Less than three months after Real Madrid dramatically denied Atlético Madrid a fairytale ending to an incredible season to claim a 10th European Cup, the two local rivals will meet again in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Tuesday. Despite so little time having passed, both teams will be significantly altered from that historic night in Lisbon.
While they finally claimed a desperately sought “La Decima,” Real Madrid have continued their tradition of procuring the world’s biggest name players by spending big on two of the stars of the World Cup, James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos. Both have already made their debuts in last week’s UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla, when Kroos excelled as the fulcrum of the midfield, while Rodríguez had greater struggles in an unfamiliar role on the left of a midfield three. Ahead of Tuesday’s match at the Bernabeu, Ancelotti emphasized that the Colombian would need time to adapt
“I think James did well, like the rest, but against Sevilla he didn’t play in his normal position, he was playing a bit further back,” he explained, reports Spanish publication AS. “He has to get used to it. We’re trying out that position, but he can play elsewhere. The thing is he needs to get used to playing a bit deeper.”
It appears that Rodríguez has taken the position of Ángel di María, despite the Argentinean being crucial to the success of Madrid’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation in the second half of last season and putting in a Man of the Match performance in the Champions League final. Unsurprisingly, he has been strongly linked with a move away, although Ancelotti did not rule out him featuring in either the first leg or the return match just three days later at the Vicente Calderon.
“Di María is available like all the rest,” he said. “He could start the game and have his chance, but just like the other players. Tomorrow one team will play, and it’ll be a different one on Friday.”
While Real Madrid have retooled out of desire, Atlético have been forced to reconfigure their squad after several key figures of the side that won the club’s first title in 18 years were lured away. The chief predator was Chelsea, who took goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back after his three-year loan spell and signed Atlético’s top scorer Diego Costa as well as left-back Filipe Luis. Still, Atlético have reinvested the money received for those players and then some to provide hope that they could continue their extraordinary record in recent seasons of emerging stronger after big-name departures.
To try and fill the void left by Costa, former Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic has been snapped up, along with Mexico international Raúl Jiménez and exciting French left-sided forward Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad. In goal Jan Oblak has been signed from Benfica, but at the Bernabeu, fellow new arrival Miguel Ángel Moyà will get the start. The contrasting approaches of the two Madrid clubs in the transfer market speak volumes.
“We’ve brought in seven or eight players for €95 million, they’ve spent €95 million on two,” manager Diego Simeone said, according to AS. “There is a little difference. But this club has always had this creativity. We’re still looking. No doubt there will still be someone who comes and someone who goes. We’re forming the group, but the group isn’t made up of the 11 who play, but with the 18 or 20 who are available.”
Prediction: Atlético have done superbly once again to counter the loss of some key performers, and there could yet be more exciting new arrivals before the start of the season. However, with so many new faces coming into a squad that was remarkably compact and settled under Simeone’s strict game plan last season, it could well take some time for Atlético to find their feet. In contrast, Real Madrid already looked in fine fettle in the UEFA Super Cup. Cristiano Roanldo and Gareth Bale appeared sharp, while Kroos was already running the show in midfield. It may well be a different story again over the course of the league season, but Real Madrid should get a strong win at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid 2-0 Atlético Madrid
Kickoff time: 5 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes
Live Stream Info: Watch ESPN