Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Spanish Supercup
The first taste of El Clásico is here, and the Supercup promises to deliver intriguing battles between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Can Lionel Messi outshine Cristiano Ronaldo? Will Tito Vilanova keep faith in Cristian Tello? How can Jose Mourinho fix his midfield problem in the wake of the 1-1 draw with Valencia?
Read on to find the six key battles for Thursday's Supercup first leg at the Camp Nou.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Dani Alves
We start with what could possibly be the most enticing, frenetic battle on the pitch—Cristiano Ronaldo stretching Dani Alves to the limit.
Jose Mourinho has tried several different strategies in El Clásico, but his favourite of all has been to counterattack and ping balls into the space behind Alves.
Ronaldo picking up those balls can easily lead to goals for Real Madrid, so Barcelona will need to restrain themselves slightly with regard to the attacking nature of their full-backs to keep things neat and tidy on the scoreboard.
Jordi Alba vs. Angel Di Maria
Angel Di Maria taking on new boy Jordi Alba provides a similar matchup to Dani Alves vs. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Alba will be pushed high up on the left flank to support Cristian Tello and Andres Iniesta, so Di Maria will be lingering on the edge of his half looking to break free on the counter.
Like Alves, Alba needs to be slightly more cautious in how he operates down the touchline. They're both quick, so it could be quite a sight if they decide to pursue each other up and down the field.
Sami Khedira vs. Barca's Midfield
Real Madrid's 1-1 draw with Valencia was full of average performances, but none more so than Lassana Diarra.
He had a woeful opener in which he let his midfield partner Xabi Alonso down and will surely be replaced by Sami Khedira for the Supercup game.
Khedira can do everything Diarra does and more—he tackles, he shoots, he passes and he leads from the centre.
The German midfielder's battle with Barcelona's midfield three is an intriguing one each year, and Khedira has the best chance of all his colleagues to stamp his authority on the middle of the park.
Khedira winning the midfield battle could bring Mesut Ozil into play—something which tips the balance of the game to Jose Mourinho's favour.
Cristian Tello vs. Alvaro Arbeloa
Cristian Tello put in a brilliant performance against Real Sociedad, and I hope Tito Vilanova keeps faith in him.
He scored and supplied in the 5-1 victory and should be set to pick up where he left off against Real Madrid.
Tello would line up on the left side ahead of Alba and work closely with Andres Iniesta. He'll be required to fizz crosses in from close range and help build sustained pressure on Madrid's penalty area.
Alvaro Arbeloa is no slouch—everyone thought he'd be steamrolled by Cristiano Ronaldo in Euro 2012 and he wasn't—so this battle could be a closely contested one.
Mesut Ozil vs. Sergio Busquets
Jose Mourinho looks set to continue with the 4-2-3-1 this season (or variations of it), and that means another central role for Mesut Ozil.
The German playmaker utilises the middle role of the "3" to great effect for both club and country and causes defensive midfielders problems all over the world.
Sergio Busquets is a world-class ball-winner and tracker. Ozil has the ability and positional sense to find himself in between the lines and wreak havoc.
It's Busi's job to make sure this doesn't happen. If you shut down Ozil, Madrid can only look to the wings to attack.
Lionel Messi vs. Sergio Ramos and Pepe
It's obvious, but Lionel Messi needs to have a stormer. It's a must-win game for Barcelona at home for the first leg, and their hopes rest squarely on the Argentinian's shoulders.
How Messi fares against Pepe and Sergio Ramos is influenced by a number of things—how well Cristian Tello isolates the full-back and what kind of goalscoring threat Alexis Sanchez can offer are two examples.
But ultimately, he will be required to score, dazzle and lead his team to victory whatever the circumstances.
According to Xoel Cardenas of Bleacher Report, Cristiano Ronaldo outshone and outclassed Messi in the last El Clásico. Time to bite back.