20:00 BST, Wednesday 15 August, Lillekula Stadium (Tallinn, Estonia), BT Sport 2
The Clasico used to be the definitive all-Spanish clash, pitting Real Madrid’s galacticos against Barcelona’s homemade superstars against a backdrop of socio-political tensions.
But over the past few seasons, the Derbi Madrileno has taken on almost as much importance with Diego Simeone revitalising the Colchoneros and making his side genuine cross-city rivals for the more successful Madrid club during his time in charge.
On Wednesday, that battle will be renewed as Real and Atletico face each other in Tallinn. For Los Blancos, this is Julen Lopetegui’s first competitive match in charge after a whirlwind summer in which Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane both left the Santiago Bernabeu while Simeone will hope his summer signings gel for the Europa League champions.
The prize at stake? The UEFA Super Cup, and though it may appear to be a glorified friendly neither team from Madrid will be taking this tie lightly.
Last Time Out
Real Madrid 3-1 Milan (Friendly)
Los Blancos beat Milan soundly to lift the absurdly large Bernabeu Trophy, the annual preseason competition hosted by the Spanish giants in memory of their long-time president.
The match got off to a fast-paced start when Karim Benzema headed home from Dani Carvajal’s cross in the second minute. Moments later former Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, on loan from Juventus, equalised with a curling shot which found the bottom left corner of Keylor Navas’ net.
Real grew into the game, however, and, at the end of the first half, they took the lead again. The Rossoneri failed to clear Marco Asensio’s corner kick and the ball bounced up for Gareth Bale to fire past Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal.
From then on Madrid controlled the midfield despite a range of substitutions and Borja Mayoral put the gloss on the victory with a third goal in stoppage time.
Atletico Madrid 0-1 Inter (Friendly)
Atletico fell to a disappointing defeat against the other big team from Milan in the final match of the International Champions Cup.
Diego Simeone started with a first-choice starting eleven but the Colchoneros fell behind in the 31st minute at the Wanda Metropolitano. Lautaro Martinez finished superbly from Kwadwo Asamoah’s cross to give Inter the lead after Jan Oblak had kept the Italians at bay early in the match.
Atletico had the ball in the back of the net in the 43rd minute but VAR intervened. Angel Correa’s goal was ruled out for offside, and Simeone’s side were left still searching for the equaliser.
They improved in the second half as Diego Costa, Juanfran and Vitolo all went close. Vitolo’s header in the dying minutes of the game was Atletico’s only shot on target, however, and this was a frustrating way to end their preseason.
Real Madrid Lineup
Lopetegui will probably opt for the same starting lineup he used in the Bernabeu Trophy with Toni Kroos and Casemiro at the base of midfield and Isco further ahead in a number ten role.
Luka Modric could come in for the Brazilian having received a standing ovation from the Bernabeu faithful last time out.
Thibaut Courtois may have to wait for his Real Madrid debut after crossing the Real-Atletico divide, with Keylor Navas holding his own since the Belgian stopper signed.
The Costa Rica number one has said he has “the same desire to leave as I have to die”, and a good performance could do wonders for his chances this season.
The two players missing for Real are defensive backups Alvaro Odriozola and Jesus Vallejo, both out with muscle injuries.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
Simeone will tweak his starting eleven from Saturday with Antoine Griezmann returning to the fold after a brief outing against Inter to give Atletico more firepower in attack.
Atletico’s star man is unlikely to play the full 90 minutes, however, having only returned to training last week.
This match could see competitive debuts for summer signings Thomas Lemar and Rodri, both of whom have done well in preseason.
Otherwise, it will be a familiar lineup for Atletico, who will set up in Simeone’s famously hard-to-beat formation.
Key battle: Gareth Bale vs Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez
Lopetegui has promised Bale a starring role in this new-look Madrid side following Ronaldo’s departure, and the Welshman was on form during the preseason tour of the US. This match will provide an acid test for whether he can fill the Portuguese star’s huge boots.
One of the most encouraging signs from Bale during Madrid’s preseason was his linkup play, and he provided a pinpoint assist with the outside of his boot for Marco Asensio in the International Champions Cup against Lyon. Even if we don’t see him score here, his performance could prove decisive.
REUTERS/Andrew InnerarityBale will have his work cut out, however, against Atletico’s bruising Uruguayan duo in defence. Godin and Gimenez were crucial in their country’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals in Russia and will be no easy opponents in Tallinn.
There was a brief scare when Manchester United triggered Godin’s release clause on transfer deadline day but the defender signed a new contract on improved terms at the Wanda Metropolitano until 2021, much to Atletico’s delight.
The beginning of the post-Ronaldo era
Is there life after Ronaldo? That is the question Lopetegui’s side must ask themselves after CR7 swapped Madrid for Turin and joined Juventus this summer for €105 million.
But now the post-Ronaldo era begins in earnest. This is the first chance to assess this revamped Real, and Lopetegui has underlined the importance of getting his tenure off to a good start with a first piece of silverware here.
REUTERS/Massimo PincaIsco, Asensio and Bale all linked up brilliantly in the US, while 17-year-old starlet Vinicius Junior demonstrated he wants to play more than a bit-part role this season.
If preseason is anything to go by – which it often isn’t – then we could see an exciting outfit who play with confidence and are unburdened by the pressures of having one superstar player in the team.
Atletico’s ‘new’ signings
Despite going quietly about their business, Atletico’s transfer window may have been the most successful of any Spanish side this summer.
Simeone reinforced his team in key positions across the pitch, bringing in some hugely promising names: Rodri was a rock in Villarreal’s midfield last season, Thomas Lemar attracted interest from across Europe before Atletico swooped to buy him from Monaco and Gelson Martins has plenty of potential at 23.
REUTERS/Sergei KarpukhinBut their most important signings were already at the club before the summer. Antoine Griezmann finally decided to sign another deal until 2023 after a protracted saga involving an online documentary, while Godin, Juanfran, Lucas and Gimenez all extended their stay at the Wanda Metropolitano.
The blend of old and new will be intriguing in Tallinn but don’t expect to see many changes in terms of style. Simeone still rules and his side will be as solid as ever.
Prediction: Real Madrid 2-1 Atletico Madrid
This is a tough match to predict given Real have won the past two consecutive Super Cups and Atletico have a 100 percent win record in the competition. It will be a fierce encounter, even if it feels closer to a preseason trophy than a genuine European clash.
Asensio, Benzema and Bale have had more time to gel and they could punish Atletico’s backline. Simeone’s side will defend staunchly and may take the lead but Madrid’s new-look attack will have the final say.