football

UEFA Super Cup Preview

August 14, 2018

- Grant Whittington

The UEFA Super Cup is considered the curtain raiser for the new season on the continent, and this year’s iteration will see Real and Atletico Madrid renew their rivalry in Tallinn on Wednesday.

Make no mistake, the Derbi Madrileno has become an increasingly important fixture in recent times, with Diego Simeone’s tenacious Atletico having successfully bridged the gap between themselves, Real, and Catalan giants Barcelona.

With last year’s Champions League and Europa League winners now set to do battle at the Lilleküla Stadium, we’ll preview the game in detail and ask, who is likely to prevail?

The background
The match will represent Julen Lopetegui’s first competitive game in charge of Real Madrid, following the shock departure of Zinedine Zidane during the summer.

Los Blancos have also experienced a relatively frustrating transfer window, with Belgian stopper Thibaut Courtois (35 million Euros) and the precocious Brazilian forward Vinícius Júnior (46 million Euros) being the club’s only major signings.

Talisman Cristiano Ronaldo also left for Turin during the summer, and the sense remains that Lopetegui would like to add to his squad before the European transfer window ends.

In contrast, the combative Simeone has built extensively on Atletico’s impressive form last season, making seven new signings during the summer while also welcoming six players back from loan moves.

Key additions include the fleet-of-foot French winger Thomas Lemar from Monaco (70 million Euros) and the talented young midfielder Rodri (signed from Villareal for around 20 million Euros).

Croatian striker Nikola Kalinić has also been signed from Milan for just 8.9 million Euros in a particularly shrewd deal, and one that will add some much needed support for Diego Costa in attack.

The form guide
While Atletico may have enjoyed a more productive summer transfer window than their city rivals, Los Rojiblancos did not perform particularly well during pre-season. So, while it’s understandable that Simeone’s revamped squad will take some time to gel, defeats against Paris St. Germain, Cagliari and Inter Milan will hardly have inspired significant confidence.

Conversely, Los Blancos enjoyed slightly more mixed form in pre-season, winning the Bernabeu Trophy last time out with an impressive 3-1 win over Milan. Both Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale were on target during this game, which is important given the need for Real to successfully fill the void left by CR7’s departure. This was Real’s third consecutive pre-season victory, following convincing wins over Juventus and Roma respectively.

In terms of head-to-head form, there is unsurprisingly very little to choose between the two sides. Of the last 10 games in all competitions (dating back to April 2015), Real have been victorious on three occasions, while they also defeated Atletico on penalties to win the Champions League back in 2016.

In contrast, Atletico have won two games during this period, with the remaining five matches ending in keenly contested draws.

Teams and tactics – who will prevail?

 If pre-season is anything to go by, new Real boss Lopetegui is unlikely to reinvent the wheel at the Bernabeu. This should be borne out by his team selection for the clash with Atletico, with the Spaniard set to name a similar side to the one that beat Liverpool in the Champions League final in May.

This means that Sergio Ramos and French World cup winner Raphaël Varane will start at the heart of the defence, with Casemiro and Toni Kroos likely to play behind the talented Isco in the centre of midfield. Bale and Marco Asensio are expected to provide the width behind Benzema, while the returning Luka Modric could also feature from the bench at some point.

Former Chelsea stopper Courtois will also have to wait for his debut which may be a blessing in disguise given that the keeper once plied his trade for Atletico.

Simeone is also expected to name a typically organised and familiar side, although at least two of his new signings are likely to make their competitive debuts alongside the club’s returning talisman Antoine Griezmann.

More specifically, record signing Lemar is expected to start on the left of a four-man midfield, while Rodri will also partner Saul in the centre of the park. Other than that, Simeone will stick largely with the side that finished second in La Liga and won the Europa League last summer, although Kalinić could well make his debut from the bench at some stage.

With these points in mind, we should expect an extremely tight and keenly contested game in Estonia, and one that will feature the age-old battle between attack and defence.

Lopetegui will certainly want to impose his possession-based philosophy on the game from the outset, while Simeone will look to defend in depth and numbers while also exploiting Madrid’s potentially high defensive line on the counter-attack. Lemar’s pace and trickery in the wide areas will be key to the success of this strategy, as will the ability of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez to deal with the pace of Bale and his growing influence within the Real team.

Ultimately, Real probably have the slight edge in terms of the strength of their starting 11, while these players also boast a greater sense of cohesion and familiarity than Atletico. They’ll also be keen to make a statement following the departures of Zidane and Ronaldo, whereas Simeone will be primarily focused on helping his new signings to gel before the start of La Liga.

Given this and Real’s propensity to win the bigger and most competitive games between the two sides, we’d back Lopetegui to start with a narrow win and claim his first piece of silverware at the Bernabeu.

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