Tonight at 8 pm, just after Real play Zaragaoza in Madrid (less CR who has been not included in the squad either out of rest or reaction to his post games comments Wednesday), we take on Real Sociedad in San Sebastián. Real Sociedad are on a pretty bad run of form. Since a consecutive 1-0 home wins against Osasuna and Mallorca on 13 and 21 February 2011, they have lost 7 of their next 9, including a 3-1 home defeat to Hércules (mathematically only picking up 4 of a possible 27 points). They are in 12th place, which seems safe enough, but a closer inspection of the table sees they sit on 38 points, just 3 off 18th place Osasuna.
Real Sociedad have always played a very attractive brand of football. Before their relegation in 2007, they had enjoyed a spell in La Liga for well over 30 years. They even managed to finish in 2nd place in 2003 when they had their best squad ever with the likes of Karpin, Kovacevic, Nihat, and Xabi Alonso. They always played a nice attacking game and as a result were always a neutrals favorite in La Liga. And they have continued that tradition in this season. Despite the fact they lost to Madrid at home this year, they played some really lovely football and were very unlucky (well actually let down by French youngster Griezmann’s finishing) to not win or at least draw Mourinho’s men. Tonight they are without former Villarreal striker Joseba Llorente, but that is likely to see the return of a familiar foe in Raúl Tamudo to the starting 11.
Pep will be taking this game as serious as any other. He made it clear he does not want to forfeit any points or momentum to Real Madrid and knows that 2 wins and 1 draw in our next 3 games will guarantee his third successive league title. Nevertheless, expect some variation in the starting line up tonight. Iniesta and Puyol have both not travelled tonight, as well as Abidal, Maxwell, Adriano, and Bojan. As a consequence, Montoya, Sergi Roberto, and Gerard Deulofeu have been called up from the Filial. I have not mentioned Fontàs and Thiago in that group as Andreu has been officially promoted and Thiago has also, but only starting next season. But I consider both first team members. Of the B team boys, Deulofeu is the most interesting name. He has attracted a lot of excitement, with his game likened to Xavi and Iniesta. Arsenal also tried to pinch him along with Jon Miquel Toral earlier this year. I would be very excited to see him come on if the situation is right for it.
Montoya is expected to make his Liga debut at left back, while Milito should join Piqué and Alves to finish off the back 4. The midfield is likely to be the area with the most changes, and some predict Busquets and Xavi could both be rested and we will see Keita, Mascherano, and Thiago. Upfront there is the possibility both Messi and Pedro are rested, which will see Jeffren, Villa, and Afellay start. Personally, I would not like to see so many changes as when we tried that with Osasuna it was a rather ugly 90 minutes. So rather than resting Xavi, Messi, Pedro, and Busquets, I’d prefer only 2 or 3. For example, I’d like Messi to start and us try and get a nice advantage before half time and rest him if necessary. Even giving Pedro minutes to improve his match fitness and sharpness would be smarter than playing Jeffren.
So, that’s my 2 cents. We will only see just before kick-off exactly how Pep lines us up. I know this does not have the glamour or excitement of the Clásico bonanza the last few weeks; still, this game and the possibly 3 points are still important.