Real Sociedad vs Athletic Bilbao preview - Valverde can't wait for derby clash

Posted Sunday, January 05, 2014 by PA

Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde believes everything is in place for Sunday's Basque derby against Real Sociedad to be one of the most exciting in recent history.

Just four points separate fourth-placed Athletic from La Real, who are one place below their neighbours and have their sights set on unseating them in the final Champions League spot.

And both teams are in sensational form heading into the match.

Jagoba Arrasate's side have won all of their last four matches, scoring 14 goals in the process, while Athletic are unbeaten in their previous five games.

"It's a very attractive game and has all the conditions that we would like the derby to have every year," Valverde told a press conference.

Valverde has plenty of experience of Basque derbies both as an Athletic player and in his first stint as club coach between 2003 and 2005, but Arrasate is looking forward to his first such match as head coach of La Real.

"Of course it will be a special game for me," he said. "The derby is the game you look for every year when the fixture list is released and it's even more special if you win. But once the game starts you forget it's a derby and just focus on getting your team to play as well as possible."

Arrasate also recognised that Athletic are a far better team this season under Valverde than they were last year under Marcelo Bielsa.

He said: "Athletic are a good team, they are fourth on their own merits, they are picking up more points than they did last season, they don't leave themselves as exposed as they used to and they have one of the best defences around."

But he added: "They will be very difficult opponents but, as I always say, if we play as well as we know we can, we'll have a good chance of winning."

Dani Estrada and David Zurutuza have both failed to recover from injury in time for the game for La Real but Carlos Martinez and Xabi Prieto passed late fitness tests to make the squad.

Athletic have a full squad to choose from but Valverde believes Sociedad will have a slight edge in the game because they will be at home and are therefore "more obliged to win".

However, Arrasate insisted: "I haven't wasted any time worrying about if we are the favourites because we're playing at Anoeta. It's a derby, both teams are doing really well and it will be an intense and competitive game."

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