Previewing Athletic Club vs Real Sociedad

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Athletic are looking to get back to their winning ways in Friday’s Basque Derby (AC)

The Basque Derby is finally here. It’s been marked on everyone’s calendars since the schedule was first released and on Friday Athletic Club will welcome rivals Real Sociedad to the San Mamés. With just one point separating these two in the La Liga table this match promises to be full of intensity and emotion with both sides not accepting anything other than all three points.

Over the past few years these meetings have been unpredictable. Athletic haven’t beaten Real Sociedad in league play since March of 2017, which took place at the Anoeta, but La Real also haven’t won at the San Mamés since February of 2016. Over the last six meetings in Bilbao the Lions have won twice and there have been three draws. All six games were decided by one goal or ended level.

Both teams come into this game feeling as though they should be higher in the league table. Athletic have played impressive football this year and, despite an ugly loss to Villarreal, have been the better team in most of their games. However, the Lions have had to settle for four draws and only one win. Coming off of a strong performance against Barcelona, Athletic will be looking to build on their momentum.

On the other hand, Real Sociedad currently lead Athletic in the table by one point. They have earned two wins this season, but have also played one more game than their hosts. Interestingly, both of their wins have come on the road. Asier Garitano’s side comes into the Derby having picked up just one point in their last two matches after what was seen as a steady start to the season.

Garitano will also be forced to tinker with his lineup a bit. Mikel Merino and Joseba Zaldua are both injured and not expected to be available, while Juanmi and Theo Hernández are both suspended for the match. There will be some big holes to fill, but Real Sociedad should still be able to field a competitive lineups, especially considering that this is a Derby.

Inigo Martinez

Will Iñigo Martinez start against his former club? (AC)

Meanwhile, Berizzo will be operating from a place of luxury. Iago Herrerín has been cleared to play for the first time this season and the manager will have to decide whether to start the 30-year-old or continue with Unai Simón who has been fantastic this season. Iñigo Martinez and Aritz Aduriz will also be in the squad, but whether or not they will start is another question. Peru Nolaskoain is expected to start if Martinez isn’t in the lineup. Iñigo Lekue, who is still recovering from a broken ankle, is the only player that won’t be available.

Predicting the starting lineup for Athletic is tricky to say the least. Although Iker Muniain is healthy again, Berizzo has preferred to use Yuri Berchiche on the left wing recently in order to help the team’s pressing. This could potentially continue on Friday. Toto has also opted for a double pivot with Beñat beside Dani García instead of a single pivot which characterized the team at the start of the season. The team was seen using these same tactics in an open training session earlier this week, but with Berizzo that rarely means that anything is set in stone.

With this being the Basque Derby the match will be very unpredictable. Both sides will be playing intense football in hopes of taking all three points. That being said, there are a few positional battles to watch, but none will be as decisive as Dani García vs Asier Illarramendi. Both are arguably the most important players for their team and will be battling to control the midfield. This match will ultimately come down to several little moments and the winner will be the team that makes the most of their opportunities in front of goal. It’s the Basque Derby and that’s all that needs to be said.

Athletic Club Projected XI: Unai Simón, Oscar De Marcos, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Iker Muniain, Raúl García, Markel Susaeta, Iñaki Williams

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