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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 1909.
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 24 games in a row at home to the Basques, keeping clean sheets in 13 of them, including a 4-2 victory on the opening day of the current season.
But it’s not been quite the same story when the sides have played in San Sebastián. From 2010 to 2016, Barça went for seven games without a win, although in last season’s meeting at Anoeta, they cruised to a 6-1 victory.
For the second season in a row, Real Sociedad led La Liga for the first few weeks of the season, but failed to keep up the pace, with a particularly awful run of four consecutive defeats to end 2022.
Since Christmas, however, they have only lost twice, a painful 4-0 defeat at local rivals Athletic and a 4-1 loss to Real Madrid, meaning they are still in outside contention for a place in the Champions League next season.
However, another Europa League berth is looking more likely. In this season’s edition they beat PSV Eindhoven on the final day of their group to ensure a place in the knockout stage, where they crashed out to RB Leipzig in February.
The 2019/20 Copa del Rey champions made it to the quarter finals of this year’s edition, where they were trounced 4-0 on home turf by Real Betis.
Most International caps: David Silva (Spain, 125); Mathew Ryan (Australia, 71), Alexander Sørloth (Norway, 38), Alexander Isak (Sweden, 34); Nacho Monreal (Spain, 22); Mikel Oyarzabal (Spain, 21); Adnan Januzaj (Belgium, 15)
Top scorers 2021/22 (Liga): Mikel Oyarzabal (9), Alexander Isak (5), Aritz Elustondo (4)
Barça connections: Brazilian midfielder Rafinha, a La Masia graduate who made 58 appearances for the first team, has been on loan to Real Sociedad from Paris St Germain from December until the end of the season.
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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