Key Battles That Will Shape Real Madrid's Clash with Real Sociedad
Real Madrid began the Primera Division season with a 2-0 victory at home to Cordoba and will be hoping to make it two wins out of two when they travel to the Basque country to take on Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Madrid prospered 4-0 in last season’s equivalent fixture, with second-half goals from Gareth Bale, Pepe and Alvaro Morata adding to Asier Illarramendi’s opener. They have not lost at the Anoeta since 2004.
La Real, for their part, started the season with a 1-0 defeat away to newly promoted Eibar before crashing out of the Europa League on Thursday with a 3-0 defeat away to Kuban Krasnodar.
Jagoba Arrasate’s side will be keen to get some points on the board by causing an upset against one of Spain’s big two.
Here are the key battles that will shape Sunday’s match between Real Sociedad and Real Madrid.
Gareth Bale vs. Alberto De La Bella
With Cristiano Ronaldo set to be rested for Sunday's match, as per Marca (in Spanish), there will be greater onus on Gareth Bale to provide a goal threat with his pace and power in the final third.
Madrid tried a lot of left to right diagonals from deep in their Primera Division opener against Cordoba. Bale nearly reached such a pass from Sergio Ramos early on, while Ronaldo regularly positioned himself between the two Cordoba centre-backs, looking for opportunities to spring in behind.
Cordoba's back four were well-organised and held a good line, catching Ronaldo offside on four occasions, as per WhoScored.com.
Real Sociedad will have to be similarly alert, and left-back Alberto De La Bella will have a key role to play. He will not only be faced with the task of halting the on-ball progress of the quick and direct Bale, but also with the responsibility of tracking the Welshman's off-ball runs infield from the right. All of this while maintaining a good line with his centre-backs.
Bale scored in last season's equivalent fixture and De La Bella and the left-sided centre-back Inigo Martinez will need to be in constant communication to prevent him from again influencing the result on Sunday.
Toni Kroos vs. Sergio Canales
With Xabi Alonso now departed, Toni Kroos is likely to be entrusted with the role of the central, most defensive, of three midfielders in Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3 formation.
Kroos started in that role against Cordoba and generally performed competently. He was, however, easily bypassed by the away side’s industrious attacking midfielder Jose Lopez Silva on a couple of occasions during the first half.
Sergio Canales is the player Kroos is most likely to come into direct contact with on Sunday. Canales was regularly the most advanced midfielder for Real Sociedad during their opening day defeat to Eibar and created their two best chances of the match.
During the first half he drifted into space inside the area and aimed a lovely backheel into the path of the supporting Carlos Martinez, who fired wide. In the second, his low cross from the left was diverted straight into the arms of the Eibar goalkeeper by Imanol Agirretxe.
Kroos will have to be bright and alert to the movement of Canales. Going the other way, Canales will be expected to close down the German international in order to prevent him from launching quick counter-attacks with long balls forward from deep.
Imanol Agirretxe and Carlos Vela vs. Pepe and Sergio Ramos
Pepe and Sergio Ramos performed superbly in Real Madrid’s 4-0 win away to Real Sociedad last season, standing firm and repelling a barrage of crosses into the area. As per Squawka, they made a total of 12 successful clearances from inside their 18-yard box.
La Real played into Madrid’s hands with that strategy, as both Pepe and Ramos are very adept at defending close to their own goal. Draw them up the pitch a little, however, and they often struggle.
In the European Super Cup final against Sevilla, in the first leg of Madrid’s Spanish Super Cup tie with Atletico Madrid and in their Primera Division opener against Cordoba there were occasions when the two centre-backs became split when dealing with high balls forward.
With this in mind, Imanol Agirretxe will have an important role to play this weekend. The 27-year-old has a solid scoring record, but his main strength is his ability to hold possession and bring teammates into play.
If Agirretxe can occupy Pepe and Ramos in the same way that Mario Mandzukic did for Atletico, and Mike Havenaar did for Cordoba, it could open up space for runners from deep.
Carlos Vela came off the bench against Eibar and again against Krasnodar in midweek. His well-timed runs would make him the perfect foil for Agirretxe on Sunday.