander Isak, former Manchester United attacker Adnan Januzaj and Manchester City legend David Silva among their squad. They also boast Spain star Mikel Oyarzabal and La Roja’s former Newcastle United midfielder Mikel Merino amongst their Basque natives.
It is thanks to their ability to keep the opposition out that they have usurped the nation’s bigger names. Their seven clean sheets in 11 La Liga games is the best return of any club in the top five European leagues in 2021-22 so far, while Oyarzabal’s lightning start to the season has seen him bag six goals in eight appearances.
Not bad for a winger, that, although it is hardly new news. He has scored 10 or more goals in each of his last four seasons and become a Spain regular over the same time. He has also turned down Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao more than once, further endearing himself to the Sociedad faithful.
Even without him on Thursday, La Real were far too much for Celta to handle. Isak opened the scoring shortly after half-time, with versatile defender Aritz Elustondo grabbing a second with 10 minutes remaining. The win gave them a three-point lead at the top of La Liga.
But on Sunday they get the chance to underline their credentials against Athletic Club in the Basque derby, and skipper Oyarzabal looks set to return from a hamstring tear in time to face off against the team that wanted him so badly.
There are other players who will remain sidelined as Alguacil continues to juggle with a lengthy injury list, but with the form of those currently available going through the roof he will have few complaints.
While other nations wrestle with the likes of Bayern Munich, Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain building big leads at the top of their leagues, Real Sociedad are providing the feel-good story of 2021-22 so far. Next up is potentially the most high-profile Basque derby in years.