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Real Sociedad are up against AS Roma in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 on Thursday and it is shaping up to be crucial in the Basque outfit's season. Imanol Alguacil's men are in a tough run of form with just one win from their last seven games across all competitions and need things to pick up starting in Rome this week. La Real enjoyed a strong group stage which included a famous 1-0 win away at Manchester United which was enough to secure top spot and an automatic spot at this stage.

The post-FIFA 2022 World Cup period did not appear to be an issue either as Real Sociedad reeled off seven straight wins across all competitions before this run of patchy form. A 0-0 draw at home to Cadiz last week was a third consecutive home game without a win and Alguacil's side could find it easier playing this opening leg against Jose Mourinho's Roma away. However, most importantly for La Real, part of their squad makeup has been designed to come to the fore in moments like these.

Experienced squad players like David Silva and Asier Illaramendi are vital components not just for their ability on the soccer field but for the immense experience they bring to a young group. Sporting Director Roberto Olabe told CBS Sports recently at a Real Sociedad roundtable event that former Manchester City star and ex-Spain international Silva and captain Illaramendi are key parts. Like Nacho Monreal before them, Silva and Illaramendi -- who spent two years with Spanish giants Real Madrid -- can help and develop their less experienced teammates at the same time.

"David is an extraordinary player and I do not need to tell you that," responded La Real's Olabe to CBS' question. "However, David forms part of a project like Nacho and Asier. We have spoken a lot about young players, talent development, and stability, but these people need examples on a daily basis as players.

"Regardless of how these guys perform on the pitch, just imagine what it means to the players who train with them each day. They are pretty generous people who do not show off and place their experience at the service of these youngsters. When you are working in a project with youngsters, you need certain reference points and these guys have that level of credibility. We have been very fortunate with them."

Olabe has concentrated largely on developing Real Sociedad's youth with strong links to the Basque Country which is not dissimilar to Athletic Club's famed Basque-only policy. However, the 55-year-old operates with a greater degree of flexibility and is now also embracing modern methods which include using and applying data across transfer and performance analysis.

"I believe in data," Olabe explained to CBS Sports. "However, I do not believe that data is the ultimate truth. Data helps to finish analyzing the players. We are data believers and we have an in-house team dealing with that. We address the way that we play and these are important elements. We have tried to use this data to improve our performances. However, we do not solely use data -- it is just a tool that we use regularly."

Roma this week is the ideal time for these sorts of innovations to come up big for La Real and to aid a performance boost which feels like it has been brewing given the tight nature of recent results. The Italians are in decent overall form but have been beaten by the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and Cremonese recently which will offer hope to the Basque outfit. Mallorca away before a crunch home doubleheader against Roma and then Elche could prove crucial in Real Sociedad's season as they try to keep fellow UEL representatives Real Betis away from fourth.

You can follow both La Real and Los Beticos' Europa League action this week on CBS Sports and Paramount+.