Real Sociedad exceeded all expectations this season with their amazing La Liga season. Here's an analysis of what went right for them.
July 30, 2020, 3:29 p.m.
Real Sociedad have had a positively weird season in La Liga this time around. They looked poised for a top 4 finish after having an admirable 7 months before the Coronavirus outbreak. When La Liga resumed though, it was a completely different story for La Real. They managed to win just 2 of their 10 games since the resumption, completely derailing their campaign. Riding on their early performances though, they still managed to clinch a Europa League spot and that combined with the Copa Del Rey final they still have to play, would make this season a successful one for the Basque club. So what made La Real special this season? That is exactly what we are here to analyze.
The entire Real Sociedad squad consists of young and exciting players. Mikel Oyarzabal(23 years), Mikel Merino(24 years), Martin Odegaard(21 years), Alexander Isak(20 years) and Diego Llorente(26 years) have all been key players for La Real this season. This youth energy is evident on the ground. Real Sociedad are one of the best pressing sides in the league and they rarely show signs of fatigue in between games.
The swift passing, the high press, the grit and the will to prove themselves is what the youth of Real Sociedad brings to the field, giving them a cutting edge. Moreover, the lack of decisiveness and impact which are common among young players are not a part of this set of players. In fact, players like Oyarzabal and Odegaard are among the most mature players in the league.
Oyarzabal arguably has been the winger of the season in La Liga with 10 goals and 11 assists and even captains his side at such a young age. Odegaard, on the other hand, had a dreamlike first season since his return to Spain as well. He was getting shouts of league’s best player in the first quarter of the season and was definitely in the top 5 till March. His form dipped substantially since the return but a lot of that can be attributed to the knee injury that he had been playing with. He ended his season with 4 goals and 6 assists in 31 league games along with 3 goals and 3 assists in Copa Del Rey. Apart from these two standouts, Isak, Merino and Llorente were substantial to La Real’s fortunes in attack, midfield and defence respectively as well.
Real Sociedad have scored the fourth most number of goals in La Liga this season and have passed the eye test with flying colors as well. Thus, it is important to analyze their attack separately.
La Real usually switch between the experienced William Jose and young Alexander Isak as their striker. Real Sociedad tremendously overperformed their xG(expected goals) statistic up till March. What it means is that they were scoring more than they were expected from the quality of the chances they were creating. Hence, we can infer from this statistic is that their goalscorers were amazingly efficient. Both Isak and Jose individually outperformed their xG as well and were in a similar bracket when it came to efficiency.
Both Oyarzabal(22) and Portu(14) lead the statistic of goal contributions in their side. Neither of them is a great dribbler or has out of this world vision but what they do have, is a pin-point cross and an eye for the goal. Oyarzabal and Portu are in the top bracket of accurate crossers in the league and also lead the way in touches inside the box, making it clear that they like to be on the receiving end of that defense-splitting pass rather than on the sending end. Both of them are great finishers as well and hence allowed by the coach, Imanol to continue getting inside the box.
With the wingers not providing much creative magic and penetration from the center, the onus of doing that for the entire team comes on their creative ace, Martin Odegaard. Odegaard was La Real’s sole creator from the center throughout the season. He led the league in terms of smart passes, shot-creating passes, secondary shot-creating passes, cross-creating passes, and almost every other creativity measuring parameter. His importance to this Real Sociedad side can be understood by the fact they completely fell apart once he went out of form.
What Martin Odegaard did this season, he couldn’t have without Mikel Merino and Igor Zubeldia looking out for him. They gave Odegaard the creative independence he needed and snuffed out the counter threats. Merino specially brought out the best of Odegaard as the Norweigan played his best football alongside him throughout the season.
In modern football, which is evolving and improving with every passing day, this Real Sociedad side is set up in the most traditional way. They play with fixed midfield roles with one defensive mid at the base, one central midfielder and one no. 10 in Odegaard. They also have traditional wingers, the only responsibility of whom is to put crosses inside the box for the no. 9. Their full-backs too, unlike the modern full-backs, put more work defensively than offensively.
Zubeldia usually is the player to begin the build-up who gets the ball from the center-backs and passes it onto Merino or to the wings. Merino from here utilizes the left half-space and progresses the play. He is always looking on for Odegaard and in fact is the player with the most number of passes to Odegaard in the side. Here on Odegaard either combines with Merino and the wingers in his way into the box or looks to find either Portu or Oyarzabal in a diagonal. From here on it becomes situational, cross, run, shot, all options are open for the wingers.
Defensively, Real Sociedad are way less structured. Considering that Odegaard is way more advanced than a central midfielder, La Real concede a lot of the center of the pitch to the opposition. Though Odegaard does put in a shift defensively it still is not enough. Merino and Zubeldia have to do a lot of the dirty work. On the wings though, Real Sociedad are comparatively solid. Both Oyarzabal and Portu contribute in defence, making the work of the full-backs easier.
With Odegaard staying in the Basque side for another season, La Real will most probably retain its entire core for next season. Hence, with these players getting more time to gel in and European football exposure, Real Sociedad are in for an exciting 20/21 season. For neutral fans too, they will be a treat to watch and analyze.