The Basque derby has been a very different proposition ever since last season, when Eibar entered La Liga. The addition of a third Basque team made things much more interesting than many would have anticipated as the minnows have been busy defying expectations.
They found last year tough, and were it not for Elche’s financial difficulties, they would be plying their trade in the second division. But, with luck on their side, they have flown up the table this season, while neighbours Athletic and Real Sociedad have floundered somewhat.
And as far as producing a spectacle goes, the fact that the last four Basque derbies have been draws hasn’t aided its cause. Plucky Eibar have taken their spot in the spotlight of Basque football. Yet, there are signs that the established powers are turning things around this term, which could making this encounter a far more competitive affair than past matches.
Real Sociedad look to be turning a corner after David Moyes’ disastrous spell at the club, having won their last three matches, including a 5-0 demolition of Espanyol. Having defeated Granada 3-0 in their last match, it seems they have also rediscovered their goalscoring touch in recent weeks, thanks in part to goals from youngster Mikel Oyarzabal. Promoted from the B team, the midfielder has been a revelation on the left side of La Real’s attack, while Carlos Vela – on the right – is beginning to recover his influential best.
Bilbao’s form is a little patchier, on the other hand, but they can be forgiven, considering nine of their last 10 domestic matches were against sides above them in the table, including three Barcelona clashes in 10 days.
But they resumed winning ways midweek, as a solitary but spectacular goal from Aritz Aduriz handed them a 1-0 win at Marseille in the Europa League. His 26th goal of the season, the veteran is the man whom La Real are likely to fear the most as he also played a starring role in the 5-2 drubbing of Eibar last month.
Both teams are full of goals on their day, so having toiled to a boring 0-0 draw in their last match, perhaps a few goals can be expected at San Mames.
As for who wins, who knows? These two sides have drawn their last four encounters, however Los Leones haven’t won a derby in four years, and their European exploits are unlikely to have helped matters. But that’s where these two sides want to be.
Having tasted Champions League football in recent seasons, both teams are desperate to return to the top four, and European football next season is still attainable, adding yet more incentive to Sunday’s clash, not to mention bragging rights. Moreover, a draw will be enough to see Athletic leapfrog Eibar in the table.
Winning the Basque derby had always been a barometer of determining the best club in the region – and with three competitive teams, being the best in the Basque Country means a lot more than it did a few seasons ago.