Football: Real Sociedad show Spain's elite the way forward with focus on youth

Sociedad are three points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid and 12 ahead of Barca. PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (REUTERS) - As Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to misfire after having their purse strings cut by the Covid-19 pandemic, Real Sociedad have risen to the top of La Liga by embracing a defined style of play and trusting in homegrown talent.

As well as leading the table since mid-October, Sociedad are arguably Spain's most exciting team right now, scoring an unbeatable 21 goals this term yet with the second best defence, conceding only four times.

The expansive side is led by the likes of World Cup winner David Silva, former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj and Sweden forward Alexander Isak, plus homegrown talent such as Spain forward Mikel Oyarzabal, who is the league's top scorer with six goals.

"What we are doing right now is tremendous but what makes me most proud is how we are doing it," said coach Imanol Alguacil after his side beat Cadiz 1-0 on Sunday (Nov 22) which sent them three points clear at the top of the table after 10 games.

Sociedad are three points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid and 12 ahead of Barca, who have two games in hand, and six clear of champions Real Madrid who have one in hand.

"I have always believed that how you play is even more important than winning and when I see these players defend these colours like that I have to congratulate them," added the coach, who spent eight years at Sociedad as a defender.

Alguacil returned as a youth coach in 2011 and after the club's bet on high-profile appointments like David Moyes and Eusebio Sacristan did not work out, in December 2018 they turned to a man who knew the institution inside out.

Alguacil's knowledge of the youth system, which produced the likes of Xabi Alonso and Antoine Griezmann, has been key to Sociedad's best ever start since the 1981-82 season, when they last won the Spanish title.

Sociedad's first team squad contains 16 academy graduates, more than any other side in the top-flight.

The club's belief in their young players has also helped them counter the league's financial imbalance.

Real Madrid began the season with a budget of 468 million euros (S$745 million) while Barca had 382 million, contrasting with Sociedad's budget of 100 million, the eighth highest in the league.

Alguacil, however, will not be content if his side cannot maintain their remarkable start.

"The statistics show the team is doing well but it's not enough," he added.

"If we want to achieve something big we have to keep on doing this, being leaders after 10 games is worth nothing."

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