Most attention and eyes will turn to Spurs-ManUtd today, but it’s also quite a derby day. A triple-header of hotly contested derbies with long histories, and turns out all of them are consquential to the standings in their respective leagues:
Tyne-Wear Derby: Newcastle vs. Sunderland (7amET, FSP): #6 in the Premier League hosts #8. Newcastle had been as high as 3rd as late as December, playing an attractive brand of football built around a contingent of Frenchmen, which gave rise to talk of a “French Revolution” on Tyne, led by deep-lying playmaker Yohan Cabaye. Sunderland meanwhile sank to close to the relegation zone, before sacking Steve Bruce and replacing him with Martin O’Neill. They’ve since remarkably resurrected themselves, to the point that they would close the gap with their rivals to only 3 points with an away victory today.
Derby della Capitale: Roma vs. Lazio (9amET, FSC & ESPN3.com): The two Roman sides are both battling for a Champions League spot. Roma sits in 6th place, 7 points behind 4th place Lazio. Out of solidarity with our friend Simeone, we’re supporters of La Magica Roma, and especially this season as we’re interested in seeing Roma’s Luis Enrique experiment succeed. For background, read SerieAWeekly’s match preivew, on how “Giallorossi’s Future Entwined To That of Enrique’s.” Slightly more dated, read Zonal Marking’s 10-point analysis of “How effectively is Luis Enrique implementing the Barcelona methods at Roma” (who in turn links to this James Horncastle piece from last August, when the surprise hire was announced.
Euskal Derbia: Athletic Bilbao vs Real Sociedad (10amET, ESPN Deportes & ESPN3.com): Of these three, this is the one we’d like to have experienced in person today. The last Basque derby in that cathedral of Basque football, San Mames. Here’s SpanishFootball.info on the derby, from a list of 5 “alternative derbies” for those of us suffering frm Clasico overload:
The Basque derby returned last season but it’s still a game worth looking out for. Possibly the friendliest rivalry in the league, whether in San Sebástian or Bilbao the game is guaranteed to sell out with one of the biggest visiting supports in Spain. Expect to see couples, friends and families with different loyalties sitting together. Both stadiums will be a mesh of the red and white of Athletic and the blue and white of the Txuri-urdin, as well as the green, white and red of the Ikurrina (the flag of the Basque Country). All of that being said, the result most certainly matters. The teams may not hate each other but local pride is at stake as Bizkaia takes on Gipuzkoa and both sides want to win it. Next season’s fixture in San Mamés will definitely be worth catching as it will be the last ever Basque derby in Athletic’s historic stadium.
That Sid Lowe SI column, about Athletic’s Copa del Rey match against Mirandes from a few weeks ago, is so good that we can’t resist quoting from it at length:
The symbolism was intense, as it always is at San Mamés. From the approach to the ground along Calle Pozas, narrow and straight, bars all along the way, red and white flags from every balcony — a tunnel toward the ground with Athletic’s badge painted big and bold in on the side, pulling you in; to the hundreds of photographs in black and white, sepia and colour and the stuffed lion that prowls the directors’ box, brought back from Tanzania (Athletic are nicknamed the lions). From the men on the gate in their traditional Basque berets to the careful attention to detail in the club’s museum, nowhere exudes history — or pride, or identity — like Athletic’s stadium.
They call San Mamés ‘The Cathedral,’ in almost reverential respect. Its stands are uneven, crumbling in places, and old-fashioned. They are steep, but close to the pitch. It is a proper soccer ground, like something from a different era; it is also part of the action. It is often said that soccer is like a religion: in many ways it is, and that is not always a good thing. Other times, the phrase is an empty cliché. At Athletic, it feels more just somehow. “Sometimes,” noted Robert Basic in the Basque newspaper El Correo, “you can touch the sentiment.”
The liturgy of San Mamés is unmatched by any arena in the world. There is a hint of it at Anfield, with the sign in the tunnel, the Kop and its hymn, You’ll Never Walk Alone. But even that is not quite the same. This is a community of the faithful, and the communion between players and fans is palpable. Yes, it is easy to get emotional and misty eyed, to exaggerate or see meaning where there is none; but it is hard to visit San Mamés and not feel it. On nights like the Copa del Rey semifinal, it is impossible.
“I had been told about it,” said Marcelo Bielsa, the coach, “but it is one thing to be told, another to experience it. It was wonderful. I had never seen a stadium so involved, so influential, so joyous. It is a lovely sensation when football produces such emotion.”
Read the whole damn thing: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/sid_lowe/02/08/San-Mames-sendoff/index.html#ixzz1oA1QbQAJ