Real Sociedad travels to Athletic Bilbao for a La Liga Basque derby on Saturday, hoping to maintain their fourth-place position.
La Real, led by Imanol Alguacil, are seeking to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2013, yet Villarreal is closing in on them after defeating Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend.
Real Sociedad has only competed in Europe’s top competition twice in the twenty-first century — in 2003 and 2013 — and now wants to rejoin the continent’s elite.
Athletic Bilbao, who was defeated in the Copa del Rey semi-finals by Osasuna earlier this month, stands in their way.
Los Leones have the opportunity to make apologies in front of their fans at San Mames by undermining their opponents’ ambition for Champions League football and increasing their own prospects of playing in Europe next season.
Real Sociedad has 51 points after 28 games, four points are clear of fifth-placed Villarreal and six points ahead of sixth-placed Real Betis. Athletic is eighth, 11 points behind their opponents.
“La Real has had a fantastic year and is towards the top of the standings, but in a home derby, you have to offer everything you’ve got,” Athletic defender Yeray Alvarez said.
“We’ll have ‘La Catedral’ behind us, which is essentially like having an additional player.”
Alguacil, the Real Sociedad coach and former player, has a solid derby record, with six wins, two draws, and two defeats since taking over in 2018.
The highlight of his career thus far has been Athletic’s Cup del Rey final victory in 2021, which he celebrated in his post-game news conference by donning a shirt and roaring a club chant.
Asier Illarramendi, captain of Real Sociedad, may participate in his final Basque derby before his contract expires at the conclusion of the season.
“I’m not sure if this will be the last, but it could be,” he remarked.
“It’s true that I’m out of contract, but I’m not thinking about that right now; I’m focused on the team’s goal, which is to qualify for Europe, to stay in fourth place, and this is a critical game to keep that position.”
Athletic won 4-0 at home against Real Sociedad last season in La Liga, but Illarramendi insisted the game was now history.
“It is more than forgotten; every derby are unique, and this one will be as well,” the former Real Madrid midfielder stated.
On Saturday, Villarreal will visit Real Valladolid, who have gone six games unbeaten in the top level, including a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad.
Barcelona hosts Getafe on Sunday, while Real Madrid hosts Cadiz on Saturday.
Taty Castellanos is a player to keep an eye on.
Taty Castellanos, on loan from New York City, was in tears in the Girona dressing room after squandering a good chance against the Catalans in the 0-0 derby stalemate on Monday. His coach, Michel, has backed him to recover, and the visit to bottom-of-the-table Elche provides an excellent opportunity to add to his tally of six goals.
Important data 0.83 – Although not being La Liga’s top goalscorer, Karim Benzema has the best goals per 90-minute record this season in the top flight.
4 – Atletico Madrid defender Mario Hermoso has scored four goals this season, having scored the same number in his previous three La Liga campaigns.
10 – Alex Baena has the most bookings this season, along with four other players, after allegedly being struck by Real Madrid’s Fede Valverde.
Fixtures (GMT) (GMT)
Osasuna vs. Rayo Vallecano (1900)
Real Valladolid vs. Villarreal (1200), Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Sociedad (1415), Real Betis vs. Espanyol (1630), Cadiz vs. Real Madrid (1900)
Girona vs. Elche (1200), Getafe vs. Barcelona (1415), Atletico Madrid vs. Almeria (1630), and Valencia vs. Sevilla (1200). (1900)
Real Mallorca vs. Celta Vigo (1900)