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Madrid find it easy to believe. Look at the table, his scores for the season and Benzema and Vinicius and he’s almost done (follow the match live on As.com). It costs Athletic more, but it also has arguments to defend its Super Cup title in Riyadh: a magnificent litter of puppies, two defeats by a tube against this Supermadrid in the last month and a half, his competitiveness in sprint tournaments and his ability to overcome adversity. The 1958 Cup final, the last between the two, is his mirror. Directed by Baltasar Albeniz, he played it at the Bernabéu and against a European and League champion Madrid that had thrashed him in Chamartín (6-0, with a goal from Marsal that had been talked about for years) and also won in San Mamés (0 -two). Athletic would prevail in the final (2-0) and its president at the time, Enrique Guzmán, would leave a phrase for history: “With eleven villagers we passed them through the stone”.

Today there are other villagers, but Athletic maintains its status as the irreducible Gallic village of world football with enormous decorum. And the litter of puppies promises. For many, it will be the best in decades. Twelve of its players are under 25 years of age and some have made the leap: Vencedor, an irreplaceable midfielder who couldn’t even travel due to injury; Vivian, central for years; Sancet, the team’s second scorer; Nico Williams, who is predicted an even better future than his brother’s; Nico Serrano, the genius to come… All led by Marcelino, a very effective coach in short efforts. He arrived a year ago, took the tenth team, left it in the same place at the end of the year and is now ninth. There has been no improvement there, but in that time the team has put the team in three finals (two Super Cup and one Cup) and inherited another (the Copa del Rey against Real, which Garitano reached and had to play a year later).

The stopped ball

He will propose the game that he least likes to Madrid. It will be a team that waits before another that likes to wait with an immovable drawing (4-4-2) and transparent in its objectives. He defends a lotwith 17 goals it is the second least vulnerable team in the League), he plays space (nobody counterattacks more, although he is close to the tail in the culmination with a shot), he presses up, he knows how to live with his back to the ball (he does not reach 48% of possession) and It is devastating from set pieces (he is the one who scores the most goals and concedes the least in LaLiga). Atlético knows it well, they took that bait.

The Williams brothers, during the last Athletic training session.

Marcelino’s eleven, who in six duels has not beaten Ancelotti, will not change much compared to Thursday. One of the doubts is whether he will repeat with Berenguer, who has not scored a goal all season, or it will be decided by Nico Williams, author of three goals in the last three games. The other, if Yuri, who played his first minutes of the season against Atlético, will take away Balenziaga’s place. All under the tutelage of Munian, perhaps at the best moment of his career: two goals, six assists and participation in 60% of the team’s goals (Benzema is at 62% and Vinicius at 53%).

El factor Karim

A good Athletic whipped for 13 years by Benzema. The Frenchman has scored more goals against no one, 17, nine of them in the last three years, three in this season. In other words, things are going to get better, as the player’s career is going to get better when his age should indicate the opposite. “I have become the nine I always wanted to be.” He has 23 goals in the course and all of Athletic, 24. The fear is justified.

Benzema, before the poster that recognized him as MVP of the match against Barcelona.

The Frenchman will lead Madrid’s attack, accompanied by Vinicius and by Rodrygo (Asensio did not train yesterday), with the header midfield and one or two changes in defense: Alaba, who wore a spectacular bandage on one calf, will be in doubt until the end, and Lucas Vázquez will take over from Carvajal, who is out due to COVID. Six years have passed since Rafa Benítez first employed him as a winger. He had arrived the previous summer as a winger, but the losses in defense took him there. Little by little he was displacing other Carvajal replacements (Arbeloa, Odriozola…) and now it is almost his main position. Zidane and Ancelotti feel safe with him there. Only one year since he returned to Madrid has he played less than 30 games.

the second classic

COVID has kept the team on edge since Carvajal’s positive, but it has saved the crisis. In the last game of the year, in San Mamés, eight were missing due to contagion (plus three due to sanction or injury). Then Jovic and Vinicius fell. For that duel, Athletic was left without its two internationals, Unai Simón and Iñigo Martínez, for the same reason. Everyone will be ready today.

In favor of Athletic is the fatigue factor. It is true that he has 24 hours less rest, but Madrid has an extension and six more games. Up to six white players have already played more than 2,000 minutes. Athletic’s most punished, Iñaki Williams, stays at 1,747.

Athletic and Madrid have played 239 games in what is the second most repeated duel in Spanish football, only behind the Clásico, and they have played eight finals, six won by the people from Bilbao. But Madrid is a specialist in the days of truth: ten wins in their last eleven finals. Today, with his violins, he hopes to dethrone Athletic, but Villalibre’s trumpet is also in tune.