The new season is eagerly anticipated by fans who want to see how well their club will do after their (in)activity in the transfer window and how interesting the fight for major titles will be.
The UEFA Super Cup. A genuine spectacle that will show both teams where they are at the moment in terms of their pre-season progress. This will be contested between Real Madrid (Champions League winners) and Manchester United (Europa League winners) at the Phillips II Arena, in Skopje, Macedonia.
Competitive fixture or another friendly?
Real Madrid finished 2016/17 as the best team in European football, winning a deserved double and retaining the Champions League. Key to this was the form and fitness of their star players.
Since the inception of the Super Cup, it has always been one way; the victors of the tie are usually the Champions League holders.
It’s down to the fairly friendly nature of the fixture and the fact that Europa League winners simply aren’t as good as those that win the Champions League, except for rare cases of upset.
For example, in 2012 when a Radamel Falcao-inspired Atletico Madrid demolished the then European champions Chelsea by a 4-1 scoreline in game that sent shock waves across the continent.
On this occasion however, the opponent is Manchester United, a club that has always seen themselves in the top echelon of football, but has lost their aura since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
A win for them would signal a club on the up, but a lot of factors would determine if they win or not.
No Ronaldo, no problem?
Real Madrid have had to endure a rather atrocious pre-season, as they failed to win any game in normal time.
A lot of blame has been dropped at the feet of the attack by the fans, though it must be said
that they looked toothless without the presence of a target man, a role Ronaldo played with aplomb last season.
A player who would have done well in the position, Alvaro Morata, has been sold to Chelsea and has not been replaced as of yet.
Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid has been tailored to suit a target man, not least with the amount of crosses the fullbacks send in on a regular basis. Without that type of player, the team looks a bit lost, with nobody willing to take a leading role in the game and do something to influence proceedings.
The fullbacks and midfielders can only do so much if they don’t have someone up front converting the chances they create to goals. With rumours that Ronaldo might not be in the starting XI, Zizou must work on something that will reduce the effect of losing a target man, else it might prove to be the undoing of the team.
Mourinho’s mind games
It was widely expected at the Bernabeu that Gareth Bale would prove himself as Ronaldo’s successor during the pre-season, but on the evidence seen from the games he has played, he has been woefully short of the level expected of a Real Madrid player, let alone Ronaldo’s.
Bale doesn’t give defenders the fear factor his presence should elicit. Rather he’s seen as the weak link to the team.
“Well if [Bale is] playing tomorrow, no I wouldn’t think of that, it’s because he’s in the coach’s plans and the club’s plans. If he is not in the club’s plans, that…would mean he was on his way out.” – Mourinho on Bale’s future.
Little wonder Mourinho was trying to play mind games with Zizou, his statements indirectly urging him to start Bale or else it’ll give the English clubs more reason to sign him.
It was a ploy from the crafty Portuguese as he knows Bale won’t really trouble his defenders the way an Isco or a Marco Asensio will do.
Zidane in his ever-calm and assured manner has said he’s not going to answer him, but those comments won’t make him deviate from his game plan else he’ll be playing into Mourinho’s hands.
Real Madrid’s strength in depth
Signings have been made on both sides and they could well be the difference in the game. Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof have been astute additions that should in theory make the difference for United in the big games and the games rarely get bigger than Real Madrid.
Real Madrid’s signings have aimed to strengthen the team with young talented players like Dani Ceballos, Theo Hernandez and Marcos Llorente, who are not going to walk into the first team, but were brought in to improve the depth and ensure Zidane can rotate the team without a drop in quality.
The bench could well hold the key to winning the game and right now, Real Madrid have the upper hand.
A game of heart
Overall, all the talk about the strength of a team doesn’t really hold water when it’s a one-off game between two equally good sides. It depends on which of the teams have the greater urge to win.
This is where man-management comes into play and tactics fall out of the window. The manager who is more capable of convincing his players to give blood, sweat and tears on the pitch will, at the end, lift the trophy.
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