Sunday 13th August, Camp Nou (Barcelona, first-leg), Wednesday 16th August, Santiago Bernabeu Stadium (Madrid, second-leg)
What a way to start the Spanish season. Will Real Madrid continue their dominance as arguably the best team in the world at the moment? How will Barcelona cope post-Neymar era? So many questions will begin to be answered on Sunday and we’re likely to see the start of many more.
This is not a pre-season warm-up match. While the Community Shield in England may be seen as a friendly, the Spanish Super Cup is taken seriously, especially if it is Barcelona and Real Madrid taking part. Past Clasico Super Cup match-ups have produced competitive, exciting and emotional games. The second-leg of the 2011 edition comes to mind as a bad Marcelo challenge on Fabregas started a brawl between both sides and led to then Real manager Jose Mourinho poking, the then Barca assistant coach, Tito Vilanova’s eye.
Recently, the two sides met in Miami in what was really a glorified friendly match but the game was an enjoyable and competitive one as Barcelona edged out the 3-2 victory over the European champions through a 50th minute Gerard Pique goal.
There is no such thing as a friendly between these historic teams, so expect another battle.
Last Time Out
Barcelona 5-0 Chapecoense (Friendly)
This game, the annual Joan Gamper Trophy game, was never going to be about football this year. The focus was on honouring the victims of the tragic plane crash this past November that killed the vast majority of the Copa Sudamericana final-bound, Chapecoense team. Three of the survivors were given a warm reception in the pre-game and one of them, Alan Ruschel, captained the Brazilian side in his first game since the tragedy. Barcelona won the game easily without exerting much effort, with Messi getting one of the five goals. They know Real Madrid is on the horizon.
Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester United
The scoreline does not tell the whole story. Real outclassed Manchester United in every way possible. Real dominated possession throughout the whole match and they were rewarded for their dominance at the midway point of the first-half when Casemiro converted a Dani Carvajal pass into the box with a left-footed strike into the goal. United's midfield of Herrera, Pogba and Matic were no match for Real's versatile attacking power and their midfield spearheaded by Casemiro, Kroos and Modric completely took control of the game. Isco sealed the match for the back-to-back Champions League winners in the 52nd minute and the game ended comfortably for the Spanish giants, despite a Lukaku goal coming just ten minutes after Isco's.
Ernesto Valverde faces a huge challenge in figuring out who will replace Neymar up front. Based on their pre-season matches, expect Deulofeu, who returns to the Catalan club after several loan stints and a permanent move to Everton two years ago, to start on the left alongside Suarez, in the middle, and Messi on the right.
Real Madrid Lineup
Ronaldo will likely start the match despite only coming back to training a few weeks ago. This will allow Zidane to move back to the 4-3-1-2 system with Isco back into the central attacking role, just below Ronaldo and Benzema. This is the system that was used towards the end of last season, which won them the Champions League. Bale will be back on the bench.
Key Battle: Aleix Vidal vs Marcelo
Vidal, who will be making a return to competitive football after suffering a dislocated ankle that ruled him out of the season in February. Valverde seems to like him, utilizing him a lot in pre-season. Vidal will have to make sure he isn't blown away by Marcelo's liveliness on the left. He will have to be defensively perfect, to avoid the Brazilian flying past him on the wing, usually leading to a goal-scoring opportunity.
Marcelo had a 50% rate in average duals won, including a 67% success rate in take-ons. Vidal will have his work cut out for him on that wing and it will only be harder because Marcelo has a habit of cutting into midfield right before he approaches the right-back. That makes him deadly, but Vidal will have to step up to the occasion if he wants to secure a starting spot over Sergi Roberto.
Valverde's side will have to settle with Deulofeu to tag alongside Messi and Suarez up top. That may not last long as the Catalans are actively pursuing Liverpool's Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund's Ousmane Dembele. Both clubs have denied Barcelona's offer but there is still a long way to go before the transfer window closes.
With Dembele trying to force a move by skipping Dortmund's training session on Thursday, it could be possible to see him at the Bernabeu for the second-leg. Adding both or just one of those two would improve the squad greatly. With Barcelona offering big money for them, it is evident that they feel like they need a big signing to fill Neymar's void and to compete with Real Madrid.
What role will Bale play?
Zidane has found his favourite formation and Bale is not part of his plans in terms of starting every match. Playing a central attacking midfielder, Isco specifically, right under two strikers worked at the end of last season as Real Madrid won the league and Champions League double. Benzema and Ronaldo are the undisputed first-choice strikers at the moment.
Bale had a chance to impress in the UEFA Super Cup against Manchester United, playing in Ronaldo's position as he is still getting to match fitness, and although he gave the assist for the Isco goal, he wasn't spectacular and he will obviously not be replacing Ronaldo permanently.
The Welshman will have to grind it out throughout the season and impress whenever he can get off the bench. He'll most likely play part in the Super Cup and a good showing against Barcelona as a substitute can always change things.
No Need to Panic for Valverde
Ernesto Valverde has one of the highest pressure jobs in world football where losing to Real Madrid at anytime, in any circumstance, can lead to talks about the manager's dismissal. Despite that pressure, Super Cup failure doesn't set the tone for the whole season. The last two times these two rivals met in the season curtain-opener (2011, 2012), the team that won the Super Cup ended up finishing second, behind the team they beat in the cup, in the league.
Real won the league in 2012 after losing to Barcelona in the emotional 2011 Super Cup to start off the season, while Barcelona went on to finish 15 points ahead of Real Madrid in the league in 2013, despite starting the season losing the Super Cup to Real on away goals. A lot of commotion will be made regarding Valverde if Barca loses this cup, but history shows not to get to carried away. Plus, Barcelona will likely add a strong reinforcement before the transfer window closes.
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid (first-leg), Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona (second-leg); Real Madrid win 4-3 on aggregate
Although Real Madrid had an average pre-season, they showed their quality in the UEFA Super Cup last Tuesday. Their domination of Manchester United, an early-season Premier League title favourite, showed their squad depth and why they're the back-to-back Champions League winners.
Barcelona's arrival back from an exciting and good pre-season in the United States, where they defeated Real Madrid in Miami, has been negative. With the departure of Neymar and their bids for Coutinho and Dembele being rejected by Liverpool and Dortmund respectively, there has been a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the club as they cannot seem to get their way the last two weeks. This may affect their performance in the Super Cup, but can Messi save the day? Expect a lot of goals, drama and excitement throughout the two legs.
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