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Real Sociedad are Barça's opponents this Sunday at 9.00pm CET. Here’s the lowdown on the team that’s currently fifth in the Liga table.
Where are they from?
San Sebastián (Donostia in the Basque language) is a beautiful city on the north coast of the Iberian Peninsula, in the Basque Country and just 20 km from the French border. It’s relatively small, with a wonderful old district and spectacular scenery overlooking La Concha bay, making it a very popular place to take a city break.
One such visitor was King Alfonso XIII, who used to stay in the city every summer, which is how the ‘Sociedad de Futbol’ (Football Society) came to be called the ‘Real Sociedad’ (Royal Society) in 1911.
The club is now well-established as a regular feature of la Liga, but its truly golden years were 1981 and 1982, when they won back-to-back league titles. Such success has never been repeated, although they have finished second three times since, most recently in 2003.
The cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao have always enjoyed a healthy rivalry, and that means their football clubs too. Like Athletic, Real once operated a Basque-only policy, but broke that tradition in 1989 when John Aldridge became their first foreign import.
Incidentally, when you hear Spaniards speak of ‘La Real’, they mean Real Sociedad. ‘El Real’, using the masculine, typically means Real Madrid.
Anoeta, currently known as the Reale Arena for sponsorship purposes, was opened in 1993 as a replacement for the historic Atocha ground of days gone by. Following further expansion work, it now seats 19,500 people. It has also been used for major club rugby fixtures played by French outfit Biarritz Olympique, and was the venue for the 2020 Women’s Champions League Final.
Head to head
Barça have won a staggering 23 games in a row at home to the Basques, keeping clean sheets in 13 of them.
The sides met in December in a rearranged fixture in La Liga at Camp Nou and despite La Real taking the lead through Willian José's effort, goals from Jordi Alba and Frenkie de Jong ensured Barça's amazing streak against the Basques at home continued.
But when games have been played in San Sebastian it’s a different story. From 2010 to 2016, they went for seven games without a win, and finally broke the negative streak with two wins in 2018, although last season’s fixture ended 2-2.
The teams also met in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final in January. The game ended 1-1 (Frenkie de Jong scoring Barça’s goal) but Barça took the game on penalties.
Real only lost one of their first 13 games in La Liga, meaning they were the surprise early leaders of the competition. Then things took a sudden turn for the worse. Four defeats in six games saw them drop out of the Champions League places, but they have managed to pick up their form again and are still hanging on in fifth. Last weekend they lost in Granada, but was their only defeat in eight games.
Manchester United put an end to their Europa league campaign the last 32 of the competition and then went out of the Copa del Rey to Real Betis, although curiously they do have a cup final to play very soon. Last year’s final against local rivals Athletic was postponed due to Covid-19 and will instead be played this April 3.
International caps: David Silva (Spain, 125); Nacho Monreal (Spain, 22); Alexander Isak (Sweden, 18); Adnan Januzaj (Belgium, 12); Mikel Oyarzabal (Spain, 11); Mikel Merino (Spain, 6); Asier Illarramendi (Spain, 3)
Top scorers 2020/21 (all competitions): Mikel Oyarzabal (12), Alexander Isak (12), Portu (8)
Barça connections: The links between Barça and Real have traditionally been close and a number of top players have defended the colours of both clubs over the years. These have included legendary 1970s goalkeeper Mikel Urrutikoetxea, ‘Dream Team’ era heroes Jose Mari Bakero, Txiki Beguiristain, Jon Andoni Goikoetxea and Bosnian Meho Kodro, and more recently Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. The tradition is being continued by Antoine Griezmann, who joined Real at the age of 14 and went on to play 180 games for the first team between 2009 and 2014.
A right back for the club in the nineties, Imanol Alguacil is Real Sociedad through and through. He has been part of its coaching setup for the best part of the last decade. After Asier Garitano was fired in December 2018, he took command of the first team (having previously already done so temporarily after Eusebio Sacristán had been dismissed).
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