Real Madrid will face off against cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in Tallinn, Estonia on Wednesday night.
The contest that pitches the UEFA Champions League winners against the UEFA Europa League winners of the 2017-18 season will see the two Madrid giants clash, as Real will look to kickstart a new era under Julen Lopetegui with a silverware.
The Merengues saw former manager Zinedine Zidane quit post their third successive Champions League triumph, which was followed by the shock exit of Portuguese maverick Cristiano Ronaldo, who left to join Italian champions Juventus. Real have recruited Alvaro Odriozola, Vinicius Junior and Thibaut Courtois over the summer. But, a direct replacement for Ronaldo hasn’t been signed.
Things have looked promising under new man Lopetegui so far though, as Madrid, after their defeat to Manchester United, managed to dispatch Juventus, AS Roma and AC Milan with relative comfort during their pre-season campaign. And the former Spain manager will be hoping that his side are able to get the job done on Wednesday.
Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, go into the game on much stabler grounds, having managed to keep hold of star men Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin, both of whom had been linked with a move away over the past few months.
Diego Simeone’s men have further strengthened the squad, with the arrivals of some very talented players like Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins and Nikola Kalinic among others in the summer transfer window. And they would like to begin the new season with a win against their neighbours and send out a strong statement.
Team News and Tactics
Lopetegui has named a 29-man squad for the trip to Estonia, including all of the new signings along with a number of young and upcoming talents from the youth ranks. However, summer arrival Odriozola is expected to miss out, along with Jesus Vallejo due to injuries.
The new Real manager has mostly employed a 4-2-3-1 setup during the pre-season and is likely to field his team in the same formation against Atleti. Despite Courtois’s arrival from Chelsea, incumbent No.1 Keylor Navas is expected to continue between the sticks on Wednesday night.
Dani Carvajal has looked in great shape heading into the new season and will start as the right-back, while Marcelo will slot in the opposite side. Both the full-backs will provide Los Blancos with plenty of support going forward, but will need to be wary at the back. In the heart of the backline, captain Sergio Ramos should partner up with World Cup winner Raphael Varane.
Luka Modric only returned to training recently and continues to be linked with a move to Inter Milan. Irrespective of his future at the club, the Croatian is likely to be benched, with Toni Kroos and Casemiro set to start in the middle of the park.
Gareth Bale looks like he means business heading into the new season and will carry a huge threat from the right-flank, while Marco Asensio will look to pose problems to the robust Atletico defence from the left-side. Spanish playmaker Isco will slot in the No.10 role and look to pull the strings in the final third. Upfront Karim Benzema will look to continue his fine goal-scoring form from the pre-season.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Isco, Asensio; Benzema;
Los Colchoneros have a clean bill of health heading into the season opener against their arch-rivals. Some, if not all, of the new signings are expected to play a part for Simeone’s side in Estonia. The Argentine, who will be watching the game from the stands, owing to a four-match touchline ban he picked up in the Europa League last season, will set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation.
Jan Oblak is a guaranteed starter between the posts for the Rojiblancos on Wednesday. He will be shielded by an air-tight defence comprising of Uruguayan centre-half duo of Jose Maria Gimenez and Diego Godin, while Juanfran and Filipe Luis will man the wide areas against the dangerous Asensio and Bale respectively.
Spanish midfielder Koke should start on the right-flank for Atletico, while summer signing Thomas Lemar is likely to edge out Vitolo for a spot on the left of the midfield four. The Frenchman has the potential to be a thorn in Real’s side with his pace and ability to create and score goals.
In the centre of the park, Saul Niguez will start and look to provide the forward thrust, while Thomas Partey should partner him up, ahead of summer signing Rodri to add defensive solidity.
World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann will be hoping to add another trophy to his kitty this summer by firing Atletico to a victory with his goals on Wednesday. Alongside him, Diego Costa will pose a serious danger with his strength and power. His contest against Real Madrid captain Ramos will make for an extremely interesting match-up for the viewers.
Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Oblak; Juanfran, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Koke, Saul, Partey, Lemar; Griezmann, Costa;
- It is the first time in 43 seasons that both sides in the Super Cup have come from the same city.
- This will be the fourth time in the past five years that the Super Cup will be contested by two Spanish sides.
- Real Madrid can become the first side to win three successive Super Cups. The Merengues lifted the trophy in the last two seasons, beating Sevilla and Manchester United in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
- Atletico Madrid are unbeaten against Los Blancos in three of their last four competitive fixtures.
- The two teams have met nine times in UEFA competitions but Atletico have never beaten Real Madrid in a final or eliminated them in Europe.
Player to watch
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Following Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus this summer, Gareth Bale will now be Real Madrid’s go-to man. The Welsh wing wizard has had plenty of success during his time in Spain, but has never been able to truly emerge out of the shadows of the Portuguese superstar.
However, heading into the new season, the former Tottenham Hotspur man will be at the front and centre of things for Lopetegui’s side. The Welshman has looked up for the added responsibility during the preseason and has been among the goals as well. A strong performance on Wednesday will go a long way in setting the tone for the upcoming season.
Real Madrid 2-1 Atletico Madrid
With the new season’s first trophy on the line, in the Madrileno derby no less, there is no doubt that Lopetegui faces a baptism of fire in his first competitive game in-charge of Real Madrid.
However, Los Blancos have time and again proven themselves adept at putting their best foot forward in showpiece events. Coupled with Atletico’s baggage of having never been able to get the better of their neighbours in the finals of UEFA competitions, we at the Hard Tackle, tip Real to come out on top once again and complete a hat-trick of Super Cups.