Real Sociedad host Athletic Bilbao in a delicious Basque derby on Saturday, with the aim of tightening their hold on third place in La Liga.
Having played to a top four finish in recent seasons, but ultimately without the stamina to hold on to it, Imanol Alguacil hopes things can be different this campaign.
The coach has been at the club for a decade as a player and has taken him to sixth place in 2020 and 2022, and fifth in 2021.
With veteran David Silva still pulling the strings, Brais Mendez on fire, Takefusa Kubo finding his spark again and Alexander Sorloth in top form, La Real are poised to join the title race, nine points behind leaders Barcelona after 16 games.
The Basque team is undefeated in its last seven official matches and has been boosted by the return of striker Mikel Oyarzabal after a long absence due to injury.
Alguacil led Real Sociedad to their first trophy since 1987 when he guided them to the Spanish Cup in 2021, beating rivals Athletic 1-0, and they have a growing taste for success.
Their Bilbao rivals are also improving, enjoying a strong campaign under former Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde.
They are looking to dampen the excitement in San Sebastian and celebrate what will be an impressive milestone for captain Iker Muniain.
The midfielder tied last week with 514 appearances for the club’s third most appearances, Joseba Etxeberria, and can surpass him on Saturday.
Athletic is seventh and only two points out of the first four, six behind Real Sociedad.
All eyes in Spain will be on the Basque derby, and not just because Real Madrid and Barcelona’s matches are postponed due to their participation in the Spanish Super Cup.
The players are also enjoying what will be an exciting clash.
“I wish this game would come, it’s a derby and when the calendar comes out there are some games you already want to happen,” Sorloth said.
Real Sociedad are favorites for the match, partly because of the masterful Silva, who scored against Almería last weekend.
Mendez, who is well rested after missing that match due to suspension, praised the 37-year-old, known as the “wizard.”
“Since I arrived they call him ‘magician,’” Méndez told Radio Marca.
“The truth is that what he does is magic, and it’s a nice nickname and what they call him in training.”
Mendez is having the best season of his career and says he is benefiting from the former Manchester City star.
“I learn every day from him, he is an example in every way,” Méndez added.
“He has spent many years showing how good he is and the most impressive thing is to see him every day, watch him train and see how involved he is and how much he pushes.
He gives his all in each training session and is an example that we all follow.”
Player to watch: Gerard Moreno
The Villarreal striker has reached his prime after returning from injury, scoring a penalty against Real Madrid last week in the surprise win for the Yellow Submarine. The striker moved brilliantly, creating a headache for the Los Blancos defense and also set up Yeremy Pino’s first goal. Moreno will look to continue his fine form against Celta Vigo on Friday as Quique Setién’s side look for a seventh successive win in all competitions.
7 – Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino leads the assist table with seven in LaLiga
13 – Luis Henrique’s brilliant solo goal against Rayo Vallecano last weekend helped him become the 13th Brazilian player to score for Real Betis.
107 – Aleix García has hit 107 crosses for Girona this season, one of his key weapons – no other player has tried more
Calendar (all times GMT)
Celtic of Vigo-Villarreal (2000)
Real Valladolid-Rayo Vallecano (1300), Girona-Seville (1515), Osasuna-Mallorca (1730) Real Sociedad-Athletic Bilbao (2000)
Getafe – Espanyol (1300), Almería – Atlético de Madrid (1515)
Cádiz v Elche (2000)