Real Madrid v Athletic Club: What Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior and company can expect from Marcelino’s men

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Real Madrid enter the 2021-22 Spanish Super Cup final as heavy favorites against Athletic Club, and it’s easy to see why. Los Blancos lead La Liga, they play as Champions League contenders, and on the other side are club Bilbao who are drifting towards mid-table in the Spanish top flight looking for some form of consistency. But it probably won’t be an easy task for Carlo Ancelotti’s men if Marcelino has prepared his squad and is on the same page.

While Marcelino was able to make a name for himself at Villarreal, a trophy eluded him. But he finally broke through and won his first major piece of silverware, winning the Copa del Rey with Valencia in 2019, beating Lionel Messi and Barcelona.

Since then that cup final experience has continued, losing the Copa del Rey final in 2020, losing it again in 2021 (somewhat confusingly, both of these defeats came in the space of two weeks thanks to complications COVID-19 schedule) before bringing the Spaniard home. Super Cup last season.

With a 2-2 record in the final, Marcelino still has his team competing and can be tough to break.

Here’s what Real Madrid need to prepare for:

1) Possession doesn’t matter to them

Marcelino is not afraid to have the ball. In their last two La Liga wins, against Osasuna and Real Betis, they lost the possession battle playing 43% and 43.9% of the passes respectively but got the points. The same goes for the semi-final victory against Atletico. In fact, they only won the battle for possession and the game twice during the season. Keeping possession of the Real Madrid ball is practically impossible unless you are, for example, Bayern Munich or Manchester City. Real have had more ball possession in 14 of their last 15 games, and Marcelino will tell his side to prioritize defense over aiming for ball control.

2) Counterattack to be their man option

Conceding possession means Athletic will mostly stay seated and their primary avenue of attack will be through the counter. With fast players like Inaki Williams and his brother Nico, Athletic will aim to get the ball out of the back quickly and drive it over or on the ground to the flanks. This transition from defense to attack is something this team often does well, and with Real often pushing so many players forward, this is where they can have their best chances. Keeping some form defensively for Real will be key. Athletic tries to move the ball into the penalty area with single concentration. Indeed, 69.6% of their shots come from inside the penalty area, the second highest total in La Liga, ahead of Real Madrid who only manage 61.6%.

3) Watch out for set pieces

Real Madrid will feel confident defending any free-kick, especially with towering keeper Thibaut Courtois. But it’s a less important backline than in the past, swapping the height of Sergio Ramos (6ft 0) and especially Raphael Varane (6ft 3in) for Nacho (5ft 11in) and Eder Militao (6 feet 1). All Real have to do is look to Athletic’s semi-final win over Atleti where they came from behind and scored from two corner kicks. Not only will Real need to be precise on the initial ball, they need to avoid Atleti’s mistake by not trying hard to close on a second chance. Athletic average of 4.1 shots per game excluding dead ball situations (free kicks, corners and throw-ins), which is the highest in La Liga. But, and it’s important for Real to recognize, it’s not just about putting it in the mixer and thundering house headers. The Athletics creates a lot of shots from set pieces, but only 36.8% of those shots are headers. There are 11 other teams in Spain who take a higher percentage of set pieces with their heads. When it comes to set plays, Athletic are just as likely to work smart on the feet and beat you that way.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the match live on fuboTV (Try for free).

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