Imanol Alguacil’s Real Sociedad have defied expectations this season and could wrestle their way into the La Liga title fight on Sunday when they face Real Madrid.
The Basques were on a winning streak of nine consecutive games before their tight 1-0 defeat by Barcelona at Camp Nou on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey quarter-final.
If La Real bounce back strongly at the Santiago Bernabeu, they can pull themselves level on 41 points with Real Madrid in second place.
La Liga leaders Barcelona travel to Girona for a Catalan derby on Saturday, holding a three point lead on Madrid.
After winning the 2020 Copa del Rey trophy — the final played in 2021 because of the pandemic — La Real are aiming to crash the predicted two-team battle between the Spanish giants for La Liga.
Barcelona and Madrid looked a cut above the rest this season but La Real’s fine run has given them a chance of joining the race.
Real Sociedad have played one game more than the top two going into the weekend, which for most clubs will mark the halfway point of the league campaign –- 19 matches.
Alguacil’s team put in a battling performance against the Catalans despite playing half the game with 10 men following Brais Mendez’s red card.
Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two fine saves near the end to stop the visitors forcing extra time.
Alguacil will be without key midfielders David Silva and Mikel Merino, missing through injury, but ambitions remain high in San Sebastian.
“I don’t usually like the word ‘proud’ because it means we have lost and what we wanted was to win,” Alguacil told reporters after defeat by Barcelona.
“I think we competed, even though we had a man less.”
One of La Real’s key players this season has been Japanese forward Takefusa Kubo, formerly of Real Madrid.
Kubo hit the crossbar against Barca in the Copa del Rey and, in the absence of Silva and Merino, played at the tip of a diamond midfield.
Along with Alexander Sorloth, who has scored five goals in his last seven games, Real Sociedad have the weapons to damage a shaky Madrid defence — and announce themselves as real contenders.
Alguacil deserves credit for helping both players hit top form, along with Mendez and formerly midfielder Martin Odegaard, now at Arsenal.
Real Sociedad have won the top flight twice, in 1981 and 1982, last finishing in the top four in 2013, and achieving the latter is now their minimum target.
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