This weekend was a multiple-derby theme, on the third ‘jornada’ of La Liga. There’s nothing like a good variety of derby-fests to fill the fans full of late summer cheer, especially with a fortnight’s break looming for the internationals (and an interesting game for Spain at Wembley ).
The Spanish have adopted the term ‘derby’ and re-spelt it ‘derbi’ although they seem generally unaware of the etymology of the word. In the past it was sometimes used more loosely to simply refer to any big game, to the extent that even the ‘clásico’ was called a derbi by some. But with the new globalised reach of LaLiga (without a space) the term clásico has stuck. The derbies, however, now conform to the accepted idea of being either a same-city encounter (Betis v Sevilla) or a same-region game (Eibar v Real Sociedad). This weekend saw two same-city clashes, one regional affair, and one in-between-the-categories affair, in an unusual cluster of fraternal frolicking.
The opening Friday frolic was in Ipurua at the witching hour of 22.00, up among the brooding Mordor mountains of Eibar, where big-city bro Real Sociedad had chugged up by coach from the Shire in the east, on the coast and half an hour away from Mordor. This derby is of the regional variety, in the sense that both inhabit the autonomous region of the Basque Country but also in the sense that the two clubs reside in the Gipuzkoa region, a province with 700,000 people and a long history of producing great players. Eibar were once a feeder team for Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao (who inhabit the Bizkaia region, population 1.2 million), but are now equal partners, at least in theory. They finished top of the ‘Basque League’ last season for the first ever time, but the rivalry is a friendly one and there is no animosity between the clubs.
I wandered around the darkened hilly streets before the game, dimly illuminated by the reach of the new floodlights at Ipurua. There was nothing but friendly pavement chat, shirt-together selfies and a constant murmur of pre-match beer banter, clinking glasses and the standard phrase ‘¿Qué vas a tomar?’ (What are you drinking?). In short -I guess how every derby should be – convivial and entirely devoid of trouble.
Eibar’s badger-rough friendliness generally extends to the games too, and their 2-1 victory, snatched in the final minute when Sociedad were down to 10 men had them dancing in the rafters – but Charles’ goal and their first three points, were never accompanied by any ‘yah-boo’ sort of middle-fingering behind the celebrations.
That makes two consecutive games where I’ve travelled to see Sociedad and seen them concede in the final minute, but at least this time I managed it on a freebie press pass. Analysis? Game of two halves. A draw would have been a reasonable reflection of the play, but Sociedad continue to renounce possession under their new coach, possibly because of the three consecutive away games and the defensive mentality that might incur, but it doesn’t suit some of the players. Eibar will be ok, on slightly fewer resources than least season. Their new guy from Barça B, Marc Cardona, scored and looked a bit useful. LaLiga/La Liga needs Eibar, with or without a space.
Next one up was Real Madrid v Leganés on Saturday night, and although my esteemed colleague Ed Alvarez tweeted that he refused to consider the game a Madrid-city derby, I suppose you could extend it to ‘regional’ or something half-way between. Leganés is 14kms from the centre of Madrid and as I witnessed last week, is very much a place with its own identity, perhaps explaining Ed’s ‘derby’ reluctance. There were ‘only’ 60,000 at the game too, 12,000 up on last game but still a poor attendance for a sort-of-local clash.
Leganés threatened to spoil the party (as they have done before at the Bernabéu) after they equalised to a dubious-looking penalty, but once Madrid got the pistons pumping, there was little chance of an upset. The 4-1 win could have been more substantial, but the nine points from 3 games and the alleged liberation that Benzema and Bale are experiencing has now made its way to the Madrid press, finally allowing themselves the luxury of pointing out the darker side of Ronaldo’s legacy. The fact that they never did this when the gelled one was around was probably because they feared for their jobs, such was the man’s pervasive influence. However, one swallow doth not a cliché make, and Madrid’s opening games (Getafe, Girona and Leganés) have not exactly been toughies. They look good, yes, and Lopetegui seems to be bent on giving folks like Ceballos some playing time (good idea), but I’d prefer to hold back any analysis until a few weeks into the late autumn.
Number 3 in the series was Levante v Valencia, a city derby with more legs and tradition than either of the former two, and apart from the fifteen consecutive games played since 2010 when Levante returned to the top flight, the first match between them goes back to 1920. The first league derby was in 1963, but although I don’t want to drown you in stats, Levante haven’t won at Valencia’s ground since 1937. They tend to fare better at home, and the 2-2 draw will probably be seen as a decent achievement, given the giddy predictions being made for their neighbours this season. Levante won their opening game with a bumper 0-3 at Betis though, and despite last week’s stumble at home to Celta, they’re looking decent.
Folks forget, but Levante, founded in 1909, were the first major side in the city (with apologies to Cabanyal, their predecessors), their posher neighbours Valencia being born relatively late for such a major side, in 1920. Levante’s first ground, down by the docks, ensured that they would become the ‘working-class’ side of the city, and Valencia the richer come-lately moneyed upstarts. With social configurations changing so easily in cities over time, these divisions do not necessarily withstand real sociological analysis, but as long as the traditions persist, people believe in them. Anyway, the game was bizarrely scheduled for midday on Sunday, when the heat and humidity is at its height, and sure enough, the players looked like zombies at the end. Check out Bardhi’s pass to Roger for the second Levante goal. Assist of the season? Sure is so far.
Last but not least, one of football’s great derbies, as much for noise as for tradition, and a bewildering and interesting subject for any would-be authors out there. Betis v Sevilla ended 1-0 to the hosts, with the goal scored by none other than the great legend Joaquin in the 80th minute, a goal which predictably brought the house down. You sort of wish you’d been there, and I pledge to wangle a seat next season. Roque Mesa’s sending-off 20 minutes before the end didn’t help matters, particularly as his side had played last Thursday too, in their Europa League qualifier against Sigma. Talking of which, that Betis v Milan game in the Europa League should be an interesting one, but meanwhile Betis will need to build on these three points to justify the pre-season hype.
Nobody was hyping little Huesca much before the campaign began (apart from the wise scribes at Liga Fever, ahem), but their great start (win at Eibar, draw at Bilbao) always looked like a good way of getting some points before visiting the Camp Nou. Interestingly, the last (and only time they went there) was in 2015 for a King’s Cup tie (they’d lost 0-4 at home) but they trudged off the pitch after an 8-1 loss – understandable given they were in the Second Division ‘B’ at the time. Hence one has to say that the 8-2 loss on Sunday night represented something of an improvement, although they did score the first goal, in the second minute, and were only trailing 3-2 at half-time. Welcome to the top flight, I guess, but I still think that if they can recover from the psychological blow, they’ll be ok. There’s some steel about them which will upset lesser sides than Barça, now league leaders on goal difference from Real Madrid. Their next two games will be at home too, after their temporary exile because of work on their stadium. Next up are Rayo, also exiled from home due to stadium problems with the other nomads Real Sociedad due the week after. I promise not to go.