Real Sociedad is currently sitting in first place in the La Liga table after Atlético Madrid faltered against Real Madrid over the weekend. Manager Imanol Alguacil isn’t a flashy name, but he has led La Real to their earned spot at the top with a combination of system, savvy leadership, and academy depth. Lucky for you, I already sang their praises a few weeks ago to explain how Real Sociedad went from turmoil to title contenders over the last few seasons:

Unfortunately for La Real, they will be missing some of their major pieces. David Silva, the talisman and attacking engine of the squad, will be missing. La Liga’s leading goalscorer, Mikel Oyarzabal (7 goals), could also be absent for the match-up.

Yet, Alguacil’s squad is built for the system that he uses. So while the replacements for Silva and Oyarzabal aren’t at the same level, Roberto López and Ander Barrenetxea have filled in capably for the two. Capable would be the key word though – the 20-year-old López and 18-year-old Barrenetxea have helped to grab three consecutive draws, but the wins have dried up of late.

Alguacil will employ his 4-2-3-1 and he may be looking in the mirror with Ronald Koeman’s similar formation. La Real’s version of the system has a way of overloading the middle and relying on big switches for counter-attacking opportunities; tactics that Koeman’s Barcelona have been susceptible to this season.

Koeman has not wanted to deviate from his preferred system, but he may need to deviate from his preferred line-up. Without Ansu Fati or Ousmane Dembélé to stretch the field, Real Sociedad’s double pivot will have an easy time putting bodies central to contend with Barça’s “three No. 10s”. That could be bad news for Barcelona, because Mikel Merino has been the best defensive midfielder in Spain this season. His partner will be either Ander Guevara or Martín Zubimendi, two La Real academy prospects who have done their jobs perfectly.

Alexander Isak, Willian José and Portu will be a test for Barcelona’s centre-back quartet of Lenglet, Araújo, Mingueza and Umtiti, but this match will be decided on the wings. If Sergiño Dest and Jordi Alba are the better full-backs on the evening, Barcelona have more than a chance. Oh yeah, Lionel Messi will be out there too.

Barcelona (4-2-3-1): ter Stegen; Alba, Lenglet, Araújo, Dest; de Jong, Pjanic; Pedri, Messi, Griezmann; Braithwaite

Real Sociedad (4-2-3-1): Remiro; Monreal, Sagnan, Le Normand, Gorosabel; Merino, Guevara; Portu, López, Barrenetxea; Isak

Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017