Who are Real Sociedad, and why are they fourth?
STATS ZONE OVER EUROPE: FourFourTwo's award-winning FREE app now also covers the top flights in Italy, Spain, France and Germany (as well as England, Champions League and Europa League). Paul Wilkes Ã¢ÂÂ editor of laligauk.com Ã¢ÂÂ uses Stats Zone to analyse the fourth force in La Liga...
Sitting in fourth position with only two matches remaining, Real Sociedad are on the verge of Champions League football. They're equal on points with Valencia, and their better heade-to-head record means they'll be in Europe's top competition provided they at least match the results of Los Che.
Manager Philippe Montanier has confirmed he won't be renewing his contract in the summer, instead returning to his native France to take the job at Rennes. It's a shame as he is beginning to reap the rewards of a youth structure put in place many years ago, although personal reasons seem to be the driving force behind the move.
With the right appointment there's no reason why the progress at La Real has to suffer: after all, the club were considering replacing the coach anyway before his side put together their brilliant run of just two defeats in 27 matches, which stretches back to November. As long as the new man at the helm keeps within the philosophy, then their proficiency should continue.
Their style doesn't fit the lazy stereotype of a Spanish team. Although they line-up in the familiar 4-2-3-1, they're essentially a counter-attacking side. They're only eighth in La Liga in terms of possession and pass completion, but they top the league in crosses attempted. That in itself goes some way to describe the attributes in which this team has acquired. Spreading the ball out wide quickly, they use pace in transitions to punish defences. Old-school wingers look to beat players and whip in balls for their strikers to take advantage of.
In defence, there aren't any standout characteristics: they're as likely to tackle as they are to intercept. Centre-backs will play long diagonal balls into the channels and often in behind the opposing full-backs. The team aren't aggressive Ã¢ÂÂ only Deportivo and Barcelona have conceded fewer fouls Ã¢ÂÂ yet only Espanyol have been on the receiving end of more indiscretions, as the opposition struggle to deal with the speed of the attacking players.
Whilst Montanier prefers to select a consistent first XI Ã¢ÂÂ which has led to a number of muscular problems within the squad as they deal with fatigue and tiredness Ã¢ÂÂ he has considerable options to assist his favoured line-up if they have any injuries or suspensions. Should Antoine Griezmann or Carlos Vela be missing, then Gonzalo Castro can deputise. If Asier Illarramendi is unavailable, then RÃÂºben Pardo could fill the void.
They don't depend on one player, yet have a number of key personnel for their system to work. Striker Imanol Agirretxe has grown in importance in recent weeks with seven goals in eight matches, but that hasn't always been the case, as former Arsenal man Vela is the club's leading scorer this term.
This weekend, they host Real Madrid at the Anoeta. The first time these two teams met this season at the BernabÃÂ©u it produced a seven-goal thriller, with Xabi Prieto netting a hat-trick. It was only the second match where Iker Casillas was dropped in favour of Antonio AdÃÂ¡n prior to the arrival of Diego LÃÂ³pez, although AdÃÂ¡n was sent off after just six minutes so Casillas was reluctantly reintroduced by JosÃÂ© Mourinho. With Madrid down to 10 men it made for an open match: no teams have scored more goals this season from counter-attacking situations than the two Reals.
On Sunday evening, Sociedad need to win to maintain their charge for Champions League qualification, while this is the penultimate game of Mourinho's managerial career in Madrid. There could be plenty of goals in store once more.
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