With Athletic Club and Real Sociedad both sitting in the middle of the La Liga table, there isn’t much to play for in Saturday’s Basque Derby. But when these two clubs face off, their places in the table rarely matter. This game is about pride and that is something that manager Kuko Ziganda pointed out in Friday’s pregame press conference. With the Lions having played a disappointing season, Saturday gives the team the perfect opportunity to give the fans something to be excited about, but they will have to do it without star striker Aritz Aduriz.
“We know the atmosphere that we are in and our opponent’s motivation in this type of match. We know that it is a Derby and we hope to give fans joy in a year where that hasn’t been much. That is what we’re going to do. I have played in all kinds of Derbies, the environment is what it is, regardless of how the season is going for each team. You can go and enjoy the day, enjoy the match, but on the field there is a rivalry. The standings don’t matter in a Derby like this. The fans just want to win and we know what that means. Aduriz is still not fully recovered so we will wait until next week and see how he is doing. He will not play this weekend. It is normal that Iñaki will start.”
The biggest piece of drama going into Friday’s game revolves around Iñigo Martinez. The defender grew up at Real Sociedad and was named a captain a few years ago. However, he agreed to join Athletic in the summer after the Lions paid his release clause. Leading up to this weekend’s game, he has given an open interview where he talked about being an Athletic fan since he was a kid and even shared pictures. Ziganda says that the 26-year-old seems relaxed despite the fact that the Real Sociedad fans are going to be very hostile towards him.
“He is relaxed and it doesn’t seem to be something that he is thinking about. We recognize that there is controversy and that is it natural. Iñigo went to Real when he was small. He was good for the club and now he is willingly where he wants to be. You can see that he wants to play and that he will sacrifice. We are so glad that he is playing as well as we expected and that he is doing well and is happy here. The bank notes with his face on them? It isn’t original. It’s not the first time this has happened and it isn’t surprising either. If Aymeric Laporte ever comes to play us, and it hurt us that he left, let’s hope that we don’t do the same thing.”
In closing, Ziganda pointed out that Real Sociedad have a lot of quality in their team and that they have been able to turn things around since hiring a new manager. He knows that Saturday’s game at the Anoeta is not going to be easy at all and that the Lions will have to be at their best if they want to walk away with all three points.
“Our opponents played a spectacular campaign last year, but this year they have had problems maintain consistency. Now with the change they’re doing much better. They seem happier, more dangerous, more solid defensively. We have to respect their strengths. We know Juanmi well and that he is a vertical player. He can surprise you because he moves all along the front line. We’ll take that into account. It’s going to be a hard match tomorrow. They have put together a few strong matches so we know it will be difficult.”
As things stand right now, Real Sociedad are currently three points ahead of Athletic in the La Liga table and after Saturday there will only be three games remaining on the calendar. Even though qualifying for Europe is still mathematically possible, at this point fans have accepted that it is more of a dream than an achievable goal. That leaves the Basque Derby as the focal point in the remainder of the season and it is a match that the fans will accept nothing short of a big win at the Anoeta.