Pop quiz time: Who is leading La Liga right now? OK, if you clicked this article, you can probably figure it out from the headline, but it is in fact Real Sociedad, the Basque mid-tier club that has a longer history of producing young talent than of winning trophies. La Real has won La Liga and the Copa Del Rey twice each in its history, though the most recent honor came with the cup in the 1986–87 season. Yet, through the club’s first eight games of the 2020–21 season, the San Sebastián side sits atop of the Spanish first division, one point ahead of Real Madrid and three ahead of Atlético.
How is Sociedad doing it? Well, the club currently has by far the best offense in the league, scoring 18 goals in eight games for a 2.25 goals per match average. Most recently, it dropped a four-spot on Celta Vigo with Brazilian striker Willian José picking up a 27-minute brace following goals from Mikel Oyarzabal and David Silva.
Yes, that’s the same David Silva that used to ply his craft on the blue side of Manchester. The 34-year-old Spanish midfielder has lost a step but is still excellent, especially given that La Liga is less physically demanding than the Premier League. The goal against Celta was his first for La Real, though he also has two assists and an 85.7 percent pass completion, the best in the club for attacking players. He’s not dribbling quite as much as he did in his prime (only one completed take-on per game), but his 1.6 key passes per contest lead the way, just above Oyarzabal’s 1.5.
Speaking of Oyarzabal, the 24-year-old winger has been the club’s best player so far, and he should be on every big club’s radar. Gifted with both stellar dribbling and a powerful left foot, he has scored a league-leading five goals in 488 minutes. His 0.92 goals per 90 minutes trails only Luis Suárez’s 1.18, and Oyarzabal has also added two assists to boot. He’s not the only one banging in goals, either; right winger Portu has also slotted in four on just six shots.
Behind that formidable attack, midfielder Mikel Merino has been a revelation, cleaning up opponent attacks while also contributing two assists of his own. The backline is not shiny but it is effective, and La Real has combined its league-leading offense with the second-best scoring defense; it has only allowed four goals in eight matches, notching four clean sheets along the way.
Could that balancing act last long enough to actually take La Real seriously as title-contenders, or even as favorites to land a Champions League spot? It’s possible, particularly in this bizarre COVID-afflicted season. After all, Barcelona has failed to get off the blocks in domestic play, Real Madrid has holes waiting to be exploited as Shakhtar Donetsk showed in the Champions League, and Atlético is too inconsistent in attack—though that could change if João Félix continues his tear—to be counted on.
At the very least, La Real is the most well-rounded of the non-Big Three clubs that will be fighting for the fourth Champions League spot. With Oyarzabal, Merino, and center back Robin Le Normand all 24 or younger, it also feels like this could be the start of a run of success for Sociedad, provided that Europe’s big clubs don’t come knocking for their young stars. However long it lasts, though, the club has been a worthy contender to the throne through the first quarter of the season.