Real Madrid will kick off the defence of their La Liga crown when they travel to San Sebastian to lock horns against Real Sociedad.

While the La Liga has officially kicked off, Real Madrid start their defence of the title on Sunday due to the late European schedule. Their first game back is a tough one, as they face Real Sociedad at the Reale Arena.

Los Blancos were part of an exciting title race last season which went right down to the wire till the 33rd gameweek, where Barcelona fell four points below Madrid. Eventually, their 34th league title was officially awarded to them in the second-last gameweek after a 2-1 win against Villarreal.

Used to the trophies by now. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

Used to the trophies by now. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

They have not invested in the market, unlike last season, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic, but have recently sold Sergio Reguilon and loaned out Gareth Bale, which should ease up space in their wage closet. They have also registered Martin Odegaard as a first-team player this season after his season long-loan at Real Sociedad.

The Basque-outfit enjoyed a terrific season last time out, with Ødegaard as their protagonist in attack, finishing sixth and securing Europa League football. It could have been a lot better, but life after the restart was complicated and they were only able to win two of their 11 games, losing five.

Madrid enjoyed a comfortable double against their weekend opponent last season, winning 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu and 2-1 at Reale Arena. Sociedad got their share of victory, though, in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, winning 4-3 away. Ødegaard was on target for the visitors that day and did not hesitate to celebrate.

Team News & Tactics

Real Sociedad

There are several notable absentees for Imanol Alguacil ahead of the game against the champions. They are missing seven players through injury including Asier Illarramendi, Luca Sangali, Joseba Zaldua, Igor Zubeldia, Martin Zubimendi, Jon Guridi, and even star-striker Willian Jose. Initially labelled doubtful for this game, Nacho Monreal has been included in the squad.

Alex Remiro will start ahead of Miguel Angel Moya, retaining his spot as Real Sociedad’s first choice goalkeeper. Ahead of him, the team will be set up in a 4-1-4-1 with Aritz Elustondo and Diego Llorente as the centre-halves. Andoni Gorosabel and Monreal will be given the responsibility to provide width from the back.

To screen this back-four, Alguacil is expected to play Ander Guevara as the defensive midfielder who will be the anchor man for the team. Joining him in advanced roles should be Roberto Lopez and Mikel Merino. New acquisition David Silva has returned to the team after recovering from Coronavirus but will start the game on the bench.

Lopez and Merino will be flanked by Portu and Mikel Oyarzabal on the right and left respectively. The latter was one of the best performers for Sociedad last season, scoring ten goals and giving 11 assists. Alexander Isak will be the sole striker for the game and will hope he can make the best of the service he gets against Real Madrid.

Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Remiro; Gorosabel, Elustondo, Llorente, Monreal; Guevera; Portu, Lopez, Merino, Oyarzabal; Isak

Real Madrid

Quite like their rivals, Real Madrid, too, will be missing a heap of players due to injuries in the buildup to the game. The most noteworthy among them is Eden Hazard. The 29-year-old picked up an injury while training for Belgium, which got aggravated, and is expected to be out for a few weeks. Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez, Mariano Diaz and Eder Militao are sidelined as well.

In the absence of Hazard and Asensio, we expect to see Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo to take up roles on the left and right flanks respectively. Leading the frontline, Karim Benzema will hope he starts the season the way he ended last – with a goal.

The midfield will be a triumvirate of players, anchored by the brilliant Casemiro. Toni Kroos will get the nod to take up the role in the left-of-centre slot, while we might see Martin Ødegaard make his first start for Real Madrid. That said, Zinedine Zidane loves to shuffle his team, and as a consequence, one of Luka Modric or Federico Valverde may start in that position.

The French manager has all his first-choice defenders fit for Sunday and will start captain Sergio Ramos alongside Raphael Varane at the centre of the backline. Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy will be given the responsibility to flank them on the right and left sides respectively.

Thibaut Courtois was awarded the Zamora trophy for his extraordinary exploits in goal last season and will start the game between the sticks.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; Ødegaard, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius

Key Stats

  • Real Madrid have won the last eight games out of a possible ten against Real Sociedad in La Liga, losing the other two.
  • Sociedad did their first-ever double against Madrid during the 2018/19 season, and Madrid returned the favour last season.
  • There have been four red cards in the last ten games between the two sides, with each side receiving two.
  • Zinedine Zidane and Imanol Alguacil have faced off seven times in the past, out of which none have been a draw. The former has won four, the latter winning three.
  • These sides never produce a boring game – there have been more than two combined goals in this fixture the last nine times, and both teams have scored six times out of the previous seven. The last draw came in May 2013, which ended 3-3 thanks to a last-minute winner from Xabi Prieto.

Player to Watch

Martin Ødegaard

Odegaard will come up against his former team today, and is expected to produce a balling display. (Photo by Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty Images)

Odegaard will come up against his former team and is expected to produce a balling display. (Photo by Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty Images)

Martin Ødegaard re-starts life at Real Madrid five years after having made his senior team debut in May 2015, making him the youngest debutant in the club’s history at 16 years and 157 days old. Since then, he has gone on to make strides while on loan at Heerenveen, Vitesse, and most recently against Sunday’s opponent Real Sociedad.

Last season, Madrid found it incredibly hard against Sociedad at the Reale Arena and were continually in flux while progressing from their right courtesy of some brilliant defending from Nacho Monreal and Mikel Merino. Ødegaard’s presence will be crucial as he knows these players very well, and his eye for the killer pass could be enough to exploit the minimal gaps that are present within La Real.

Prediction

Real Sociedad 1-2 Real Madrid

Real Sociedad have not started their campaign well enough, drawing to relegation candidates Real Valladolid in the first game, and coming up against Real Madrid as their second fixture is not going to help their morale either. Valladolid were frequently able to exploit their full-backs and the spaces left by Mikel Oyarzabal and Ander Barrenetxea.

This will not be helped by the fact that Mikel Oyarzabal, who is even less hardworking, is expected to feature on the left-wing. We expect Sunday to be a feast for Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr, and as a result, Real Madrid should eke out a close win, with a satisfactory performance.

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