Barcelona return to action on Wednesday night at the Spanish capital for another edition of El Clásico against Real Madrid, this time at the Santiago Bernabéu in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. The Blancos won the first leg in convincing fashion down to ten men, and even though they’ve lost Cristiano Ronaldo for the next five matches (for now), Madrid remain massive favorites to win the Supercopa.
The Blaugrana were quite solid in the first 45 minutes, but fell apart in the second half and were killed on the counter attack. Ernesto Valverde still needs to make many adjustments, and all the positive signs from preseason disappeared once Madrid found a way to break quickly and hurt Barça when they lost the ball in midfield.
Toni Kroos and Isco dominated Ivan Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta, which is a worrying sign given Barça will need their midfield to work more than ever without Neymar. Even with Lionel Messi playing effectively as a number 10, Barça had trouble finding spaces inside Madrid’s defense and couldn’t control the game in the center of the park, which led to lethal counter-attacking opportunities for Real.
For the second leg, the challenge is to attack constantly while remaining defensively sound. After all, Barça need a 4-2 win or any three-goal victory to win the trophy, and the need for so many goals will certainly open the door for even more attacking opportunities for Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Co.
It seems like an impossible task to mount a comeback against such a strong team at their home, but Barça have won 4-0 and 6-2 at the Bernabéu before. Who knows?
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Wednesday, August 16, 2017, 11pm local time, 5pm ET, 2pm PT (USA), 10pm BST (UK), 2:30am IST (India, Thursday)
Venue: Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
Television: ESPN2 (USA), Sky Sports Main Event (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), TSN1 (Canada), TeleCinco, TV3 (Spain)
Online streaming: WatchESPN (USA), Sky GO (UK)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
If a 3-1 deficit wasn’t enough bad news, Valverde lost captain Andrés Iniesta to a muscle injury during training on Tuesday, and the midfielder is set to miss the next few weeks of action. Carles Aleñá will travel to Madrid in Iniesta’s place, but it’s unlikely the youngster will get a chance to face Madrid.
In terms of the starting lineup, the only probable change will be enforced: Sergi Roberto will replace Iniesta in midfield, because new signing Paulinho is not in the squad as he’ll be unveiled on Thursday and join training on Friday.
One necessary change that we are unlikely to see is Nélson Semedo in place of Aleix Vidal. Vidal was good in the first half, but once his usual defensive mistakes began to appear, Barça were completely picked apart on the right flank. Semedo is a much stronger defender than Vidal and is just as good if not better than him going forward, but Valverde will probably wait a few weeks to introduce Semedo into the team. He’s still a new signing and needs some time to fully integrate into the system, and even though Valverde is a new manager he’ll look to use the more experienced players against Madrid.
Up front, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez will once again play with Gerard Deulofeu, who had a poor performance in the first leg but will get another chance to prove himself in El Clásico.
Ter Stegen; Vidal, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Roberto; Messi, Suárez, Deulofeu
Real Madrid (4-4-2)
Navas; Carvajal, Nacho, Varane, Theo; Vázquez, Modric, Kovacic, Asensio; Bale, Benzema
Barça will work hard, but the deficit is too big and Madrid have scored in 67 straight matches: 2-2 draw.