Gerardo Martino will attempt to take a major step toward lifting his first trophy as Barcelona boss on Wednesday when his side visit Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. For the first time in three years, though, it is not bitter rivals Real that are the opponents but neighbors Atletico. Still, Martino accepts the substantial pressure to take the prize.
“The aspirations and obligations of managing Barca always mean you have to win,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “We will try to do a good job in order to win the title. It’s difficult for Barca to not be favorites. But even if we accept that role, it doesn’t mean that the title is guaranteed.
“In a long competition like the league, which has 38 matches, there are more possibilities of winning than in a final that lasts 180 minutes, where everything is more equal. It only takes a good or bad night to win or lose the title.”
Martino’s first competitive match since taking over from Tito Vilanova was something of a dream debut. In their opening La Liga contest, Barcelona romped into a 6-0 half-time lead against Levante before closing out a 7-0 victory. But the Argentinian expects a much sterner examination against last season’s Copa del Rey winners.
“Atletico Madrid are an extremely tough test for us because of how they play, how they take on their opponents, how solid they are and especially because of how they win,” he explained. “They are a very intense side, they’re comfortable without the ball. When they have it, they are vertical and they have good attacking players.”
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Atletico, managed by fellow-Argentinian Diego Simeone, enjoyed a fine start to their own league season, with a 3-1 victory at Sevilla. David Villa made his debut, having arrived from Barcelona to try and compensate for the loss of Radamel Falcao, but it was Brazilian Diego Costa who stole the headlines on Sunday with two goals.
It remains to be seen whether the man who essentially took Villa’s place in the Barcelona squad, Neymar, will get a start, after coming off the bench against Levante. Adriano is ruled out through suspension, while Carles Puyol remains on the sidelines.
Atletico Madrid (probable)
D: Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis
M: Koke, Suarez, Gabi, Turan
F: Costa, Villa
D: Dani Alves, Mascherano, Pique, Alba
M: Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Sanchez, Messi, Pedro
Prediction: The loss of Falcao is clearly a blow, but the basis of Simeone’s side, centered on intensity with and without the ball, remains. Atletico will certainly give Barcelona a sterner test than Levante, but face a challenge to keep the Super Cup realistically alive heading back to the Camp Nou. Barcelona were exceptional on Sunday and even if the likes of Xavi are rested they should come away from the Vicente Calderon with a win.
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
Where to watch: The first leg of the Spanish Super Cup will kick-off at 5 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.