Real Sociedad face Manchester United this evening in Champions League match day Three - and received a huge fitness boost ahead of the tie last week as their captain recovered from injury in time for the match.
Xabi Prieto suffered a small tear to his thigh in the 4-1 defeat at Barcelona toward the end of last month, which was rumoured to have side-lined him from anything between four to six weeks at the time.
And it appears, thankfully for Sociedad fans, to be the former.
Prieto was in full training for the club last week, re-entering the fray during Thursday’s session.
He made the bench for the weekend fixture against Valencia at the weekend, and came on in the 74th minute of the side’s impressive 2-1 victory at the Mestalla - their first win since August.
Prieto has a similar importance to the Sociedad side as Michael Carrick does for United. Simply put, you might not notice him when he is there, but you definitely will when he is gone. The fact is the club drew with Sevilla at home before losing to Bayer Leverkusen and Rayo Vallecano since he picked up this thigh complaint.
Now he is all set to make his full comeback against United. With Spanish press believing the captain will start the fixture, doing no favours to David Moyes’ chances - although United should, and will, remain confident of earning the points at home against the struggling Basque outfit.
But Prieto has made it clear just how meaningful this game is for a side that were playing in the second tier of Spanish football just a couple of years ago.
Liverpool legend Bill Shankly once stated that ‘’some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that".
And Prieto has put that sort of importance on this fixture. Speaking to the press as La Real get ready to step out at Old Trafford, the club captain said:
“We are facing a life or death situation. [United] are a huge rival - a fearful one but we also know that defeat would leave qualification for the next round looking extremely difficult. We have to get points on the board in order to stay alive in the tournament."
And he is right. Sociedad are currently bottom of the Group after defeats to Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer Leverkusen - so victory is almost a must for the Basque outfit in Manchester this evening.
Or indeed their Champions League hopes might just be dead for this season.
image: © crystiancruz