It was a night of revelry in San Sebastián as Real Sociedad rolled over its fiercest rival and celebrated one of its most beloved players scoring his first goal since a long injury layoff.
Mikel Oyarzabal netted his first goal in 10 months after recently returning from a serious knee injury to seal a 3-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao in the Basque Country’s top regional derby on Saturday.
Takefusa Kubo featured for Sociedad with a goal to make it 2-0 after Alexander Sorloth opened the scoring. The Japan winger also earned a penalty that left Bilbao a man down and sent Oyarzabal to the spot to successfully convert.
A fourth straight win in the Spanish league strengthened third-placed Sociedad’s hold on a Champions League spot.
It may still be too early to consider Imanol Alguacil’s team a contender for the Liga title, but the victory closed the gap with second-placed Real Madrid to three points and leader Barcelona to six.
“Happy for Mikel, for our team and for our fans,” Alguacil said. “I have to thank our fans for being behind us from minute one to minute 90. It is great news that Mikel is back.”
Sorloth revved up the raucous Reale Arena crowd when he won a high ball between two defenders and fired past Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon in the 25th minute. The Norwegian striker has 11 goals in all competitions, compared to eight in all of 2021-22.
Kubo added a second goal in the 37th after being set up by David Silva. The former Manchester City playmaker robbed the ball from Mikel Vesga and played Kubo clear to slip the ball between the legs of Daniel Vivian and beat Simón.
Bilbao’s Oihan Sancet pulled one back in the 41st from a tight angle.
But Kubo helped restore the two-goal lead after he intercepted an errant pass by Nico Williams back toward his defense. Kubo was shoved down in the box by Yeray Álvarez, who was issued a direct red card.
Oyarzabal, who replaced the injured Sorloth, drove in the 62nd-minute spot kick.
Oyarzabal was a leader of Sociedad and a regular Spain player before he tore a ligament in his left knee in March, ruling him out of the World Cup. The striker etched his name into the history of the Basque Country derby when he scored the only goal of Sociedad’s 1-0 win over Bilbao in the 2020 Copa del Rey final.
“(This is) pure joy,” Oyarzabal said. “Goals are important for any forward, but the most important thing was all the rest, winning and winning the way we did, playing better than they did in almost every aspect. The entire stadium, all our fans, are behind us, and the team is playing well, beyond just getting good results.”
Bilbao slipped to eighth place after the defeat.
“We are upset for how the game went, because it was evenly contested,” Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde said. “They took advantage of our mistakes, but we reacted with the 2-1. With the 3-1 it was impossible.”
Madrid and Barcelona have their games for this round delayed as they prepare to meet in the Spanish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Girona added to Sevilla’s woes by fighting back for a 2-1 win at home over Jorge Sampaoli’s struggling team.
The defeat left Sevilla, which finished fourth to qualify for the Champions League in the previous three seasons, in jeopardy of falling into the relegation zone.
Osasuna edged Mallorca 1-0 in Pamplona thanks to a goal shortly after halftime by Aimar Oroz to move into seventh.
Isi Palazón had a penalty saved before scoring to give Rayo Vallecano a 1-0 win at Valladolid.