Previewing Real Sociedad vs Athletic Club: La Liga Matchday 22

Iker Muniain Gaizka Garitano Inaki Williams

Athletic Club have yet to lose a La Liga match under Gaizka Garitano (AS)

There’s nothing like a Derby, especially when it’s the Basque Derby. Athletic will travel to the Anoeta on Saturday to face off with Real Sociedad in what will be an intense game between two clubs who have shared plenty of drama over the past few years. From Iñigo Martinez leaving to join Athletic to Mikel Oyarzabal and Mikel Rico rejecting the Lions there have been many issues off the field, but this weekend it will be all about what happens on the field.

Athletic have been the better side throughout history, winning 59 of the total 145 matches between the two and boasting a +40 goal difference. However, things haven’t been as great lately with Real Sociedad winning three of the last five meetings, including the last two games by a combined 6-2 scoreline. Athletic’s most recent win at the Anoeta came back in March of 2017 in the form of a 2-0 victory and they will be looking to change that on Saturday.

Since Imanol Alguacil took over as the manager of Real Sociedad on 26 December the team has clearly improved. At the time of the coaching change La Real were dangerously close to the relegation zone and now they sit in 10th place in the table, one point above Athletic, and have yet to lose in their four league matches. The streak began with wins over Real Madrid and Espanyol but the last two games have seen the Txuri-urdin suffer draws against Rayo Vallecano and Huesca.

The manager will be able to field his strongest lineup including players such as Asier Illarramendi, Willian José, and Mikel Oyarzabal who are all enjoying good seasons. La Real have become a more possession-based team under Alguacil and playing at home should give them more opportunities to carry the ball in their own half against Athletic. Alguacil has had plenty of time to prepare for the Derby and the Lions know that it’s going to be a tight match.

Much like their rivals, Athletic are also enjoying success under a new manager. Gaizka Garitano has overseen 7 league games since taking over on 4 December and the Lions haven’t lost a single one. With four wins and just as many clean sheets the Zurigorri are playing their best football in nearly two years and it’s seen them jettison out of the relegation zone and into 11th place in the table. A win against Real Sociedad would make it eight games unbeaten and possible move Athletic into European qualification.

Inigo Martinez

Iñigo Martinez makes his return to Anoeta for the Basque Derby (AC)

Garitano will be without Oscar De Marcos who is suspended due to last weekend’s red card against Real Betis, as well as Aritz Aduriz who will be out for at least a month as he continues to rehab his sprained knee. Iñigo Lekue is still recovering from back surgery, but Mikel Rico was cleared to play after being cleared from a ruptured tendon several weeks ago. Raúl García is also expected to be back in the squad for the first time since December. The midfielder has missed time with a muscle injury but has been training normally for a week now.

With De Marcos unavailable Garitano will have a few options to choose from to start on the right wing. Most likely Ibai Gómez will be the one to take the role as he has played very well since returning to the club. Additionally, even though Raúl García has been cleared to play, he is expected to start on the bench with Iker Muniain keeping his place in midfield. Beñat will also be back in the team after serving a yellow card suspension last week against Real Betis.

On paper this is going to be a very close game and neither side will be happy with a draw. Despite being without a few key players Garitano has had the entire week to prepare for the Derby and the squad have been open about how much they have been looking forward to this game. If Athletic can continue playing the same way they have over the past two months, with strong defense and dangerous direct attacks, the Zurigorri could come back to Bilbao carrying three more important points.

Projected Athletic Club XI: Iago Herrerín, Ander Capa, Yeray, Iñigo Martinez, Yuri Berchiche, Dani García, Beñat, Ibai Gómez, Iker Muniain, Iñigo Córdoba, Iñaki Williams

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