Alexandra Jonson is a football journalist based in Spain. She lives in Vigo and if you follow her on Twitter (which you should totally should, here’s a link) you’ll see Galician sunsets, the occasional unapologetic item in support of Malmo (she’s Swedish), and lots of Spanish football. Real Sociedad is one of the clubs she knows best (she’s also writing a book on Real Oviedo), and we asked her some questions about what makes them a special part of La Liga.
VUSA: How do you expect the tactical matchup to play out this weekend between Real Sociedad and Villarreal?
AJ: It’s really hard to tell the tactical line-up from Imanol as he changes it for every match, and go around a bit on his players. But my guess against Villarreal would be:
Remiro; Zaldua, Le Normand, Zubeldia, Aihen; Guevara, Merino, Oyarzabal; Januzaj, Willian José, Barrenetxea.
As for the match I think it’s going to be a real test for both teams, they are two of the best performing sides in LaLiga. I think and hope they will force each-other to play better, so we will see a lot of good football. Probably quite offensive, I am a bit worried though that Oyarzabal especially who’s been playing a lot might not have enough energy, but I understand that Imanol don’t want to rest him, because of the difference he makes.
VUSA: Many folks who don’t watch La Real regularly just assume that Ødegaard last season and Silva now are just carrying this team in La Liga, but that’s not the case. What is this club doing tactically that has made them so good for most of the last two years?
AJ: Well to start with what makes Real Sociedad so good is the fact that it’s just not about one or even two players that carries the team. They have so many players that are soo good, that basically could carry a team almost on their own. So in that way they can lean a lot on each other, and aren’t as dependent on specific players as they otherwise would have been. And I think that’s the key, is the unity of the team in how they play. They work together, and they work really hard. They often do a high pressure, and they play quick but they can also take there time. Depending on the opponent they face. They have a lot of patience that way, they can hold the ball and play it around until they find the way through and then it goes quick. And even if they have chance after chance after chance and the ball won’t go in, or if they can’t find the way through to get the chances, they don’t easily get frustrated.. they believe in themselves enough that sooner or later they’ll get the goal so they just continue until it does, and it’s worked for them. Also should highlight their defence, which again comes from them playing so well together and even more for each-other. Only Atlético have let in fewer goals in LaLiga this season than Real Sociedad, and I think it has a lot to do with how they defend as a unit, everyone from the forwards to the defenders.
VUSA: Mikel Oyarzabal is just 23, but he’s already one of the best attackers in Spain. Yet it seems like he’s vastly underappreciated. What is it that makes him so good as a player?
AJ: He is such a hard worker, he just never stops. And I think one thing that isn’t often talked about is that he’s a great observer and a guy who constantly wants to learn. For example he has never missed a penalty in his senior career.. when he was asked about how he got so good at penalties he said that he used to watch how Xabi Prieto (who only missed one penalty during his entire career and has the second best accuracy in Spanish football history only after Kubala when it comes to penalties), did it and asked Prieto for advice. Oyarzabal isn’t the loudest player, so you might easy forget about him but he is constantly there taking everything in and then executing it on the pitch. I think that’s what makes him so good.
VUSA: Do Real Sociedad have enough depth to challenge for the title all season, given all the other competitions they have to play (including an all-Basque Copa del Rey final)?
AJ: One of the main reasons to why I think there is a small (though very small) chance for Real Sociedad to really challenge for the title is that they have a depth in their squad teams their size normally don’t have. To have any chance to win LaLiga especially while playing in two other competitions as well you need a depth in your squad and that’s why no one can ever challenge Barça, Real Madrid or even Atlético because none of the other teams has those resources to have that depth in their squad. The thing with this Real Sociedad team is that they have created those players, from the youth academy but also through smart signings and then developing those players in to top class. So they have an impressive depth, they basically have two players on almost every position that is on more or less the same level. They would need to sign a CB this January but other than that the squad is really strong. It will all come down to how they use it, Imanol have been rotating quite well and it hasn’t been noticed in the matches, different players steps up in different matches. Though there are a few players I think he is playing a bit too much lately, and maybe they need to start doings subs earlier. But in general they have a great depth in the squad, what you can question is if they have enough of experience, as they do have the youngest team in the league. Only time can tell.
VUSA: Score prediction for this Sunday?
AJ: Really really hard to say. I’ll go for a 2-0 win to Real Sociedad. I was gonna say 2-1 but Real Sociedad don’t really let in goals these days.