Imanol Alguacil's Real Sociedad has defied expectations this season and could wrestle its way into the LaLiga title fight on Sunday when it faces Real Madrid.
The Basque team was on a winning streak of nine consecutive games before their tight 1-0 defeat at Barcelona on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey quarterfinal. If La Real bounces back strongly at the Santiago Bernabeu, it can tie Real Madrid for second place in the standings on 41 points. LaLiga leader Barcelona travels to Girona for a Catalan derby on Saturday, holding a three-point lead over Madrid.
After winning the 2020 Copa del Rey trophy — the final played in 2021 because of the pandemic — La Real is aiming to crash the predicted two-team battle between the Spanish giants (Barcelona and Real Madrid) for this season's LaLiga title.
Barcelona and Madrid looked a cut above the rest this season, but La Real's fine run has given it a chance of joining the race. Real Sociedad has played one more game than the top two going into the weekend, which for most clubs will mark the halfway point of the league campaign — 19 matches.
Alguacil's team put in a battling performance against the Catalans despite playing half the game with 10 men following Brais Mendez's red card. Barcelona's goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two saves near the end of the game to stop the visitors from forcing overtime. Key midfielders David Silva and Mikel Merino will not play against Real Madrid due to injuries, but ambitions remain high in San Sebastian.
"I don't usually like the word 'proud' because it means we have lost and what we wanted was to win," Alguacil told reporters after the defeat by Barcelona. "I think we competed, even though we had a man less."
Japanese forward Takefusa Kubo, formerly of Real Madrid, has been one of La Real's key players this season. Kubo hit the crossbar against Barca in the Copa del Rey and, in the absence of Silva and Merino, played at the top of his team's diamond midfield formation. Kubo and Alexander Sorloth, who has scored five goals in his last seven games, are just two of the many attacking players that Real Sociedad can deploy against a shaky Madrid defense as it looks to announce its presence as a real contender. Alguacil deserves credit for helping both players hit top form, along with Mendez and former midfielder Martin Odegaard, now at Arsenal.
Real Sociedad has won the top flight twice, in 1981 and 1982, last finishing in the top four in 2013, and achieving the latter is now their minimum target.
Player to watch: Antoine Griezmann
It's hard to miss the French forward with his pink haircut at the moment. He has continued his stunning World Cup form at Atletico Madrid in 2023, playing in a deeper midfield role. Diego Simeone's side travel to face high-flying Osasuna and Griezmann's magic touch may be crucial.
Friday: Almeria vs Espanyol
Saturday: Cadiz vs Mallorca, Girona vs Barcelona, Sevilla vs Elche, Getafe vs Real Betis
Sunday: Valladolid vs Valencia, Osasuna vs Atletico Madrid, Celta Vigo vs Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid vs Real Sociedad
Monday: Villarreal vs Rayo Vallecano
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