Spanish Supercopa Final Preview: Can Athletic Club Stun Barcelona?

Posted By Tyler Everett on January 17, 2021

Some fans might consider Sunday’s Supercopa final between Barcelona and Athletic Club a lame match-up. That’s understandable, I guess. After all, A) Barcelona just beat Athletic Club 3-2 on January 6 in a game the Catalans led 3-1 until 90th-minute goal by Athletic Club and B) this could have been a Clásico, with a trophy on the line!

But while Barcelona-Athletic Club doesn’t have quite as much juice as Barcelona-Real Madrid, this should still be a compelling final. Barcelona reached Sunday’s game by beating Real Sociedad 1 (3)- 1 (2) on penalties in one semifinal, while Athletic Club upset Real Madrid 2-1 in the other.

We’ll get to Sunday’s match, where the line is Barcelona (-136)-Athletic Club (+375), with the draw priced at +275, shortly, but it’s once again time to panic about Real Madrid*

*And inevitably feel stupid in a week or two when they’re rolling again, if this side’s recent track record is anything to go by.

Real Madrid Still Can’t Consistently Score

Just when it looked like Zinedine Zidane’s team was in a bit of a groove – they scored multiple goals in a game four times in a row from Dec. 9-23 – they entered another funk. Thursday’s Supercopa semifinal loss to Athletic Club saw RM create plenty of opportunities (21 shots, 6 on target). They had nothing to show for it, however, until Karim Benzema’s goal in the 73rd. With that many looks – and 71% possession – you’d be forgiven for writing off the 2-1 loss as a bit of a fluke.

The problem is that including that loss to Athletic Club, this team has scored just four goals in its last four games. That’s concerning regardless of the opponent, but there’s no excuse for it when the opposition in that stretch consisted of 18th-place Elche, 8th-place Celta Vigo, 19th-place Osasuna and 12th-place Athletic Club.

I’ve said the following ad nauseum over the last couple seasons, but it bears repeating. Who the hell is going to lighten the scoring load for the ageless Benzema? Or is that just never going to happen?? The French striker has eight goals and five assists this year, but still lacks a reliable complement up top.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is how Eden Hazard has largely escaped the negative spotlight despite producing next-to-nothing for the better part of two seasons now.

Oddsmakers seem to think no one’s stepping up any time soon, at least not soon enough for this team to catch Atleti atop La Liga. Los Rojiblancos are -200 to win the league, while RM is +300. Just a few short weeks ago, as we pointed out while previewing Matchday 16, Atleti and RM were co-favorites, with both priced at +120 to win the league.

Barcelona-Athletic Club Preview

Below are 3 reasons to tune in Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern on ESPN+.

The Supercopa Always Delivers

Between last year’s Supercopa final between Real Madrid and Atleti – Los Blancos raised the trophy after winning that one in PKs – and the pair of entertaining semifinal games earlier this week, the Supercopa is proving we can count on it for drama.

It also is impossible to say the teams involved don’t care, as Barcelona went with a first-choice XI in their semifinal vs. Real Sociedad. Ronald Koeman is expected to roll out his top players again on Sunday, though it’s still unclear whether red-hot Lionel Messi will be in the lineup. Minor details, right?

While covering the significance of the Supercopa final, we should mention that it was Ernesto Valverde’s loss to Atletico Madrid in last year’s semifinal vs. Atlético that proved to be his final game as Barcelona manager, even though the club was in first place in La Liga at the time.

Riqui Puig’s Time To Shine?

There’s no one Barcelona fans clamor for on Twitter more than the young midfielder. Koeman’s lack of trust in him has been a popular talking point all season long, but that may be changing. First, the Dutchman brought Puig on for Sergio Busquets after 90 minutes on Wednesday. More importantly, it was Puig who volunteered to take the decisive pen for his team. Even more importantly, he then sealed the W with a composed shot in a pressure-packed moment.

I wouldn’t necessarily bet on that leading to a string of starts for Puig — and by that I mean please don’t bet on that, under any circumstances — but he surely has at least one foot out of Koeman’s dog house after that, doesn’t he??


Another Big Moment For Marcelino

I was as impressed as anyone by the former Valencia boss’s work with that team, and sure enough, he delivered a huge upset for his new team in just his second game as manager. I’m referring, of course, to Thursday’s semifinal win over Real Madrid.

It’s hard to imagine his first three games – against Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid – going any better than they have. Luck was a factor, as the match-up vs. Atleti was postponed due to snowy conditions, but losing to Barcelona 3-2 and beating Real Madrid in your first two games is impressive.

And he’ll have Athletic Club ready for Sunday. This guy helped Valencia pull out a win over Barcelona with Valencia in the ’19 Copa del Rey final (which I called! … I realize that’s obnoxious, but I have to do this when I can). He also took an undermanned Valencia club to Champions League knockout play in ’19-20 at the expense of Ajax.

Supercopa final prediction

I won’t quite pick against Barcelona, even if Messi is unavailable, but I’d be shocked to see them win this one comfortably. Athletic Club is going to make this interesting, but Barca hasn’t lost since December 8, and I don’t see that streak ending this weekend.

I do, however, recommend a flier on the draw (after 90 minutes) at +275. And if I have to get specific, I’ll say Barcelona wins on PKs thanks to another Herculean save or two from Marc-André ter Stegen*.

The pic below, from regulation of the semifinal win over Real Sociedad, kinda says it all.

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