There was talk of a French Revolution at Real Sociedad and after a bright start events have managed to transpire against Philippe Montanier in a relatively short period of time. The team based in San Sebastián appointed the French coach after following for some time his prosperous career in France. Achieving success with Valenciennes in Ligue 1 was no small feat, as he moulded a modest outfit into a well oiled unit. His work hadn’t gone unnoticed across the border, with Real Sociedad President Jokin Aperribay selecting Montanier as the man to replace Martin Lasarte in the hot seat; young, talented, intelligent and an ability to work with constraints, just a few of the characteristics.
A positive start saw an away win at Sporting Gijón, by no means an easy place to go, and that was followed up with the 2-2 draw against Barcelona at Anoeta. The latter being a siege-like performance encompassing aggression and most of all, positivity. Since then however, things have been negative. A win against Granada aside Montanier and his team have gone into their shells remaining winless in 7 and losing 6 of those.
The team as a whole is one-dimensional, easily outmuscled and looks disconcertingly slow.
The Frenchman has tinkered all too often with his team, predominantly the attacking line-up, leading to a lack of cohesion and such a thing has seen Imanol Agirretxe lose form and look sapped of confidence after a blistering start while Carlos Vela lacks the nous to work as a lone front man. Montanier’s insistence at playing on the break is all well and good, but the system lacks the numbers to be decisive. Sociedad are averaging around 2.5 shots on target per game, a distressing statistic considering that’s from an attempt ratio of 12 per game.
Even the usually pivotal Xabi Prieto has suffered from being isolated in such dour tactics. The talented attacking midfielder weighed in with 13 assists last season, only players from Barcelona and Real Madrid had more, as his abilities were utilised in smart counter attacking play. This season has seen him struggle to find someone to link with off the attacking lines, where his technique can excel and create opportunities, making him isolated and easily nullified.
This brings us to Antoine Griezmann. His situation is different in that the club have punished him for his dalliances with the French media when it comes to talking up his chances of a big move. Any clubs that could’ve been interested might be put off by his attitude when given minutes this season, as his shoulders have been slumped and the spark with which he played with has been absent.
The central midfield has suffered with the loss of Asier Illarmendi, as the zestful approach of the youngster prevented it from being what it is now – stagnant. That the loss of a teenager to the midfield could have such repercussions is a real concern, and although Illarmendi’s energetic pressing and smart forward runs provide another dimension you’d be forgiven for thinking a solution would be found. There has been an inability to keep the ball and use it intelligently, with players like Mikel Aranburu and McDonald Mariga looking limited in that regard. Fans have asked why Diego Rivas was allowed to leave, when the combative midfielder at least provided some tenacity in central areas – he’s now currently playing in the Segunda with Hércules. The physical aspect of things could be traced back to his time Valenciennes, where some close to the club accused him of lacking consideration for the that side of the game as he focused on intense sessions with the ball rather than specific training regimes based on a players personal attributes.
The fact teenager Iñigo Martínez has been the most consistent at the back tells its only story, and with more pressure placed on him as the weeks have gone by even he’s succumbed to the ineptitude that passes through the team
As entertaining as the Basque Derby was, it represented the most hurt galling chapter of this run. Even an incredible Iñigo Martínez goal from inside his own half failed to soften the blow of losing to bitter rivals Athletic. The fans as usual sat together and smiled, but those in blue and white were grimacing inside.
The 4-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano appeared to Montanier’s goodbye, but President Aperribay has given the Frenchman his backing saying the project he had in mind from the beginning was one for several years. Of course in this day and age of football where patience is a rare occurrence, it’s no surprise many are calling the post-International break game at Anoeta against Espanyol a final.
The players are it seems still with the Coach, this week Joseba Llorente insisted that the team “Can’t spend all day crying”. Again, looking back at his time in France it was report Montannier was never close with his players or well liked – importantly though, he was respected. It’s now time for the 48-year-old to gather his players and motivate them for what could be a harsh winter, failing to do so could see it all end in tears.