With both Athletic and La Real having started the season impressively with a win and a draw in their two opening fixtures, the 146th LaLiga meeting between the clubs from the Basque Country’s two biggest cities should be crucial in setting the tone for what could well be excellent seasons for both teams.
Basque derby history is LaLiga history; Athletic Club – who use the English spelling – was founded in 1898 by Bilbao-born engineering students who had studied in the United Kingdom. San Sebastian’s Real Sociedad de Futbol [Royal Society of Football] was soon established 100 kilometres along the coast in 1909, with the official seal of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII.
Their first recorded meeting was a 1-1 draw in 1913, with Athletic coming from 0-2 down to win 4-2 in their first clash after LaLiga’s formation in 1928. La Real have had the upper hand in recent years, winning three of the last five in LaLiga. Their 3-1 away victory at San Mames last October was, remarkably, Athletic’s last home defeat in all competitions.
A derby with strong, unmistakable roots Athletic’s Basque-only policy means that their entire squad has very close links to the region, including centre-forward Inaki Williams, who was born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and a Liberian mother.
38-year- old striker Aritz Aduriz could make an impact from the bench, as he did when hitting an acrobatic winner against reigning LaLiga Santander champions Barcelona on the opening weekend two weeks ago.
La Real’s side also has a strong local core, including homegrown senior Spain internationals Asier Illarramendi and Mikel Oyazarbal. Added to these are international stars including summer loan signing from Real Madrid Martin Odegaard, scorer of a superb goal in last weekend’s 1-0 victory at RCD Mallorca.
Athletic coach Gaizka Garitano was born just outside Bilbao, started his playing career at San Mames only to later represent Real Sociedad with distinction. He made his coaching reputation taking Eibar into LaLiga Santander for the first time and has also had spells in charge of R. Valladolid and RC Deportivo before returning to San Mames.
San Sebastian-born Imanol Alguacil began his career with his hometown club, later playing in LaLiga for Villarreal CF and Real Jaen. He returned home to coach in the youth system and took charge of the La Real first team last December.
Athletic and La Real, two teams on the rise
Both Garitano and Alguacil led their sides up the table through the second half of last season, good form has continued into the new campaign. Qualifying for European football must be their objective now, while a top four finish to make the Champions League is a realistic aim.
While a welcome feature of this fixture is always the mix of supporters in the stands, with blue and white and red and white jerseys mingling happily whatever the result, the atmosphere at San Mames on Friday evening is sure to be noisy and vibrant.
As always when it comes to the Basque derby, a victory for either team would be worth much more than just the three points.