The Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid rivalry has evolved over the years and will go on without Cristiano Ronaldo, but the bitter foes won't want to hold back in a season-opening UEFA Super Cup clash.
Starting off their competitive 2018-19 campaigns in Estonia this Wednesday are Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, as they compete in the UEFA Super Cup–the annual clash of reigning Champions League and Europa League winner. Finishing second and third, respectively, last season, both will want to challenge Barcelona in La Liga this year.
However, league finish has nothing to do with qualifying for this match, as it pits two of Europe's finest from last term against one another. A third Champions League title in a row for Los Blancos has put this squad down in history, but with talisman Cristiano Ronaldo departing to Juventus this summer, it's now somebody else's turn to pick up the slack.
As the Spanish transfer window runs longer than the English, both teams have plenty of time to get more business done. It's been suggested that new Real boss Julen Lopetegui would like two signings, one being a forward. With Eden Hazard and Kylian Mbappe transfer talk circulating, will the Spanish giants replace Ronaldo or give others already at the club a chance?
It's Los Rojiblancos who have done their business early, however, with the club-record signing of Thomas Lemar from Monaco for a reported £63 million. The astute signings of Rodri, Gelson Martins, Nikola Kalinic and Santiago Arias have also bulked up a squad that retained in-demand stars Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin and Jan Oblak.
Hoping to challenge for more silverware this season, the current Europa League holders will debut their new stars against the most hated of foes. Coveting an elusive Champions League title more than all, Atletico Madrid goes up against the team that has beaten them in two of the last five finals.
Here is all you need to know ahead of their clash:
These clubs have had differing preseason campaigns. Real Madrid went on a United States tour for their International Champions Cup games, playing in Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York against Manchester United, Juventus and Roma. The Spanish giants won two out of three, and Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio were standouts, with the pair grabbing goals in multiple matches.
Atleti's form has been slightly more patchy. After beating Arsenal on penalties in Singapore, Los Rojiblancos were defeated 3-2 on a last-minute goal against PSG. In its latest outing, it lost 1-0 at home to Inter Milan. It's not exactly instilling confidence for this tie, but Simeone may brush these results off due to squad rotation and players finding match fitness.
Starting with Real, the big question is whether influential midfielder Luka Modric is fit to play. Los Blancos' key man and the reigning World Cup Golden Ball winner has been subject to a transfer inquiry from Inter Milan, and rumors suggest he may be interested in a new challenge. Returning early to preseason, the Croatian star is seemingly focused on the task at hand, though, which should at least partly reassure Madridistas.
As far as injuries go, only center back Jesus Vallejo and new signing Alvaro Odriozola are in line to miss out. Likely not changing Lopetegui's plans for the match, Real Madrid has little to worry about. With no limit to bench slots, Lopetegui has brought a squad of 29 players, giving himself a great number of options.
Atleti also comes into the game with very few injury worries, causing a selection headache for Simeone. Frenchmen Antione Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez only returned this week after winning the World Cup, so they may be given more rest time. However, with an opportunity to win a trophy against the club's top rival, don't be surprised to see the manager go with a full-strength side.
It's unknown whether new additions Gelson Martins, Santiago Arias, and Rodri play, or if Simeone will opt to go with his known troops. Angel Correa, Juanfran, and Thomas Partey are all fit, so there could be some mixing and matching. A battle between Jose Maria Gimenez and Stefan Savic to partner with Godin at center back also heightens the intrigue.
Both teams will likely see this match as a viable opportunity to hit the ground running this season.
Differing in preseason form, Real fans may travel to Tallinn more confident of a result. At the moment, the squad advantage is fairly level. Therefore, whether Griezmann or Modric are fit enough to return after a short World Cup turn around will go a long way to deciding the victor of this game.
Real Madrid will likely utilize a 4-3-3 formation, with Karim Benzema leading the line. Important to Los Blancos will be the physicality of Casemiro and creativity of Isco. Likely starting on the right side, the Spaniard will slot in more centrally if formation changes are needed. It should also be interesting to see if Lopetegui picks Keylor Navas or deadline day signing Thibaut Courtois in goal.
Atleti should be expected to operate in a 4-4-2 formation, with Koke and Lemar starting out wide. If Griezmann is short of match fitness–after only returning to training on Monday–it is likely new signing Nikola Kalinic will start up top, with bruiser Diego Costa by his side. However, it's probable the Frenchman will make an appearance at some stage, with his presence the possible balance-tilter in such a tightly contested match.
Prediction: Real Madrid 1-2 Atletico Madrid (AET)