Sociedad face test of credentials against Real; Zidane urges fans to back Bale - GulfToday

Sociedad face test of credentials against Real; Zidane urges fans to back Bale


Real Madrid players attend a training session on Friday, ahead of their Spanish League match against Real Sociedad.

Real Sociedad meet Real Madrid on Saturday with the chance to reassert their stirring start to the season and press home their case as genuine contenders for La Liga’s top four.

They head to the Santiago Bernabeu sitting two points behind Madrid and as the league’s surviving surprise package after Granada’s fairytale opening has dissipated following three consecutive defeats.

Real Sociedad have so far avoided a similar reality check, even if their latest three games before the international break showed some signs of strain.

They were held by Leganes, who are rooted to the bottom of the table, two weeks after losing at home to struggling Levante, who had then sat 13th.

“I went into the dressing room and it looked like a funeral,” said coach Imanol Alguacil after the draw against Leganes.

Around those slips were narrow wins over Celta Vigo and Granada, each achieved with goals in the last 10 minutes, which could be seen as evidence of a ruthless streak or a double stroke of luck.

Yet their lofty position is well-deserved. Real Sociedad have arguably been the most fluid, free-flowing side in the division so far, more entertaining to watch than Barcelona and with fewer goals conceded too. They have frightened opponents with their pace and bullied them with their intensity.

In Martin Odegaard, they boast perhaps the most impressive creative midfielder of the season and while the 20-year-old is on loan from Real Madrid, he will be allowed to face his parent club, presumably with a point to prove.

“When you see him in training and when he plays, you realise he is a special player,” said Nacho Monreal this week, signed from Arsenal last summer. “He has found the right place to play and we work around him.”

Mikel Oyarzabal’s touch, craft and dazzling feet makes it easy to see why he continues to be linked with Europe’s elite clubs even if the freedom he enjoys also owes a debt to the energy of Mikel Merino and Zubeldia behind him.

They face a Madrid side that was finding their rhythm before the international break, after playing five games without conceding a single goal and winning four of them while scoring 16.

Meanwhile, Zinedine Zidane has urged Real fans to get behind Gareth Bale and insists he does not believe the Welshman is happier playing for his country than Real Madrid.

Madrid play Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, when Bale is likely to feel the frustration of the home supporters.

The 30-year-old sparked outrage in the Spanish press this week after he celebrated Wales’ victory over Hungary on Monday with a flag from the crowd that read: “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order”.

The slogan has been adopted by Welsh fans after an interview given by former Madrid player Pedja Mijatovic to Cadena Ser last month, in which he referred to those as Bale’s priorities.

It has been interpreted in Spain as a slight against Real, particularly after Bale played twice for Wales over the international break, having missed the last six matches for his club through injury.

But, in a press conference on Friday, Zidane refused to criticise Bale. “When you look at what he has given to the club and the fans, that is what we are all here for: for the club.

“Gareth is one of the team and the fans have to be behind us, always. I will always be behind my players. Outside, things can happen but inside, we should only look at the football.”

Barca are away at Leganes earlier on Saturday, while Atletico visit Granada. Sevilla, in fourth, travel to Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Agence France-Presse

Spanish League fixtures (all times GMT)

On Saturday: Leganes vs Barcelona (1200), Real Betis vs Valencia (1500), Granada vs Atletico Madrid (1730), Real Madrid vs Real Sociedad (2000)

On Sunday: Espanyol vs Getafe (1100), Osasuna vs Athletic Bilbao (1300), Eibar vs Alaves (1500), Villarreal vs Celta Vigo (1730), Real Valladolid (2000)

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