FourFourTwo's man in Madrid, Tim Stannard, looks ahead to Spain's traditional curtain-raiser (even though the season's already started...)
Fighting, scrapping, pushing, passion and commitment are all going to be on display and very much required in the Spanish capital on Wednesday evening, as Atlético Madrid face Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. To be clear, all this is going to take place at around one in the morning as the 55,000 fans leave the Vicente Calderón trying to find some form of public transport on which they can make their way home.
After next week's second leg, supporters in Barcelona will not even bother attempting to mount mechanical means to get home, with the Metro closing at midnight and no thought given to extending the opening hours to accommodate a clash that kicks off at 11pm.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” admitted Barcelona's shiny new Argentinean coach Tata Martino, who is now getting used to the peculiar ways of La Liga. “The club can’t pay for everyone to get home either,” said the Barça boss on the reported €30,000 cost to the Barcelona city council to extend the underground system’s opening hours.
The traditional two-legged curtain-raiser to the Spanish season - which will be completed two weeks into the league campaign - sees league champions Barcelona take on cup winners Atlético Madrid. As is often the case, Barcelona are clear favourites. That's certainly the view of Diego Simeone, a manager who is slowly morphing into a Flamenco dancer with long, heavily gelled hair and black trousers a couple of sizes too small to be good for anyone’s health. “It’s important for them as they have to win it,” noted the Argentinean trainer.
Simeone’s countryman, Martino, who will have a flask of coffee at hand for the contest, agrees. “It is very difficult for Barcelona not to play the role of favourite,” confirmed Tata, “it’s a role the team has in almost all competitions. Accepting it does not mean that success is not guaranteed, but it demands more from us.”
Those in Spain committed enough to suffer a poor night’s sleep by watching the clash, either in the Vicente Calderon or from the comfort of their sofa, should see a tasty contest. It is a chance to discover whether Barcelona’s apparent brilliance against Levante was merely down to the opposition being hopeless, and get an idea of exactly what level Atlético Madrid will be at this season.
There is extra spice in the game, with Barça reject David Villa now in the Rojiblanco ranks and not going in for any of this not-celebrating-goal-against-former-club nonsense that so many footballers insist upon. “I always celebrate goals,” sniffed the tiny-bearded barnstormer.
The Spanish Super Cup is the second bit of La Liga related midweek football action. The first took place on Tuesday night at an hour set by someone outside the country, and therefore sensible. The early evening kick-off between Real Sociedad and Lyon in a Champions League qualifier saw a wonderful result for the Basque club - a pleasant surprise to the blog. A 2-0 win on French soil puts La Real in a very strong position, despite all the talk of the job not being done yet. A smooth passage to the group stages looks a solid bet, which would be some story.
The result and performance completes a remarkably good summer for Real Sociedad. The sale of Asier Illarramendi, a footballer whose absence is not too critical, dropped €30 million into the club’s bank account. €2m of that was spent on Haris Seferovic, a forward who scored in the team’s league opener on Saturday and knocked in a beauty in Lyon. What’s more, qualification to the grown up phases of the contest could bring in €10m to La Real, a more than handy figure.
The kick-off times for the Spanish Super Cup may be hopelessly wrong. But at least someone is getting it right in La Liga.