Real Sociedad sit third in the La Liga table as they seek Champions League qualification
Athletic Bilbao are just two points adrift of the top four despite sitting seventh right now
With Real Madrid and Barcelona not in action, this is the game to watch this weekend
The odds for Real Sociedad vs Athletic Bilbao have been taken from the FanDuel sportsbook. Sign up today and when you bet $5, receive $150 in free bets.
La Real are in fine form and home advantage could work in their favor when they take on their arch-rivals.
Back Real Sociedad to beat Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby this weekend. (+145)
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The La Liga title race is between Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the former currently three points clear at the summit of the standings. Real Sociedad are highly unlikely to catch either Barcelona or Madrid, but they are striving to be the best of the rest in Spain this season.
That honor usually goes to Atletico Madrid, but Diego Simeone’s side are going through a sticky patch right now. The best online sportsbooks still judge them as the narrow favorites to finish third, but that position in the table is currently occupied by Real Sociedad.
La Real continue to make progress under the stewardship of Imanol Alguacil, a boyhood fan who previously played for the club, worked as a youth coach, bossed the B team, and served as assistant manager. Since embarking on a coaching career in 2011, Real Sociedad is all he has known.
Alguacil led the club to the Copa del Rey in 2019/20 (although the final, against Athletic Bilbao of all teams, was not held until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic). It was a huge moment for Real Sociedad, who had not won a trophy since 1987.
In 2020/21 they finished fifth in La Liga, before slipping down to sixth last year. This time around, there is a genuine belief that Real Sociedad can qualify for the Champions League, particularly as the likes of Sevilla, Valencia, and Atletico are doing worse than expected after 16 rounds of fixtures.
Athletic Bilbao might sit seventh in the standings heading into the weekend, but they too are very much in the race for the top four. Ernesto Valverde’s side are just two points adrift of Real Betis and they could theoretically climb into the Champions League spots in the coming days.
At their best, Athletic have always been a nightmare to play against. The San Mames is home to one of the best atmospheres in Spain, while a penchant for blood-and-thunder soccer means the most successful Athletic teams have mixed technical skill with physical strength.
Athletic have certainly been difficult opponents this term. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid have lost fewer games. Only Barcelona, Villarreal, and Real Betis have conceded fewer goals.
Meanwhile, three of Athletic’s four defeats have been by a slender single-goal margin; the exception was a 4-0 thumping by Barcelona, Valverde’s former employers, at Camp Nou in October.
Athletic’s form of late has been a little patchy, however. They have not won back-to-back games since a three-match winning streak in September.
A 0-0 draw with Real Betis shortly after Christmas was a decent result on the road, but Athletic were then held to a goalless tie at home to Osasuna last time out. Valverde’s side need to turn more draws into wins if they are to finish in the top four.
The Basque derby is one of the biggest occasions in Spanish soccer. Few parts of the country are as passionate about the game as the Basque Country, where there is a particularly strong sense of regional identity.
For instance, Athletic Bilbao has a unique policy that sees the club exclusively employ players who were either born or bred in the Basque Country or have family heritage there. It remains a remarkable feat that Athletic regularly finish in the top half of the La Liga table while sticking to these traditions, which date all the way back to 1912.
Real Sociedad do not have a formal regulation of that kind, but they too put great emphasis on the production of players in their academy. And compared to most other clubs in La Liga, there are very few foreigners in la Real’s squad.
Both sides have passionate fan bases and we can expect plenty of noise and color at the Reale Arena on Saturday.
On the pitch, two excellent teams could produce an entertaining match for neutrals everywhere to enjoy. With neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid in action, this is the highlight of the La Liga weekend.
On balance, we favor Real Sociedad in this one. Athletic have won only two of seven away games this term, and remain considerably stronger at San Mames than elsewhere.
Alguacil’s side will be full of confidence after three wins on the spin, while their knack for edging tight matches could come into play.
Athletic will give this everything they have got, and their mean defense is never easy to penetrate. Even so, we recommend backing Real Sociedad to win the first edition of the Basque derby of the 2022/23 campaign.
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Teams: Real Sociedad vs Athletic Bilbao
Location: Reale Arena, San Sebastian, Spain
Time: Saturday 14 January 2023, 3.00 PM EST
How to Watch: ESPN+
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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