David Silva. / SUR

Making 'royal' waves

Real Sociedad are rubbing shoulders with Spanish footballing aristocracy with only Barcelona and Real Madrid above them in the table

ROB PALMER / COMMENTATOR, ESPN

There are two things you need to know about Real Sociedad. The first - never call them just Sociedad. the second - they are the most in-form team in La Liga.

"Sociedad" means society. "Real" is royal. This club is deservedly rubbing shoulders with the Spanish footballing aristocracy and making waves in Europe too. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid sit above them in the table as we approach the half-way point of the season and both should be fearful of a club on a roll. In all competitions they've won eight successive matches. They walked a Europa League group that contained Manchester United and have breezed into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.

What's made it more incredible is that they've done it without their best two players from last season. Alexander Isak was sold to Newcastle for a reported €70 million, an offer they couldn't refuse. Skipper Mikel Oyarzabal was on the radar of most leading European clubs and a certainty for Spain's World Cup squad until a knee injury last March.

What makes it even more incredible is the fact that the players bought with a large chunk of the Isak money have also been absent: Mohamed-Ali Cho and Umar Sadiq have managed just a handful of games because of injury.

Imanol Alguacil has squeezed absolutely everything outof a strange mix of players. Oyarzabal is one of the home-grown talents who make up the majority of the squad. Real have one of the best academies in Europe that provides a constant pipeline to the first team and the coach himself worked with the development squad until his promotion.

It's not quite the same situation as neighbours Athletic Bilbao who insist on a "Basque-only" policy but there is an unwritten rule that there will always be more locally born players in the starting XI than non-locals. It's usually a balance of six to five with Spain international Mikel Merino and the returning Oyarzabal the shining lights.

World Cup winner David Silva adds a touch of class, alongside another Spain international Brais Méndez who started paying back his €18-million summer fee with a winning goal against Manchester United in the European opener.

Thirty-seven-year-old Silva isn't the only imaginative signing who is paying dividends. Alexander Sørloth earned a reputation as a journeyman striker in eight different countries before joining on loan last season. He's back for another campaign and is averaging a goal every other game in all competitions. Parent club RB Leipzig may be regretting allowing him to leave, especially as they face La Real in the Europa League.

He's formed an unlikely alliance with Japan international Take Kubo who has been earmarked as something special since joining Barcelona as a ten-year-old. In his complicated teenage years, he flitted between Tokyo and Spain. Real Madrid signed him in 2019 yet loaned him out to four different clubs. Now he's finally settled in San Sebastián, his talent is beginning to shine through at the age of 21.

There's no other team in Europe that can boast the form of the team from northern Spain. Just remember to give them their full name or call them "La Real". Calling them "Sociedad" is like merely calling the English clubs "Hotspur" or "Crystal" or even just "Manchester".