Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid played out a thrilling 1-1 draw in the first leg of the 2014 Spanish Super Cup, meaning both teams will still have everything to play for in the second leg at the Vicente Calderon on Friday.
Raul Garcia gave Atletico a late equaliser at the Santiago Bernabeu, setting up an epic showdown in the second leg. The Atleti are very difficult to break down in the impenetrable fortress that is the Calderon, but no team in world football boasts as much attacking talent as Los Blancos.
Real need to score at least once, or they will lose the Super Cup on away goals, so expect plenty of attacking waves coming from the visitors. Here are some predictions for Friday's match.
Atletico Won't Take Any Risks
The Spanish champions didn't exactly play a wide-open brand of football in the first leg, opting to close off spaces and defend close to their own goal rather than attack Real with possession.
Fans often don't like teams that refuse to leave their shell, but this early in the 2014-15 campaign, the Atleti can't be blamed for keeping things simple. Diego Simeone lost a number of key contributors during the summer and still won't have Arda Turan running the show in the centre of the pitch, limiting his options.
Dropping new signings like Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann immediately into the squad is one thing—asking them to run a complicated wide-open game plan is something else entirely.
Defending a slim lead on away goals, Atletico will stick to what they do best on Friday. There's no need to start experimenting with the new players and exotic formations when all that rests between the squad and the Super Cup trophy is 90 goalless minutes.
Simeone told La Gazzetta dello Sport that Super Cup might be the only trophy his team has a realistic shot at winning, as reported by BeIN Sports:
I don't like to lie to people and one thing is clear: we cannot compete with Real and Barcelona. Atletico are champions but the players aren't the same. We're in a different league than Madrid and Barca.
Our rivals are Sevilla, Valencia and Athletic [Bilbao], and the goal is third place. We're a new team.
The spending on arrivals is due to the players that have been sold.
We have changed especially in attack. I see it as a new beginning because the team is different: Mandzukic, [Raul] Jimenez and Griezmann are different from Costa, Villa and Adrian.
We will maintain a solid structure that supports the team, but we're trying to figure out what style suits us best.
Real Madrid have the kind of speed and scoring ability to take advantage of even the smallest mistake, so don't expect Simeone to complicate matters for his squad.
Real Madrid Will Lean on New Arrivals
Los Blancos struggled with Atletico's compact approach to the first leg, often finding no space whatsoever to move the ball. They'll see virtually the same setup on Friday, and Champions League hero Angel Di Maria could have been the perfect player to add some depth between the lines for them.
Problem is, he won't be playing, according to Cadena Cope (per Bleacher Report's Jonathan Johnson):
Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric should be near locks to make the starting XI, which would leave one open slot in the centre of the pitch for either Toni Kroos or James Rodriguez. The German has impressed most during pre-season, but regardless of who Carlo Ancelotti chooses, he'll have the most important task on Friday.
Real's speedy wingers and striker Karim Benzema are a threat to score whenever they have the ball, but Atletico's defensive setup makes it easy for the hosts to isolate them if there's no one feeding them the ball from between the lines.
The 4-3-3 Ancelotti used in the first leg should be dropped in favour of a 4-2-3-1 or even a 4-4-2, giving options for the midfielders to venture into the spaces between the lines, pulling defenders away from their assignments.
Conventional wisdom would dictate such an important role would fall to someone with plenty of experience in the squad, but without Di Maria, Los Blancos will have to turn to one of the new signings.
Kroos and/or Rodriguez will get the perfect opportunity to show the world that they've adapted to their new surroundings in a hurry, but it won't be easy against one of football's best defensive teams.