La Liga returns with the Basque Derby the star game of the weekend
ATHLETIC BILBAO VS. REAL SOCIEDAD
With Real Madrid away at the Club World Cup, the title race in La Liga takes a bit of a backseat this weekend. Indeed, Athletic’s showdown with Sociedad is the standout fixture.
In recent seasons both of these teams have flirted with the Champions League positions and have given the division’s biggest sides some issues. But neither has had a good beginning to the campaign, with Athletic down in 14th and La Real 11th.
Still, the gap to the top six is far from insurmountable at this juncture and a derby win can often be the catalyst for an upturn in form.
For Athletic, there have been some more encouraging signs lately too, with no loss in four and a win lodged at Levante last weekend. Jose Ziganda will want to see his side make strides at the San Mames too.
Sociedad, by contrast, has fallen into something of a lull, with the early-season promise they showcased feeling like it was a long time ago. A win at the home of their bitter rivals would surely reignite a fire under Eusebio Sacristan’s side again.
The derby was first played in April 1909 and has attracted the attention of local football fans ever since. Supporters of both teams traditionally mix in and around the stadiums on match days, somewhat unusual for a local derby.
Real Sociedad has played in the second division for some short periods of its history and for that reason the derby has not always been contested every season. Athletic Bilbao has never been relegated.
There's certainly something in this part of Spain -- if you call it Spain, which some don't -- and the Basque Country has a special place in and connection to football, as well as a particular identity.
It produces a lot of good players, although as a proportion of first-division footballers the number has dropped a long way, well into single figures compared to more than 40 percent when the league began in 1929. It has clubs, whose identification with their communities is particularly intense. Successful clubs, special ones.
What to Expect
Athletic fans in red-and-white-striped shirts will confront Real Sociedad fans in blue and white and try to wind them up, get the better of them, by going through a catalogue of carefully-crafted put-downs of their rivals and eulogies of their own cause.
Basque derbies tend to be tense affairs and with both sides needing a win to pull clear of the danger zone, this will be tenser than ever and with rain forecast in Bilbao, it promises to be epic, if not exactly pretty.
Athletic Bilbao won both Basque derbies last season, triumphing 3-2 at home and 2-0 away.
Arrizabalaga, Saborit, Laporte, San Jose, Beñat, Williams, Iago Herrerín, Susaeta, I.Lekue, X.Etxeita, Mikel Rico, De Marcos, Aduriz, Vesga, Raúl García, Balenziaga, Córdoba, Núñez
Rulli, T. Ramírez, Odriozola, C. Martínez, Raúl Navas, Llorente R., I. Martínez, De la Bella, Illarra, Zubeldia, Zurutuza, Canales, X. Prieto, Carlos V. Januzaj, Oyarzabal, Willian J.
Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Real Sociedad