Real Madrid will look to lift the trophy for the 12th time in their history after their narrow 3-2 win against arch-rivals FC Barcelona on Wednesday while reigning champions Athletic aim to repeat last season’s surprise win over Barca to lift the trophy for the fourth time in their history.
Morale is high in the camp of the Basque team after they showed personality to come back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 against Atletico Madrid.
That win partly inspired by 19-year-old Nico Williams, the younger brother of Athletic’s striker Inaki Williams, could well have earned himself a place in the starting 11 after his livewire 30-minute cameo, which saw him force the corner that led to Yeray Alvarez heading in the equalizing goal while scoring the second himself.
Whether or not the youngster plays will depend on whether coach Marcelino Garcia Toral opts to start with him or Alex Berenguer or Oier Zarraga on the right to help protect against Vinicius Jr, whose pace on the break is one of Real Madrid’s main weapons. Meanwhile, Mikel Vesga has options of starting alongside Dani Garcia in the Athletic midfield, reports Xinhua.
The last time Athletic played Real Madrid in a final was in 1958 when a team known as the ’11 Villagers’ (11 Aldeanos), because they were all born within 40 kilometres of Bilbao, won 2-0 under the nose of General Franco in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Although they narrowly lost both of their league meetings with Real Madrid this season (1-0 and 2-1), Athletic deserved at least a draw from both matches.
Karim Benzema has scored all three of Madrid’s goals against the Basque side this season and along with Vinicius and Luka Modric, he will be Real Madrid’s main threat again this time.
There are some doubts in the Madrid camp after right-back Dani Carvajal tested positive for Covid-19, and although most members of the Madrid squad have had the virus in recent months, there are worries that more players could be infected between now and Sunday’s game.
Vinicius, Modric and Benzema all ended Wednesday’s marathon semi-final against Barca with physical problems, but all are expected to be fit for Sunday and there is a chance David Alaba could return in central defense after missing out in midweek with a muscle problem.
Real Madrid will be favourites going into the ground and will have the backing of nearly all of the fans in Riyadh, but Barca were favorites in last season’s final and the trophy went to ‘Los Leones.’