Close connections and local pride are on the line in Sunday's LaLiga Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Club.
The connections could not be tighter ahead of Sunday afternoon’s Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Bilbao.
Both teams have had excellent 2019/20 campaigns so far, with young teams full of homegrown players challenging towards the top of the LaLiga Santander table.
However, they each come into Sunday’s game at the Reale Arena in San Sebastian following setbacks last weekend, with La Real losing 2-1 in stoppage time at relegation-threatened Leganes, and Champions League-chasing Getafe winning 2-0 at Athletic’s San Mames.
That left the two Basque rivals in eighth and ninth place in the latest LaLiga Santander standings, with La Real one place and two points ahead of Athletic. The three points are even more vital now to get back into the battle for the European qualification spots.
Local pride will also, of course, be on the line, as it always has since the first recorded meeting between the teams from cities located 100 kilometres apart along the coast: a 1-1 draw way back in 1913.
Recent years have seen La Real hold the upper hand in derbies in front of their own fans, with 2-1 and 3-1 victories in the last two seasons, and txuri-urdin captain Mikel Oyarzabal on the scoresheet both times. Athletic, however, came out on top in August’s first clash of 2019/20, thanks to first-half goals from Iñaki Williams and Raul Garcia.
Athletic’s Basque-only policy means that their entire squad has very close links to the region. Los Leones' latest homegrown starlet to shine on the LaLiga stage is 22-year-old forward Asier Villalibre, who scored on his first LaLiga start at Espanyol earlier this month. Iñigo Cordoba, also 22, and Oihan Sancet, 19, will be hoping to follow that example.
La Real’s side also has a strong local core, and their focus on youth means they have consistently fielded the youngest XI in LaLiga this season, with Ander Guevara, Robin Le Normand, Aihen Munoz, Ander Barrenetxea and Igor Zubeldia all impressing. Added to these are some emerging international stars, including Scandinavians Martin Odegaard and Alexander Isak, with the latter bagging four goals in his last seven LaLiga games.
Sunday's likely Athletic XI will contain two former La Real players in left-back Yuri Beriche and Iñigo Martinez, who are guaranteed the attention of the home fans before kickoff. Meanwhile, txuri-urdin goalkeeper Alex Remiro will also know the opposition well having spent a decade coming through Athletic’s youth ranks before last summer’s switch to the Reale Arena.
The close connections also stretch to the benches. Athletic coach Gaizka Garitano, 44, was born near Bilbao, began his playing career at San Mames only to later score five goals in 51 LaLiga games for Real Sociedad. La Real boss Imanol Alguaci, 49, was a txuri-urdin youth player but by the time Garitano arrived he had moved on to later play in LaLiga for Villarreal and Real Jaen.
Such relationships are always a feature of derby day in San Sebastian [and Bilbao], with supporters mixing on the streets before and after the game without any trouble, whatever the result. That does not mean though that both teams will not give everything for the three points however, given all that is at stake on Sunday.
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