Real Madrid and Sevilla are getting ready for Tuesday's All-Spanish 2014 UEFA Super Cup, the annual contest between the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League.
While the 2014-15 season is already underway in a number of European countries, the Super Cup traditionally is the kick-off point for most of the major leagues, including La Liga.
Fans have been waiting for months to watch their favourite teams to grace the pitch once again, and what better way to start than with the two winners of Europe's premier club tournaments from last year?
This early in the season, it's virtually impossible to put too much stock into form. Clubs made new signings over the course of the summer, players took extended holidays or just returned from the World Cup and need to regain form—in other words, friendlies are meaningless.
Sevilla have won their last three friendlies and hold a clear advantage over Los Blancos when it comes to continuity. With the exception of Ivan Rakitic, no major stars left the club, and the starting XI on Tuesday will be very similar to the one that contested the majority of the club's matches last season.
The same doesn't apply for Real, who made several big-money transfers that will change the way their midfield looks. James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos will both be part of the squad on Tuesday, as confirmed on the club's website (via Sergi Dominguez):
Real Madrid announce squad that'll face Sevilla tomorrow: http://t.co/M5FPgHQL4i Newcomers James Rodriguez, Kroos & Keylor Navas included.— Sergi Domínguez (@FutbolSergi) August 11, 2014
The Associated Press' Rob Harris thinks the Colombian will make his debut:
James (Hamez) Rodriguez named in Real Madrid squad for UEFA Super Cup in Cardiff against Sevilla on Tuesday, so in line for debut— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) August 11, 2014
To say that Real have "struggled" during the pre-season would be unfair—the major stars have yet to play, and like every other club preparing for the season, all Los Blancos have been doing is experimenting with players and working on their fitness.
As far as form goes, however, the advantage goes to Sevilla. Winger Victor Machin is convinced he and his teammates are simply in better shape, as he told Goal's Francisco Rico:
I think many people have already said that we might hold the edge from a physical point of view and that we might be better prepared. A lot of Madrid's players were at the World Cup and only just returned from their holidays. They have had little time to train and get back in shape. That could be an advantage for us.
It's clear that this is a great opportunity to win another title and will give our all to win it. I am calm and focused on the game. We are preparing with tranquillity and humility. We will see what happens.
Form is but one factor that will determine the outcome of this match, and as far as star power and individual quality goes, Real are the obvious favourites.
Cristiano Ronaldo Will Start
Real Madrid confirmed Ronaldo will be a part of the 22 travelling to Cardiff, indicating the star winger is fit enough to play after struggling with an injury throughout the summer.
As shared by Eurosport, Marca expects the Portuguese international to start, with Ronaldo declaring himself fit despite doctors telling him not to, per AS' Tomas Roncero:
NOT TOO SHABBY: Marca reporting Kroos, Modric, James, Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema to start UEFA Super Cup. #RealMadrid— Eurosport.com (@EurosportCom_EN) August 11, 2014
Everyone knows Ronaldo is a fierce competitor, and that alone would be reason enough for him to force his way into the starting XI. But there's more. It may sound preposterous, but the Super Cup is the one trophy Ronaldo has never had the chance to play for.
Yes, it's only a pre-season trophy that some consider to be awarded to the winner of what's essentially a "glorified friendly," but for a player as used to winning as Ronaldo, the chance to grab a trophy he has never won before will just be too much.
Real Will Concede
Take another good look at Marca's predicted line-up: Ronaldo, Rodriguez, Kroos, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. That is a lot of firepower, and a lot of attack-minded players.
Los Blancos have the potential to be the single greatest attacking force in recent history, and that's not an exaggeration. But the keyword is potential. These players will have to learn how to coexist on the pitch, and find their role in what will essentially be a squad with very little defensive coverage.
That won't happen overnight. Learning how to play together takes time. To make a small detour to a different sport, the 1992 basketball Dream Team infamously lost its first match to a bunch of college players, as reported by Bleacher Report's Timothy Rapp.
Will Real lose to Sevilla? Not necessarily, but do expect some defensive miscues due to the lack of a strong defensive presence in the centre of the pitch.
Gareth Bale Will Be in Mid-Season Form
Bale grew up in Cardiff and also attended high school and played some of his early club football in Wales' capital city. The Welsh winger will get a chance to shine in front of a home crowd, playing for the biggest club in world football.
As shared by Joe Perkins, it looks like he has been hitting the gym during the summer:
Gareth Bale you beast! He must have been working out in the gym while his colleagues were in Brazil. pic.twitter.com/9K3vsfjc6F— Joe Perkins (@Perky1106) August 7, 2014
This match will mean more to Bale than it will to any other player on the pitch, and he has been preparing for it for weeks. Expect the former Tottenham midfielder's form to be surprisingly strong this early in the season, and for him to have a big impact on this match.