Previewing Real Sociedad vs Athletic Club: LaLiga Matchday 23
Athletic have been in the clouds since Thursday night’s incredible Cup win over Barcelona, but the celebrations can’t go on forever. The Lions will travel to Anoeta on Sunday for a massive Basque Derby against Real Sociedad where a victory could lift Athletic back into the European zone of the table. With three important points on the line in a Derby, both sides will be taking this game very seriously.
Real Sociedad have been great at home against Athletic over the past few years, winning three while losing just once. However, the Zurigorri were dominant in the first meeting of the season where they beat La Real 2-0 at San Mamés with Iñaki Williams having one of the best performances of his career. If Athletic can manage at least a draw on Sunday they will officially take the tiebreaker over their rivals if needed.
This has been one of the most exciting seasons for La Real in recent memory with players like Martin Ødegaard, Alexsander Isak, and a number of youth prospects all contributing in sensational ways. Manager Imanol Alguacil has introduced an attacking system which has already produced 37 league goals, though the team has had problems in defense.
While Real Sociedad have been a strong side this year, their form has dropped in recent weeks. La Real have suffered three defeats in their last four league fixtures which has seen them fall out of the top four. Sunday’s match will be complicated as well with Ødegaard in danger of missing out through injury. Considering their Cup run, Alguacil may also have to rotate the team at Anoeta.
Athletic have also struggled for positive results in La Liga, having now gone seven straight games without a victory. Despite their poor form the Lions still find themselves just three points off the top seven and would move level with Real Sociedad with a victory in Gipuzkoa. Similarly, Gaizka Garitano is also expected to rotate the lineup on some level with the team having played heavy minutes over the past month.
Unfortunately, Athletic will be without Iñigo Martinez. The defender is suspended for the match and will miss out along with Yuri Berchiche and Raúl García who are dealing with injuries. The defensive absences likely mean that Garitano will field a more tradition 4-2-3-1 lineup at Anoeta with Unai Núñez starting alongside Yeray at the back. Asier Villalibre and Unai López could also return to the lineup in this scenario as could others. Dani García must be careful as well as he is one booking away from suspension.
Tomorrow’s Basque Derby will be a true clash of styles with Athletic’s fortress of a defense hoping to lock up Real Sociedad’s blistering attack. Both teams have played heavy minutes and tired legs will lead to more open play. With that being the case, this match will likely be decided by which side can control the midfield. Athletic will have opportunities to score and must finish those chances in front of goal. This is a Basque Derby and there’s more at stake than just three points. Pride is also on the line.
Projected Athletic Club XI: Unai Simón, Ander Capa, Unai Núñez, Yeray, Mikel Balenziaga, Dani García, Unai López, Iñaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Ibai Gómez, Asier Villalibre