It’s now or never for Real Sociedad in their pursuit of European qualification. Seven points behind seventh-placed Celta Vigo with ten rounds of the Primera Liga campaign remaining, they surely have to take maximum points at Balaídos and cut the gap to four to stand any chance of usurping Eduardo Berizzo’s men.
In that conext, the 13/5 available on the away win should be considered a viable bet here because the Basque outfit do come into this clash in better shape. Since the winter break, Celta have taken just 11 points from 12 matches, eight fewer than La Real, and their last five wins - going back to November - have all been against bottom-seven opposition.
The turning point in their season was undoubtedly the loss of star man Nolito, sidelined by a non-specific injury amid unreasonable tactics from Barcelona to force through a January move to the Nou Camp for less than the €18m release clause printed in his contract, a move that didn’t happen.
Now the former Benfica man is finally back in action after an 18-match absence and there were flashes of the old Celta in the first half of their 7-1 defeat at Real Madrid last weekend but we should take their second-half collapse at the Bernabeu as a sign that risilience has deserted them.
For La Real, progress since the departure of David Moyes has been steady but certain. After 17 matches under Eusebio Sacristan, the San Sebastian outfit has risen nine places in the table. Take away their games against the top four, and you’re left with a perfectly respectable haul of 26 points from 13 matches.
Indeed, the only result that has triggered genuine remorse over the past four months was the 5-1 defeat against Sporting Gijon in late January, which appeared to be a necessary crossroads at which Sacristan was able to reinforce his authority, a challenge he negotiated with flying colours.
La Real responded to their horror show at El Molinón with four straight wins, scoring 11 goals and conceding just one, during which their previous tally of away wins (two) was doubled with win-to-nil victories at Espanyol and bitter rivals Athletic Bilbao.
Naturally, the high of winning the Basque derby was followed by a slight sense of anti-climax in subsequent home games against Malaga and Levante (both 1-1 draws), while few teams would have been equipped to halt the Atletico juggernaut that came their way at the Calderon on the midweek round in between.
But now that La Real have had a week to regroup and re-evaluate their objectives, it’s fairly apparent to all inside Anoeta that this game ultimately decides whether their season remains alive or fritters away into mid-table obscurity. A top-seven finish remains unlikely either way but the thrill of the chase might just be enough to coax a big performance from the visitors.
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