Next Sunday, Spanish champions FC Barcelona and Copa del Rey winners Real Madrid will face at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. While this might be the least important competition of the season for both clubs, a Clásico is always a Clásico and no one will want to lose.
Real Madrid look a lot more prepared than Barcelona for this two-leg tie. They had a full preseason with all their players, while some FC Barcelona stars only returned this week from vacation after participating in the Copa America. It's still not certain whether the likes of Daniel Alves, Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi will be fit enough to play the full 90 minutes on Sunday, while Sergio Busquets is in doubt due to injury.
In the past two editions of the Super Cup, Barcelona got away with fielding a slightly weakened lineup and won the competition on both occasions, but Real Madrid will present a much tougher challenge than Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla CF.
José Mourinho has clearly been preparing his team to be in top shape for the Super Cup, not so much because the Super Cup is regarded by Real Madrid as a very important trophy, but because beating Barcelona would give them the confidence they need to face the new La Liga season. They need every boost they can get after these three years of complete Barcelona domination in Spain (and Europe).
But while Real Madrid might be considered favorites for the Super Cup, it'd be foolish to write off Barcelona. Even if the team isn't in their best form at the moment, this is a squad with the best players in the world and several Euro and World Champions. Besides, Barcelona are still likely to have the lion share of possession, the fate of the first leg will depend on what they can do with it. Some might think that Barcelona will try to just keep possession the whole time to take a draw to Camp Nou, but this is Pep Guardiola's Barcelona we're talking about. There's just no way they'll play for a draw.
There are some question marks over both teams' lineups for Sunday. While Real Madrid should field a somewhat similar lineup to last season's Clásicos (maybe with Coentrão being the only new signing on the pitch), it's still very unclear who will start for Barcelona. Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves will definitely play, but it's not certain they'll play the full 90 minutes. Maybe Thiago Alcantara will be given a chance to start after his brilliant preseason. There's just no way to know Barcelona's lineup right now.
Regardless of who starts for both teams, this promises to be the most exciting Super Cup in recent history, simply because it's Barcelona and Real Madrid. Unsurprisingly, these are the two most successful clubs in the competition history, Barcelona with nine wins and Real Madrid with eight. Often regarded as a secondary trophy, this year's Spanish Super Cup will be the first chapter of a season-long battle for supremacy between the two Spanish giants.
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