A local rivalry will be played out some 3,000 kilometres away from its epicentre when Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid meet in the UEFA Super Cup final at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn, Estonia on Wednesday (8pm, live on BT Sport).
Spanish clubs have dominated European competition in recent times, and this is the fourth all-Spanish Super Cup encounter in the last five years. Nine of the last 10 Champions League and Europa League trophies have been lifted by Spanish sides; 13 of the last 20.
Real Madrid have won the Champions League in each of the last three seasons, and did so most recently with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev in May. Gareth Bale scored twice off the bench, the first a spectacular flying volley, to power them to victory after Liverpool had swiftly equalised Karim Benzema’s early second-half opener.
Madrid are now chasing a slightly less glamorous triplet of UEFA Super Cup trophies after defeating Manchester United in last year’s final and Sevilla the season before. They have emerged triumphant in each of their last four appearances, but their task of pulling level with Barcelona and Milan as the most successful team in its history will not be an easy one.
This season will be one of readjustment at the club after the departure of two of their key figures of recent years. Zinedine Zidane resigned as head coach in the wake of that third consecutive Champions League success, and Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of 450 goals in 438 appearances for Madrid, then departed for Juventus in a €100-million deal.
Julen Lopetegui is the man tasked with leading the team forward. The former Spain coach was relieved of that position on the eve of this summer’s World Cup after Madrid announced that he had signed before he had discussed the matter with his employers. The manner of his arrival puts pressure on both parties. Madrid must support him fully to show that his sacrifice was worthwhile. Lopetegui needs to demonstrate he was worth the controversy it generated.
Former Atletico and Chelsea goalkeeper Thibault Courtois is the highest profile of Madrid’s summer dealings to date, coming in alongside the promising, ex-Real Sociedad full-back Alvaro Odriozola and the until-now delayed signing of the 18-year old Brazilian Vinicius Junior. There is not yet a headline replacement for Ronaldo, although there are players already in the squad such as Marco Asensio who have the talent to step forward and shine.
It will not, however, be an easy task for Lopetegui to swiftly reshape a Madrid attack that has been dominated by Ronaldo for so long.
With Madrid in a slightly uncertain place, Atletico will sense an opportunity to get one over on their city rivals on Wednesday. They have had a pretty stable summer. Diego Simeone remains in charge, Antoine Griezmann elected to stay put after flirting with a move to Barcelona, and most of the additions they have made look like genuine reinforcements.
The major new arrival is Thomas Lemar, signed for €70 million from Monaco. A rapid and incisive winger, he has looked good in pre-season. Rodri comes in from Villarreal to take over from the outgoing Gabi in central midfield, while Jonny Castro and Gelson Martins are good cheap pickups, free in the case of Martins. Less certain is whether Santiago Arias will represent an improvement at right-back, despite the fact that he is clearly a solid player.
Atletico pipped Madrid to second in La Liga last season, and also won the Europa League after dropping down into that competition following a highly disappointing group-stage exit from the Champions League. There were times during the campaign when they looked a bit stale, so the injection of fresh blood should serve them well.
Simeone’s side defeated Chelsea 4-1 in their last appearance in the UEFA Super Cup back in 2012. While they lost both the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals to Madrid, the quarter-final in 2015 and the semi-final in 2017, the two teams have generally been evenly matched in recent years. The last 20 meetings between them in all competitions have yielded six wins apiece and eight draws.
That is a competitive enough record to suggest that Atletico are capable of winning out on Wednesday.