Athletic Bilbao host local rivals Real Sociedad in Thursday’s (31 December) Basque derby at San Mames, with the two local rivals arriving with different sensations following recent form.
Sociedada are looking for a boost, with their superb start to the season having fizzled out somewhat in recent weeks. Last week’s 2-0 defeat at home by LaLiga Santander leaders Atletico Madrid was the their sixth game without a win, even though they remain a very impressive third in the standings.
Bilbao meanwhile have recovered from a rocky start to their campaign, winning four of their last five games at home, including a 2-0 victory over Huesca last weekend. Last Tuesday saw Gaizka Garitano’s side achieve an impressive 1-1 draw at high-flying Villarreal, continuing their upward progress into the top half of the table heading into the final round of fixtures of 2020.
Fans in both Bilbao and San Sebastian will want a victory to end their year on a high, with local pride a feature in this fixture all the way back to their first meeting, a 1-1 draw in 1913.
Sociedad have had the upper hand recently, winning four of their last five derbies in LaLiga, including the most recent meeting last February, when goals from Portu and Alexander Isak meant that the strike from Athletic’s Inaki Williams counted for little. Bilbao did however win last season’s clash at San Mames, thanks to first-half goals from Williams and Raul Garcia.
Bilbao’s unique Basque-only policy means that their players have very close links to the region, and most have come through their Lezama youth academy including local heroes Williams, Iker Munian and Yeray Alvarez.
This season’s new attacking star Alex Berengeur has however taken a different route, with the Pamplona-born winger having joined Athletic from Italian side Torino last summer. Another new face could be 18-year-old Nico Williams – brother of Inaki – who was on the bench for last Tuesday’s trip to Villarreal.
Sociedad’s Zubieta youth system has also been producing impressive local talents through recent years. Club captain and Spain international Mikel Oyarzabal, still just 23, leads a generation of first team regulars including Ander Barrenetxea, Roberto Lopez, Jon Bautista, Robin Le Normand, and Igor Zubeldia.
More experience comes from former Spain international playmaker David Silva, who has been excellent since joining from Manchester City last summer, and who returned from an injury absence midweek against Atletico.
The presence of figures who have moved between the teams in recent years adds another edge to the derby. Former Sociedad players in the likely Bilbao starting line-up include defenders Yuri Beriche and Inigo Martinez, while goalkeeper Alex Remiro came all the way through Bilbao’s Lezama system before making the switch to Sociedad in summer 2019. Garitano himself was born near Bilbao but played 51 LaLiga games for Sociedad.
These shared stories and close relationships have always been a feature of derby day in San Sebastian and Bilbao, however COVID-19 restrictions will of course mean that supporters will not be able to mix inside or outside the stadium on Thursday. The pandemic also means the two teams’ historic meeting in the 2020 Copa del Rey final has not yet taken place. That decider is now scheduled for Sevilla in mid-April, while they could also meet in mid-January’s Spanish Super Cup.
However, LaLiga concerns will be all important on Thursday lunchtime in the Basque country, as both Athletic and La Real look for three points to head towards 2021 with their best foot forward.
Watch Athletic Bilbao vs Real Sociedad this Thursday at your local broadcasters.
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