Meet the La Liga side who can emulate Leicester this season
Following Leicester City’s earth-shattering Premier League title win at odds of 5000/1, fans everywhere are looking to identify the next outsiders destined for title glory. And they could have found their answer in the form of Spanish outfit Real Sociedad.
Here’s why the 500/1 shots could be crowned La Liga winners this season, and cause joy for those who’ve backed them.
They can beat the big guns
That’s evidenced by April’s 1-0 triumph over Barcelona, with Eusebio Sacristan’s men inflicting a first away defeat in 19 games on Blaugrana. And plenty of other traditional ‘big guns’ suffered at their hands last season, with Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla – among others – beaten on their own patch by Sociedad.
And having beaten Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at home twice in a row, during the past two seasons, La Real are merely consistency away from mounting a title challenge. And that could be about to change, because…
Important players are coming back
Centre-back Raul Navas was at the heart of SC Eibar’s rise to La Liga, but having joined Sociedad in 2014, fans are yet to see the best of him, following more than a year out with injury. However, he now looks ready to return to the side, and could be a key man as La Real look to build on last season’s impressive defensive record.
However, an even bigger boost will be the return of goal machine Imanol Agirretxe. Having contributed 13 goals in 16 league games before his mid-season injury, he’ll be hoping to come back with a bang in the coming campaign. There’s no doubt the squad which finished in ninth spot last season has been vastly improved.
Strong defences are the backbone of champions
The last three La Liga winners – Barcelona (twice) and Atletico Madrid – all conceded a shade under 30 goals en route to the league crown.
While both sides have recognisable stars up front – the likes of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann – teams also need defensive strength to win this division. La Real have it in spades, and their current backline will only be boosted by Navas’ return.
Boasting the joint-best defence outside the top eight, and a significantly superior record to top-six outfits Celta Vigo and Sevilla last season, Sacristan’s side kept 13 clean sheets in La Liga last season, including two shut-outs against high-scoring Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao.
They’ve made a handful of smart buys
Perhaps the most important signing of the summer is a face which Txuriurdin fans will know well – goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, who spent last season on loan in San Sebastian.
One of La Liga’s most talented stoppers, he’s joined in the goalkeeping ranks another Sociedad old boy, with Tono – signed from AEK Larnaca – an excellent back-up.
Meanwhile, at the other end, they seem to have unearthed an absolute gem for under £5m. He might not be quite the bargain of Jamie Vardy at £1m, but support striker Juanmi arrives from Southampton with electric pace and a reliable end-product.
Chances are the former Malaga man could well replicate the now-legendary Mahrez-Vardy partnership with the lethal Agirretxe.
Their managerial change has paid off
Despite the excitement which greeted David Moyes’ marquee appointment, the Basque outfit made the bold decision that the Scot was the wrong man for the job, having taken just nine points from his first 11 games last season.
His replacement, Sacristan, spent 2010-2015 bringing through the next generation of Xavis and Iniestas as Barcelona B boss, but slotted into the role superbly, winning 11 and drawing six of his 27 La Liga fixtures.
Having brought through talented youngsters like striker Jon Bautista, and midfield prodigy Igor Zubeldia, and improved the form of Rulli and Agirretxe, the 52-year-old has assembled an excellent outfit who look certain to push on next season.
At 500/1 to win La Liga, Sociedad are surely worth backing to ‘do a Leicester’ and lift their first top-flight crown since 1982.
And it’s 4/1 that La Real get off to the perfect start with a home win against Real Madrid on opening day.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing