Match Preview: Bilbao vs Real Sociedad

Matchday 25 – Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad – Match Preview

Sunday 21st February 2016

This is likely to be a tight fixture with both teams now in the top half of the table and keen to improve their standing.  Traditionally Athletic have had the better of the derbies, winning 56 to La Real’s 45, but in recent matches Real Sociedad have had the edge. The last seven meetings have produced four draws and three wins for Real Sociedad.

You have to return to March 2013 for the most recent Athletic league Derby win, 2-0 at San Mames. History shows the Txuri-urdin have played a total of 68 league games as guests of Athletic Club, achieving a record of 12 victories, 19 draws and 37 defeats.

The teams played out a goal-less stalemate when they met in San Sebastian earlier in the season.  So which ever team wins this match will gain the head to head advantage at the final league table, should both teams finish level on points. If the match ends as a score draw, Real Sociedad will be placed above Athletic Club should they finish all square after all 38 games are completed.

Athletic currently occupy 7th place with a record of W10, D5, L9.  They have 35 points, have scored 35 goals, conceding 34.  Neighbour Real’s are now in 10th position with 30 points. Their record is W8, D6, L10, scoring and conceding 34 goals.

So it can be seen that both teams can be defensively vulnerable, but also have the capability of scoring more than once in a game.  Real have better form coming into this match but the fact it is a derby game will probably level out the issue of current form.

This match will showcase the talent of a young player from each side, both promise much for the future.  Athletic Club will look to take advantage of the pace and strength of 21 year old Inaki Williams and La Reala will hope that teenager Mikel Oyarzabal can continue his current rich vein of form.

Athletic star Williams has experienced a derby game before, having established himself in the side during the last year.  He is being closely watched by a variety of Premier League clubs who are keen to add his pace and direct play to their squad.  Mikel Oyarzabal is still finding his feet as a first team regular, but his limited game time has been enough to demonstrate his talent and huge potential. With three goals in the last two matches he looks ready to make a major contribution for many years to come.

The midfield area is likely to be the key battle ground with the clash between Benat of Athletic and Pardo of Real being a crucial factor.   Benat operates in a deeper role for Athletic, as the anchorman, since the appointment of Eusebio Sacristan, Pardo now plays in a more advanced position, and is much more influential for this shift further forward.

Benat averages 50 passes a game – 79% of which are successful.  He has four assists so far this season, and regains possession almost seven times per game.  He is a very consistent performer and can be relied on to set the tempo for his team.

Ruben Pardo’s performance levels have improved dramatically recently and he has established himself as La Liga’s top creator with seven assists.  He completes an average of 40 passes a game – with a success rate of 82%.  Under Eusebio he has also improved his game when Real don’t have possession, regaining the ball an average of 4.2 times per match. Neither Benat or Pardo have scored in a league fixture this season.

Eusebio has announced the following squad for this match:

Rulli, Olazabal, Zaldua, Elustondo, Mikel, Diego Reyes, Iñigo, De la Bella, Yuri, Markel, Pardo, Xabi Prieto, Illarra, Zurutuza, Oyarzabal, Bruma, Vela and Jonathas.

Great to see David Zurutuza back in the squad after an absence of many months.  Hector will be disappointed to have been dropped from the 18 players named. I agree that we don’t need three left backs in the squad but I think Hector deserves to have been retained in place of De la Bella.  I expect Inigo to start in central defence after his absence due to illness last week.

After three consecutive victories, Real Sociedad are beginning to look upwards at the league table, considering what could be possible if they can continue their improved form.  A win could take them up to 9th position, depending on the result of Deportivo’s match away at fast fading Espanyol. Three points for Athletic will mean they overtake Eibar and move up into 6th position in the table. Eibar have a tough away fixture at Celta Vigo later today so this could be a reasonable possibility for Athletic should they win.

Bookmakers Bet 365 offer the following odds for this match:

Athletic Bilbao to win 4/5, Draw 5/2 and Real Sociedad to win 15/4.

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