In what has been a closely contested La Liga campaign at both ends of the table, it is perhaps Real Sociedad who will feel the most frustrated at having their season brought to an unexpected halt by the coronavirus pandemic. As well as reaching their first Copa del Rey final since 1988, La Real have been the best team in La Liga outside of the big two over the last 10 games and currently sit fourth in the table on 46 points.
Imanol Alguacil’s side didn’t have the easiest start to the season. Some last-minute construction work on the newly revamped Reale Arena forced them to play their opening three games away from home, the last of which ended in a hugely disappointing defeat to Athletic Club at the San Mamés.
However, their 2-0 victory in their first home game of the season against Atlético Madrid would set the tone for what was to come from the team in the following months. Martin Ødegaard was outstanding on the day as his side steamrollered Diego Simeone’s men, who were at that time league leaders having won all of their opening three games.
A grand part of Sociedad’s success this season undoubtedly comes down to the fact their star players have constantly been available. Alexander Isak has played in all of the club’s 34 competitive matches since the start of the season, captain Mikel Oyarzabal has played 33 matches and Mikel Merino 32. Signed in the summer of 2019 in order to provide Willian José with some competition for the centre forward position, Isak’s contribution to the side has been particularly significant at a number of key moments throughout the campaign. Willian José’s impressive start to the season was overshadowed when his attempts to earn himself a transfer to Tottenham Hotspur made headlines, causing the Brazilian to fall out of favour with the club and fans alike.
This could have been a defining moment of the season for La Real had it not been for Isak. The Swede has helped his side get over the line on more than one occasion since the turn of the year, having scored a total of 14 goals in all competitions. Isak’s importance to the Txuri-urdinak was underlined last month when he played a central role in the Basques’ stunning 4-3 away victory against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, and again in the 2-1 home win over arch-rivals Athletic Club only a few days later.
The inevitable question in a team containing so many young, gifted attacking players is how long it will take for the bigger clubs to step in and skim off the top. Martin Ødegaard, currently on loan from Real Madrid, will inevitably depart. Alexander Isak has been linked with a possible return to Borussia Dortmund in a transfer worth around €30m and speculation around the future of Willian José will almost certainly continue when the season finally comes to an end.
On a positive note, Sociedad look like they may be able to count on the services of Mikel Oyarzabal for a few years to come. The 22-year-old native of Gipuzkoa joined the club’s youth system at the age of 14 and has stated on a number of occasions that his future remains with La Real. Words aside, the captain also has a buyout clause of €75m, which should help settle some of the nerves at the Anoeta for the time being.
The success of Real Sociedad this season ultimately comes down to the collective strength of their squad, which has allowed them to triumph in situations where sides of previous years have faltered. Imanol Alguacil and his team have been outstanding in the 2019-2020 season, and fans and neutrals alike will be hoping for more of the same when La Liga gets up and running again.