After a weekend when the duopoly at the top of La Liga has been given an untimely boost by the defeat of Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón, Real Sociedad’s rise up the ranks makes the fight for fourth, and a Champions League berth, the big story of round 27.
The top three of Barça, Madrid and Atlético look to be safe for the automatic Champions League places, but the following pack are bunched together so tight it is hard to tell who will take the fourth and final place in the league for Europe’s premier competition. At the time of writing, six teams are separated by five points.
Valencia would be the team that everyone would expect to be there, or thereabouts. Málaga qualified for this season’s competition, are currently fourth, but face at least a one year ban for financial irregularities.
Real Sociedad’s position is the surprise of the league so far. A team that would now probably be happy with their points accumulated to guarantee safety, currently find themselves level on points with the fourth placed club and dreaming of Europe. Yet this isn’t new territory for the San Sebastián side.
The club nicknamed Erreala in their native Basque tongue, or txuri-urdin (white-blue of their club colours) are highly respected in Spain, to the point that there is only one “la Real”, Real Madrid are simply referred to as Madrid.
As a club that had existed since 1909, formed by mainly British students and workers, their name had changed many times, reverting back to the current form after the Spanish Civil War. The side from North-West Spain’s most successful period was in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Real Sociedad finished second in the 79/80 season, finishing one point behind Real Madrid. The following season they won their first league title on goal difference, breaking Madrid’s three year stranglehold on the title. The year after that, they retained their title by two points over F.C. Barcelona. In 1988 the club were again runners up, the following season abandoning their Basque only policy with the signing of John Aldridge from Liverpool. In 2003, the club again achieved a 2nd place finish in the league under Frenchman Raynald Denoueix, topping the league for a large part of the season, yet faltering near the end and finishing 2 points behind Real Madrid. Current Bernabéu midfielder Xabi Alonso was named best Spanish player of that season by Don Balón, the highly respected weekly football magazine of the time in Spain. However the following season the club saw a huge drop in fortune and finished 15th.
Since then the club have been very up and down, but could another Frenchman, Philippe Montanier with his current squad, push the team to new successes. Can La Real, or Erreala, repeat the glories of old and finish in the Champions League places?