The Supercopa de Espana—or Spanish Super Cup, if you prefer—begins on Tuesday evening at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Real Madrid host archrivals Atletico Madrid in the first leg.
With Diego Simeone's Atletico winning the domestic title last season, you might be forgiven for thinking they have the upper hand, but the most recent bout between them—the UEFA Champions League final—was won by los Blancos in extra time
Let's take a tactical look at how this game could play out.
Real Madrid setup
Real Madrid showed us a free-flowing 4-4-2 in the mould of Manchester City in the European Super Cup against Sevilla, playing Cristiano Ronaldo loosely up front and James Rodriguez on the left of midfield.
Gareth Bale moved up and down to link the lines superbly, and the movement caused los Rojiblancos all sorts of issues out wide, in the central zones and in the box.
Unfortunately, there's absolutely no guarantee that this happens again. With Xabi Alonso suspended, it was easy to get away with selecting Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as a midfield two, but now he needs to return, and it could force a re-shuffle.
A 4-3-3, in the same mould as last year, could be an interesting proposition. Angel Di Maria needs to play if they do select it, as James will likely miss out—he looked very rusty against Sevilla.
Whatever the shape, it seems as though Kroos is quickly becoming undroppable as the stabiliser in the formation; Ancelotti was effusive in his praise for the midfielder's tactical intelligence once again when speaking to journalists.
Atletico Madrid setup
Atletico have flashed a few nuances in pre-season, but ultimately they're a Diego Simeone team and will play in his image.
That image has been incredibly tough for Real Madrid to overcome in the past 18 months, with their UEFA Champions League win in May the exception to the rule in recent times.
We expect a hard-nosed 4-4-2 from Simeone, with Antoine Griezmann—one of many new summer signings—up front, loosely, playing off Mario Mandzukic.
Raul Garcia and Koke should stick wide, and the defence will be untouched barring the selection dilemma of Cristian Ansaldi/Guilherme Siqueira at left-back.
Key Area: Real Madrid's vertical drive
The Di Maria saga rumbles on, with Carlo Ancelotti telling RealMadrid.com pre-match: "He's available like the rest. He may or may not start the match. I don’t know what he has decided. I just know that he’s training and ready for tomorrow’s match. It will stay the same until 31 August and then we’ll see if he stays or goes."
The Italian, as usual, approaches the situation with immaculate calmness, but the feeling is that if Di Maria doesn't feature here, he's off.
If Madrid do switch to a 4-3-3 and play Alonso, Modric and Kroos, the lack of vertical drive—and with it the ability to run at defenders and link between the lines—disappears.
A prime example of how that works out for los Blancos is last season's 2-1 loss to Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan: The formation selected (4-3-3) was the same, but with Asier Illarramendi, Modric and Alonso in the midfield three, no one had the ability to surge from deep.
Los Rojiblancos sat deep, formed two banks of four and closed the gaps, then proceeded to launch counterattacking passes into Carlos Bacca's path—and he scored two goals.
Will they fall to the same issues?
Key Question: Have Atletico gotten better, worse, or stand the same?
Atletico Madrid have had a turbulent summer, outlined by Simeone in one fantastic quote:
Three or four of said signings will start the game at the Bernabeu, with perhaps the most surprising selection being Miguel Angel Moya over Jan Oblak for the time being.
A Simeone side won't change its skin too much—the system will always trump the individual and they'll play hard, focused football until the final whistle—so the big question when it comes to los Colchoneros is whether or not they're now better or worse after a crazy summer of ins and outs.
|Atletico Madrid: Then vs. Now|
|Position||2013-14 Choice||2014-15 Choice|
|GK||Thibaut Courtois||Jan Oblak|
|LB||Filipe Luis||Siqueira / Ansaldi|
|ST||Diego Costa||Mario Mandzukic|
|CF||David Villa||Antoine Griezmann|
|Atleti stronger in just one position (CF)|
They have, inevitably, taken a hit in quality in the short term, but the business has been excellent and they've acquired a number of players who all fit what Simeone is trying to achieve.
Pre-season results have been off the charts at times, but how will it translate into real play?