Getty Images

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

While Marcelino was able to make his name at Villarreal, a trophy eluded him. But he finally broke through and won his first major piece of silverware, taking home 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 those two losses came in the space of two weeks thanks to COVID-19 scheduling complications) before taking home the Spanish Super Cup last season.

With a 2-2 record in finals, Marcelino always has his team competing and can be tricky to break down.

Here's what Real Madrid need to prepare for:

1) Possession doesn't matter to them

Marcelino isn't worried about having the ball. In their two last La Liga wins, against Osasuna and Real Betis, they lost the battle of possession playing 43% and 43.9% of the passes respectively but secured the points. Same goes for the semifinal win over Atletico. In fact, they've only won both the possession battle and the game twice all season. Keeping the ball from Real is virtually impossible unless you are, say, Bayern Munich or Manchester City. Real have had more possession in 14 of their last 15 games, and Marcelino will tell his team to prioritize defending rather than aim to control the ball.

2) The counterattack to be their man option

Conceding possession means Athletic will mainly sit back, and their main avenue of attack will be via the counter. With speedy players like Inaki Williams and his brother Nico, Athletic will aim to get the ball out of the back quickly and forward over the top or on the ground down the flanks. That transition from defending to attack is something this team often does well, and with Real often pushing so many players forward, it's where they may have their best chances. Keeping a tad of shape defensively for Real will be key. Athletic try to move the ball into the penalty box with single minded focus. In fact, 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) Careful on the set pieces

Real Madrid will feel confident in defending any set piece, especially with towering goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. But this is a backline not as big as in the past, trading the height of Sergio Ramos (6-foot-0) and especially Raphael Varane (6-foot-3) for Nacho (5-foot-11) and Eder Militao (6-foot-1). All Real need to do is look to Athletic's semifinal win over Atleti, where they came from behind and scored on two corner kicks. Not only will Real need to be sharp on the initial ball, but they have to avoid the error of Atleti in failing to close down on any second chances. Athletic average 4.1 shots per match off of dead ball situations (free kicks, corners, and throw-ins) which is the most in La Liga. But, and this is important for Real to recognize, it's not all about putting it into the mixer and thundering home headers. Athletic create a lot of shots from set plays 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 cleverly work it to feet and beat you that way.

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