The 19/20 season has certainly been one to remember for Real Sociedad as the side located on the northern coast of Spain have sailed away from the doldrums of mid-table obscurity and look as though they shall at least secure Europa League football. This campaign has also been their inaugural season playing in the renovated Anoeta Stadium and the 4-3 win of Real Madrid a few months prior has also seen them book their place in the Copa del Rey final, where they will play rivals Bilbao. Last season Sociedad finished 9th with only 13 wins and 14 losses, however, this season, with still 11 games left to play they sit on 14 wins and 9 losses. In this article, I will try my best to give a break down of the tactics Real Sociedad have used this season.
Imanol Alguacil’s side look to dominate the ball and this is shown in their average possession percentage which sits at a respectable 54.4%. Over the course of the season la Real have lined up in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation depending on the opposition, however, during their build-up phase la Real use a 4-1-4-1/ or a 5-2-3 structure.
In this example, the CDM Zubaldia has dropped in between the center backs which is a trigger for both full-backs to push higher up the pitch and provide width. Wingers. Oyarzabal and Portu more often than not then tuck into the half-spaces and act as inside forwards. Alguacil has an array of centre-backs that are comfortable on the ball at his disposal, with Center Backs, Le Normand, and Llorente given the license to attack space when presented. The two remaining midfielders, Mikel Merino and Martin Odegaard have had splendid campaigns, both excelling in their roles. Martin Odegaard plays on the right hand side of the pitch and drifts towards the touch line to offer a passing option to the right centre-back and also combining with either the right back or the CDM, which this season has either been Zubeldia or 22 year old Guevara.
Odegaard will also drift towards the right-hand side of the pitch to create a passing lane from the RCB to Willian Jose, the striker, who drops slightly deep
to receive the pass and links up with the inside forwards.
Mikel Merino on the other hand has a different role. The 23 year old is quite athletic, technically gifted, intelligent and plays an integral role for Alguacil’s side. Merino positions himself in between the first 2 lines of opposition pressure, providing a passing option for the centre-backs. By taking up this position Merino is unmarked most of the time when he receives the ball allowing him to pass to either the left back or right back or one of the inside forwards that regularly drop deep and link up with the midfield.
As mentioned before, the full- backs in Alguacil’s side push up the pitch to provide the width while the wingers, Portu and Oyarzabal tuck into the half space and play as inside forwards. The tucking in of the wingers, as well as the positions of Merino and Odegaard, allows la Real to link up in the middle of the pitch and penetrate centrally, or build up through the centre before distributing the ball out wide to either Zaldua or Monreal, the full-backs.Sociedad often choose to build up centrally then distribute out wide, to create chances from crosses. Oyarzabal and Portu have been mainstays in the front three with either Willian Jose and Alex Isak leading the line, with both dropping deep to receive passes occasionally rotating with Oyarzabal and linking up with the inside forwards and midfielders when they play. Odegaard and Merino will often make supporting runs into the box. This system has resulted in Real Sociedad taking 11.5 shots per game, which isn’t a number that sets the world alight, however, they have scored 45 goals this season, the 3rd highest in the league.
Real Sociedad’s front line and midfield is strongly equipped with athletic players and Alguacil uses this to his advantage when his team loses the ball. Real Sociedad look to close in on the opposition and restrict passing options in the first few seconds when possession has been lost. As seen in the picture below Zaldua, the right-back runs to press the Betis LB before he receives the ball. Odegaard and Guevara highlighted in the blue, man-mark the two Betis players in the midfield. Bartra the Betis defender now has two options play a risky pass to the left-back or play the ball long. This intense pressing links to how Betis defend.
When possession has not been won back in the first few seconds, Alguacil has set his side up to most commonly defend in a 4-4-2, with Odegaard and the striker, which is either Isak or Willian Jose, leading the press. La real press with high intensity and look to win the ball high up the pitch, aiming to force the opposition into making sideways or backward passes or playing a long pass that their aerially adept center-backs are able to deal with, with Le Normand and Llorente both winning 2.5 aerial balls a game and 3.3 for Elustondo.
As seen in the picture above Odegaard presses the Valencia CB who then plays a pass to the left-back but by the time the ball is played Januzaj will have closed down the left-back forcing him to play a backward pass.
Overall, Real Sociedad have been an exciting team watch this season, with each member of the team fully committed and eager to impress. Alguacil has managed to build a relatively young, strong team that has taken points of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, knocked Real out of the cup and is in a strong position to push on for Champions League football. Nevertheless, improvements can still be made but for now, I’m sure all Sociedad fans are enjoying the moment and soaking in their terrific season, that could soon turn into a historic one.