Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid – A trip to the Santiago Bernabeu is always one of the highlights of Real Sociedad’s season. They along with Real Madrid are two of Spain’s most historic clubs, they are ‘Royals’ for a reason. Although Real Sociedad had not won away against Real Madrid since May 2004 it’s still a match that carries a certain sentiment in Spanish football. The significance in terms of this match related more to whether Real Madrid could close the gap to Barcelona at the top of the league and if Real Sociedad could increase the distance between them and the relegation zone to more than three points. This is no longer a direct rivalry like the match in 2004.
When La Real’s supporters first glanced at the La Liga fixture list back in the summer, they would have assumed that they would have been travelling to Madrid this weekend in a healthier position than fifteenth place with only 19 points. They would also have assumed that Asier Garitano would still have been the head coach. Having only arrived in June following a successful spell at Leganes, it was perceived that moving to San Sebastian was going to benefit both the club and the coach. Yet seven months down the line, they have parted ways.
Clearly, things have not gone the way that the Basques would have hoped for having sacked Eusebio Sacristan towards the end of last season. Real Sociedad have been steady in La Liga since returning in 2010 following three seasons in La Segunda. But with an improved Anoeta stadium now taking shape and greater benefits coming to teams that finish in the European places, La Real are aiming higher than mid-table.
Garitano was sacked on Boxing Day having only recorded five victories so far this season. Whether he would have been able to improve the fortunes of the team are now – and will remain – unknown. La Liga is congested this season and a rise up the table can come from only a handful of positive results. Removing a manager so early in their tenure is always dubious, they need time to settle, introduce themselves and their approach while the players must also learn what the new coach requires. Asking all this to be completed in a few months is practically impossible; the longer term plan that Real Sociedad appear to be wanting to implement clearly went out of the window when this decision was made.
The situation that La Real find themselves is not perilous – especially when considering that of their Basque rival’s Athletic Bilbao – although a run of four consecutive La Liga losses with only one goal scored is never encouraging. Imanol Alguacil has been promoted from the B team to lead the first team for the remainder of the season – as he did so in April following the sacking of Sacristan begging the question why he didn’t just get the job in the first place – and it would not be completely out of the question for La Real’s fortunes to turn rather quickly, irrespective of the change in the dugout.
Real Sociedad have not performed badly; their lowly position has been down to luck, or lack of, more so than judgment. The accusation aimed at Garitano was that the style which he tried to deploy was too defensive and wasn’t expansive enough to get the best out of the players at the club. Essentially he was trying to copy his approach that worked so well at Leganes at his new club. Club president Jokin Aperribay hinted this week that appointing Garitano was a mistake as he failed to ‘delve into the culture and characteristics of the club’. He also said that the decision was ‘not determined by results but what he was hearing inside the club, from the players and the fans’. A slight misalignment in styles appeared to be the reason for Garitano’s removal as coach, the fact that they appointed Alguacil once again suggests that they want a club man who understands the values.
Alguacil wanted to encourage the team to express themselves more and the front three that he selected here was brimming with quality – Mikel Oyarzabal, Willian Jose and Adnan Januzaj – and only begs the question as to why La Real have only scored 18 goals. They got one early here though. Mikel Moreno was brought down foolishly by Casemiro in the second minute to the frustration of the home crowd, Willian Jose confidently struck the ball past Thibaut Courtois to give La Real the lead. The pressure was on the hosts who could only manage a draw against Villarreal during the week following success at the Fifa Club World Cup.
The early goal gave the visitors encouragement, even though it was their only attempt on target in the first half they pressed and used the ball well when in possession. Real Madrid, however, were not offering their supporters much conviction. The players seemed to lack a willingness to commit and little enthusiasm to where the white of Madrid. Karim Benzema put a shot wide when one-on-one with goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli. The only bright spark was the movement and creation of Vinicius Jr on the left. Lucas Vazquez curled a right-footed shot against the post but that was the closest the hosts came to equalising.
After the hour mark, it all got rather lively. Lucas Vazquez received a second yellow card for a lazy foul. However even with the hosts down to 10 men they had their best chance of the game when a scramble in the penalty area saw Vinicius force a good save from Rulli while Sergio Ramos poked the rebound back towards goal only for David Zurutuza to clear off the goalline. Moments later there was a penalty shout waved away by young referee Senor Munuera Montero, Vinicius beat Rulli to a through-ball and the goalkeeper caught him with his outstretched arm without reaching the ball. Surprisingly VAR didn’t even intervene.
With less than 10 minutes to play, Real Sociedad got their second and seemingly the victory they have long harboured. There was so much space for the visitors to counter into; Willian Jose clipped a ball towards the back post for substitute Ruben Pardo to head past Courtois. It was too easy for the visitors. Willian Jose had a fine chance to put the gloss on the scoreline in the final seconds, another swift counter saw Oyarzabal lay off his fellow striker with only Courtois to beat but his strike was wayward.
Boos from the home crowd greeted the final whistle, it was a performance that the visitors could be proud of and a further sign that this Real Madrid side are not at the level of their recent past. This was the game after which Madrid’s title hopes well and truly fell away. But for Real Sociedad, this was all about achieving their first win at this stadium in fifteen years. The trip has always been an exciting one to make, this one was ultimately a successful one too.
Los Otros Puntos
They had their chances but couldn’t take them. Eibar somehow didn’t beat Villarreal despite creating at least half a dozen clear chances; they had 13 corners to Villarreal’s one. Sergio Asenjo played well in goal for Los Amarillos but Villarreal were let off and lucky to not have suffered defeat. Eibar have now drawn four consecutive La Liga matches – five if you include the Copa del Rey – which is a club record. What was apparent from the game was the growing influence that Marc Cucurella is displaying in this Eibar team. The 20-year-old is on loan from Barcelona and has been impressive on the left with his incisive runs and intelligent build-up play; surely it is only a matter of time before the Ipurua faithful begin singing ‘La Cucurella! La Cucurella!’
Huesca picked up their first three points at home in La Liga against Real Betis. With four draws and four defeats, the club from Aragon can sharpen their pencil and write for the first time a ‘W’ in the home column. What made it all the more impressive was that the hosts went behind, Antonio Sanabria converted from the penalty spot early in the second half following a trip on Cristian Tello. But Huesca increased their tempo and with 15 minutes left David Ferreiro headed in a cross from substitute Alex Gallar at the back post to level the scores. Less than two minutes later Christian Rivera fired the ball in following a knockdown from a free kick. The celebrations were wild and the relegation deficit is down to five points.
Alaves continue their excellent home form, remaining unbeaten all season, against Valencia.
There was a split of the spoils in Seville as both Sevilla and Atletico Madrid remain in the top four.
With Sevilla, Atletico and Real all dropping points, it was another good weekend for Barcelona. Amidst the news that Ernesto Valverde may decide to leave the club in the summer, his side managed to beat Getafe and extend their lead at the top to five points.
That was a big win for Rayo Vallecano away at Valladolid – and they got the job done early…very early.
Levante 2-2 Girona
Espanyol 1-0 Leganes
Valladolid 0-1 Rayo Vallecano
Alaves 2-1 Valencia
Huesca 2-1 Real Betis
Eibar 0-0 Villarreal
Sevilla 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid 0-2 Real Sociedad
Getafe 1-2 Barcelona
Celta Vigo – Athletic Bilbao to be played on Monday
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