One of the matchups which many were looking forward to witnessing for the final qualifying round in the UEFA Champions League was between Real Sociedad and Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon).
After 180 minutes, Real Sociedad, in surprising fashion, took care of and dispatched Lyon 4-0 on aggregate, winning the game 2-0, and in the process advanced to the Champions League group stage for the first time in club history.
Advancing into the group stage of the Champions League is a great accomplishment for a club like Real Sociedad, who over the last few years have been building and assembling a good young team that has more than held their own against the top sides in La Liga. Finishing fourth in the 2012-13 La Liga season earned Real Sociedad the chance to be able to have the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League proper, and give players like Carlos Vela, Iñigo Martinez, Antonie Griezmann and Haris Seferovic a chance to display their skills in front of an audience who may not yet be fully aware of who they are and how good they are as players.
While there are certainly many positive benefits associated with playing in the Champions League for Real Sociedad, the reality is that there are also a number of new challenges it will be facing as a result of this.
First and foremost, the team will have to get used to and adjusted to playing midweek games every other week until early December. While this may not seem like a big deal, for a club not use to playing at the very least six extra games, and in this case six extra high-level games, it can be a mental and physical challenge.
Along with the physical and mental challenges that playing in the Champions League will present for a club like Real Sociedad, who are not use to it, they will also have to learn how to manage squad rotation before and after Champions League games. One thing teams do is they will bench certain players and/or play players who normally are substitutes in games before and after a Champions League game.
As a result, for a club like Real Sociedad, who while possessing very good players, does not have the depth of talent that the “big boys” do, and might as a result see their league play suffer. This was seen last season with fellow Spanish club Malaga, who made a run into the quarterfinals before eventually losing to Borussia Dortmund, but in the process of making history, struggled at times during league play and as a result, they rallied to finish sixth.
Now that Real Sociedad know they will be in Group A after the Champions League draw held earlier on Thursday, the club will find itself in a situation where it will get to experience the joys and privileges of playing in the best club competition in soccer. At the same time, it will have to be ready to deal with a new set of challenges that playing in the Champions League also brings along, and as a result, it could find itself in a position where they hurt their league play in the process.