As Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid face off in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday, Andy West picks out three talking points
The game in Tallinn, Estonia, could see Champions League holders Real give a debut to new signing Thibaut Courtois, while Europa League winners Atletico have bolstered their squad with a plethora of new recruits.
And, of course, it also marks the first time in nine years that Real have started the campaign without the services of a certain someone…
From BBC to BBA?
The game heralds the onset of a new era for Real, with the legendary duo of Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo fading into the past as new coach Julen Lopetegui takes charge of his first competitive game.
It has been a surprisingly quiet summer in the transfer market for Los Blancos, with club president Florentino Perez so far declining the opportunity to splash out on a big-name replacement for Ronaldo despite strong speculation linking his club with World Cup stars Kylian Mbappe, Eden Hazard and supposed long-time target Neymar.
That is good news for two players in particular: firstly Gareth Bale, who brought last season to a stunning climax by scoring twice in the Champions League final victory against Liverpool but then shocking the club by revealing his future was in doubt.
And secondly Marco Asensio, who has previously rarely managed to force his way into the starting eleven but now appears to have his first real chance to establish himself as an automatic selection.
Karim Benzema will also look to benefit from Ronaldo’s departure by becoming more of a focal point in the penalty area after only scoring 12 goals in all competitions last season, and if the new-look forward trio of Bale, Benzema and Asensio can fire Madrid to their first trophy of the season, it could be enough to satisfy Perez that no new additions are required.
If not, Mauro Icardi – the Inter Milan striker who would probably be Real’s most realistic short-term target – may be expecting a phone call.
Atletico ready for lift-off?
There is a serious sense of optimism surrounding Atletico as the new season dawns, with an excellent summer in the transfer market suggesting that Diego Simeone’s men are ready to mount a major challenge for top honours.
Two of the new signings are expected to start on Wednesday night, with skilful French international winger Thomas Lemar joined by classy former Villarreal midfielder Rodri, who will serve as an instant replacement for now departed ex-skipper Gabi.
With those two joined in the midfield by stalwarts Koke and Saul, supporting a front pairing of Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann, Atletico now boast a front six to be feared in addition to their always reliable defensive set-up.
However, anyone expecting Simeone to use his new recruits to unleash a more attacking strategy will be disappointed. The Argentine coach has repeatedly made it clear that he will never relinquish his principles of hard work and discipline, and Atletico’s challenge this season will continue to be built on firm defensive foundations – no matter how many dazzling attacking talents they possess.
Will Real press and can Atletico counter?
After the tactical indecision – or, to be more generous, flexibility – of the Zidane era, Wednesday’s game gives new Madrid boss Lopetegui his first serious chance to implement his new strategy for the team.
During his time as Spain national team coach, Lopetegui was always an advocate of a 4-3-3 formation featuring energetic pressing, attempting to keep the opposition under constant pressure and gain possession as high up the pitch as possible.
He is now expected to implement a similar style of play at club level, but such a strategy could play straight into Atletico’s hands: Simeone’s teams have never been particularly concerned about gradually building up play from the back, and the counter-attacking abilities of Griezmann, Costa and new boy Lemar could severely punish a high defensive line if their teammates can succeed in evading the initial press and quickly turn defence into attack.
And if Lopetegui’s system suffers an early setback against crosstown rivals, the new boss would be well and truly under pressure when the new league season gets underway at the weekend.