Ignore El Clásico: the Basque derby is the most wonderful match you can watch as a supporter in Spain. It is a tribute to fair play; the most intense game on the pitch and the biggest football party off it, with both sets of fans dancing, singing, drinking and even watching the match in the stadium together.
It is a Basque version of when Liverpool and Everton meet in the Merseyside derby, but raised to the Nth degree. An image after the final whistle was worth a thousand words: Athletic's Aritz Aduriz and Iñigo Martínez of Real Sociedad left the pitch hugging after fighting tooth and nail for 90 minutes. During the match, both men elbowed the other and received yellow cards when they clashed heads in the opening minutes of the game. In the end, it was all forgotten.
All the title contenders won their matches on Saturday (15 October) with Real Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid – who lead La Liga – picking up three points. Athletic needed to keep the pace. They did that, beating Real Sociedad 3-2. The Lions roared again in a game that could have been worse for the San Sebastian side. Goalkeeper Gero Rulli, the hero for the visiting team, prevented his side from conceding four more goals. In fact, he almost put the icing on the cake to his superb performance when he came close to scoring dramatic equaliser in the last seconds of the match. In his narrow miss, he also made a small piece of La Liga history when he became the first goalkeeper to be ruled offside in his attempts to bundle the ball home, according to Onda Cero.
The game started with an unexpected goal for Real Sociedad, who took the lead when Zurutuza volleyed Xabi Prieto's corner home in the 17th minute. Athletic, the most powerful team in La Liga when it comes to set pieces, did not expect such a bad start and it seemed that the game was going to follow a familiar pattern, with Real Sociedad undefeated against their arch-rivals over the last four seasons. Athletic then woke up and began playing with the virtues that have been fundamental throughout their 118-year history; bravery, constant attack, pride, restless heart and spirit.
Athletic's supporters, the loudest in the league, lifted their team and it was Iker Muniain, rising from the ashes after a long-term knee injury, who equalised with a superb goal from outside of the box. From there on, their dominance grew. Aritz Aduriz, lord and master of La Liga, was a constant threat and made the most of a defensive mistake to score his fifth of the season in the 60th minute, before teeing up Williams for the third 12 minutes later.
Athletic ended the game with 10 homegrown players on the pitch, while half of Real Sociedad's team consisted of footballers grown in other academies. This shows the difference between a club who keeps the scent of their history and a nouveau riche side who are still struggling to solve their problems with cash alone. That is why Real Sociedad are just three points off the relegation zone after spending more than €70m in the last three summers while Athletic are one point off Barcelona with a team solely made up of Basque players – having also not signed a single player during the summer transfer window. That is why Athletic has managed to finish 18 of the last 20 seasons above their arch=rivals, whereas Real Sociedad have spent three of the last 10 seasons in the second division. Believe in your history, or betray your idiosyncrasies.
"My players showed personality in this game," highlighted Eusebio in the post-match conference, despite the fact that Real Sociedad's eleven players disappeared in front of 55,000 supporters in San Mames as if it was David Copperfield's latest trick. That is maybe explanation for the vast difference between the best Basque club and Real Sociedad. A world class manager –Athletic's Ernesto Valverde, coherent in his speech and his decisions, and a non-experienced coach who never admits his own mistakes.