Athletic Club vs Real Sociedad: What you need to know about the Basque derby
The locals can’t wait to see these two rivals face off again
It will be the first time these two teams meet in San Mamés with fans in the stands since the pandemic disrupted things 905 days ago in August 2019 when Real Sociedad last went out at the roar of the cathedral – the nickname for this famous ground.
Locals have been eagerly awaiting the return of this derby to Bilbao and fans from the Basque Country, across Spain and around the world will tune in on Sunday night for one of the most heated matches in Spanish football.
A fierce clash between the biggest cities of the Basque Country marks the road to Europe
As fierce as this rivalry between clubs in the two largest cities in the Basque Country is, it is also a derby of respect and it has become normal over the years to see red and white shirts mingling with blue and white shirts in the stands, as friends and families from across the divide gather to enjoy the spectacle.
Still, there’s a good chance only one of these fanbases could enjoy European football next season, given how the LaLiga Santander table currently looks.
Real Sociedad sit sixth with 38 points in what is currently the last European qualifying spot, while Athletic Club are in eighth with 34 points.
The Bilbao side have not featured in UEFA competition since 2017/18 and they would love to return to the continent, which makes the three points offered on Sunday so valuable.
Gladiators – who’s in or out?
Coaches Marcelino and Imanol Alguacil were able to welcome players back from injury and suspension this week, meaning they should have almost all of their best players available for this clash.
This means we can see Iñaki Williams come up against the wall that is Robin Le Norman, Alexander Isak fight with former La Real man Iñigo Martínez and a midfield fight for the ages as courage and cunning of Dani García and Iker Muniain challenge the possession-based approach of Mikel Merino, David Silva and Rafinha.
El Derbi is as old as La Liga Santander itself
The overall head-to-head record in the Basque LaLiga Santander derbies between these teams is 59 wins with Athletic Club, 51 wins with Real Sociedad and 39 draws in 149 league appearances.
Sunday’s encounter will be their 150th encounter in the Spanish top division, a game as old as the Spanish league itself.
On the very first matchday of the very first Spanish league season, in 1929, these teams met in San Sebastián and played out a 1-1 draw.
Years later, that particular fixture remains as enthralling as ever and this weekend’s duel could decide which of these two clubs, if any, qualify for next season’s European competitions.
Athletic want revenge in a bid to end a five-game winless streak
When these sides met in San Sebastian earlier this season on Halloween night, an Iker Muniain free-kick in stoppage time earned Athletic Club a 1-1 draw.
But despite a share of the spoils, it was the fifth consecutive derby in which the Bilbao Lions had failed to win as rivals Sociedad continued to dominate.
Since their 2-0 win at San Mamés in August 2019, in that last derby with fans on their home turf, there have been three Real Sociedad wins and two draws in five derbies.
This includes La Real’s 1-0 victory in the 2019/20 Copa del Rey final in Sevilla. Athletic Club are still looking for revenge for this defeat and hope to avenge it this weekend.