San Mames, Bilbao – It all started around 11 o’clock on Saturday morning in the heart of Bilbao. It was derby day. Athletic fans dressed in red-and-white-striped shirts confronted Real Sociedad fans in blue and white and tried to wind them up, get the better of them. Songs, jokes, and put-downs – all well-crafted and examples of invention and quick-thinking – were proclaimed into the cool Basque air. This was the 10th edition of the bertso derbia – a kind of poetry-rap-battle, Euskadi-style. When they were done, it was the turn of la Real’s fans. And so it went on and on – each line more direct and pointed than the last – until the winner was clear. They shook hands, enjoyed some pintxos, and set off for the stadium together.
The Basque derby – emblematic of the clubs involved – is like no other. It prides itself on a healthy rivalry and respect among fans. Fans of both clubs mingle outside the ground and sit amongst each other in it. But to say that there is no rivalry would be incorrect – there is. Both clubs fight for support and for talent in the area. La Real’s abandonment of a Basque-only policy was in part a consequence of Athletic’s pursuit of a similar policy. It can be a struggle – for both – but they pride themselves on identity and producing a lot of good players. This part of Spain has a special place in and connection to football, and never is that more apparent than on derby day.
However, on the dawn of this particular derby, things didn’t look so good. Both Athletic and la Real have been knocked out of the Copa del Rey, embarrassingly, to Second Division B sides Formentera and Lleida respectively. Although they are both through to the round of 32 in the Europa League they find themselves in mid-table and face a tough job in reaching European competition next season. Pressure is mounting on Ziganda and his counterpart Eusebio Sacristan – Ziganda, in particular, has faced whistles and banners from Athletic supporters. For Real Sociedad, after starting the season so well, it is a case of asking what’s gone wrong? Twenty-eight goals conceded might be the starting point; only Betis and Las Palmas have let in more.
Given that there was only two points separating them in the table, perhaps it was not surprising that the match ended in stalemate. It never really ignited. Athletic had more of the possession but it was Real Sociedad who had the better goalscoring chances – if you can call them that. Adnan Januzaj – playing in his first derby since joining la Real in the summer – and David Zurutuza had early shots at goal but Iago Herrerin – a surprise starter ahead of Kepa in the Athletic net– was untroubled.
As the first-half progressed, Mikel Oyarzabal became increasingly involved – the Real Sociedad striker had two shots, one was blocked and the other went just wide of the right post. Athletic finished the half the better – Mikel Susaeta’s shot was blocked whilst Mikel San Jose lifted his shot just over the bar.
The second-half was hardly an improvement. Neither of the sets of supporters had too much to shout about – at least in a positive sense. Aritz Aduriz and Adnan Januzaj both came close but it was Inigo Martinez and Xabi Prieto who came closest with the final kicks of the game. Of the 17 efforts on goal, only three were on target. It was a derby neither side could afford to lose – as one local newspaper said on Friday morning, at the end of the derby two things await: “gold … or torture.” It turned out that neither were granted. Athletic’s fight was not enough whilst la Real’s wastefulness in front of goal cost them.
The final-whistle was blown and both sets of players applauded their supporters, who applauded back. A spectacle to savour it was not and both sides hope that an upturn in form is just around the corner. The supporters from both sides of the divide turned to each other and said their goodbyes. They will meet each other again in April when they will do it all over again.
Los Otros Puntos
- Griezmann tried, as did Gameiro. Partey and Carrasco too. Correa also, along with Saul. But it was Fernando Torres, three minutes after coming on as a substitute, who did it. In the 74th minute, el nino got the goal that gave Atletico Madrid the victory over Alaves and made it four La Liga wins on the run for los rojiblancos. Sime Vrsaljko’s cross was tucked away by Torres to send Atletico up to second place in the table. The hosts dominated the possession but struggled to turn that into a lead against a stubborn Alaves side who created chances of their own. Aberlado – who was appointed Alaves manager at the start of the month – has certainly made Alaves harder to beat, the team looks much more organised than it did at the start of the season, but they came away from the capital with no points to show for their hard work.
- Barcelona extended their lead at the top of La Liga to six points with a comfortable 4-0 defeat of Deportivo. Leo Messi provided two assists but was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet himself as he hit the woodwork three times and missed a penalty. First Luis Suarez – Barca’s best player on the night – tapped in Messi’s pass before Paulinho struck after the Argentine’s shot came back off the bar. Suarez’s close-range finish made it 3-0 and Paulinho was again on hand to stab in when Jordi Alba hit the post. Messi’s chance from the penalty spot came just before Barcelona scored their fourth but Ruben was able to keep the strike out. One issue for la Blaugrana was the leg injury picked up by Paco Alcacer just before next weekend’s classico. “It’s a setback that we didn’t expect,” Ernesto Valverde said. “Overall the game turned out well but’s a real shame about Paco.”
- Valencia lost for the second away match on the run, having been unbeaten for the previous 13 La Liga matches. Eibar deserved their victory as they had the better of possession and chances. Inui gave the hosts the lead four minutes after half-time but it was cancelled out by Santi Mina’s equaliser. However, it was Eibar who went on to take all three points, with Joan Jordan heading Ivan Alejo’s cross in with only three minutes remaining.
- It seemed like it was going to be a routine victory for Espanyol away at bottom side Las Palmas – Gerard Moreno’s first-half double appeared to be consigning the hosts to a 12th La Liga defeat of the season. Then Loic Remy pulled one back with nine minutes left to play and Jonathan Calleri levelled in the closing seconds. It could have got even better for Las Palmas but Jonathan Viera missed a penalty in the 95th minute that could have gave them their fourth win of the season.
- Toto Berizzo was warmly welcomed back into the Sevilla dugout following his health treatment and the Sevilla manager saw his side finish 2017 with an unbeaten home record. It was a fairly uninspiring goalless draw against Levante that did it.
- Real Madrid ensured that the Fifa Club World Cup was brought back to Spain for the fourth consecutive year – Cristiano Ronaldo got the only goal of the final.
Sevilla 0–0 Levante
Athletic Bilbao 0–0 Real Sociedad
Eibar 2–1 Valencia
Atletico Madrid 1–0 Alaves
Girona 1–0 Getafe
Celta Vigo 0–1 Villarreal
Las Palmas 2–2 Espanyol
Barcelona 4–0 Deportivo
Malaga – Real Betis to be played on Monday
Leganes – Real Madrid postponed due to Real Madrid’s participation in the Fifa Club World Cup
El Jugador de la Semana: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)