Season preview: Real Sociedad

Season preview: Real Sociedad
© AP Photos
Sports Mole discusses whether Real Sociedad can build on their top-four finish in La Liga last season.

Real Sociedad secured the opportunity to play Champions League football last season after finishing in fourth position in the table.

Despite losing Asier Illarramendi to Real Madrid, they have been able to keep the bulk of their squad together, which should stand them in good stead for the new campaign.

Here, Sports Mole discusses whether, despite a change in manager, they can once more secure a top-four finish in the new campaign.

In: Haris Seferovic (Fiorentina), Mikel Abaroa (Eibar)

Out: Asier Illarramendi (Real Madrid), Joseba Llorente (Released), Mikel Abaroa (Real Union)

Last season: Fourth

Manager: Jagoba Arrasate

Three key players:

Real Sociedad's Xabi Prieto is congratulated by Carlos Vela following his penalty against Real Madrid on January 6, 2013© AP Photos
Carlos Vela: It didn't quite work out for Vela during his three seasons at Arsenal, while a loan spell at West Bromwich Albion saw the Mexican score just twice in eight games. He has found a home at Sociedad, however, with the 24-year-old spending each of the last two seasons on loan in Spain before making his move permanent this summer. He registered 12 goals in the 2011-2012 season, but his 14 goals last season helped the club into fourth position in the table. He is the kind of player that needs to feel loved, needs to feel as if he is making a difference, which was the case last season. One thing is for certain, he will be the club's main striker in the new campaign.

Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann challenges for the ball with FC Barcelona's Cuenca during the match on February 4, 2012© AP Photos
Antoine Griezmann: The 22-year-old's talent has never been in question, but disciplinary problems over the last couple of years have threatened to harm his career. He seems to have put those troubles behind him for the moment, however, with his performances last season demonstrating his ability as one of the best attackers in Spanish football. Despite operating from a wide midfield position, the Frenchman managed to score 10 goals in 34 league games, although he will hope to improve his assist tally of three in the new season. There has been a long list of players that have let their careers go up in smoke due to off-the-field concerns, but Griezmann appears to be heading in the right direction.

Real Sociedad's Inigo Martinez in action against Atletico Madrid on March 10, 2013© AP Photos
Inigo Martinez: It is no surprise that the Spanish defender has been linked with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona this summer. Despite being just 22 years old, the centre-back has appeared 60 times for the first team since graduating from the B side in 2011. He also demonstrated his incredible ability with a starring role in the Under-21 European Championships this summer, where Spain were victorious. He isn't blessed with the greatest of pace, but he has such an awareness of the game which is unusual for a player of his tender years. However, with European football to come in the new campaign, it will be important that Martinez's fitness is not compromised after a tiring 12 months for the number six.

First game: Getafe (H) Aug 17

Sports Mole says: Philippe Montanier decided to step down from his position as head coach of Sociedad at the end of the season, which was even more surprising after leading the club into the Champions League. The powers-that-be decided to promote from within, however, with assistant Jagoba Arrasate given the managerial role at the La Liga outfit. Sociedad were locked in a battle with Valencia for fourth position last season, but they triumphed with some strong performances, both at home and on the road. It will no doubt be tougher to make the top four this time around, but with the likes of Sevilla and Valencia both losing key players this summer, Sociedad must be considered the favourites to join Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League positions come the end of the campaign.

Predicted finish: Fourth

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