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UEFA Super Cup, Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid Preview: Focus on two men not in the stadium

Even as Real Madrid take on Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup, focus will be on two men not in Tallinn, Estonia.

Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, UEFA Super Cup Real Madrid are preparing for a life with Cristiano Ronaldo. (Reuters)

It has been a while since Real Madrid have not bolstered themselves strongly (read: broken bank) after losing a key player. Cristiano Ronaldo’s shift to Juventus for a 100m euros may well have been good business for the club, but the decision to not fill the 451 goals gap across nine years is quite perplexing. When Brazilian Ronaldo moved to AC Milan in the 2006/07 winter window, having lost his edge and brilliance in front of goal due to knee injuries and subsequent operations, Real Madrid knew they were looking at a future without the once-nifty striker. Despite having Robinho and Raul in the squad, the question marks remained. Zinedine Zidane’s retirement only added to the complication on where the goals would come from. That’s when Real Madrid turned to an experienced Dutchman in Ruud Van Nistelrooy and a potent, young striker in Gonzalo Higuain from River Plate. Higuain scored only twice throughout the season but Van Nistelrooy banged in 23 goals to lead Real Madrid to la Liga title in a thrilling finish.

At no point in the near recent past have Real Madrid looked as bleak in front of goal as they do now. For all of Karim Benzema’s trickery and ability to find teammates in tough positions, he remains a poor finisher. In his 276 matches with Real Madrid, he’s scored 128 goals taking 143 minutes for each goal. Neither of the two Real Madrid youth rank players in Borja Mayoral and Raul de Tomas instill much confidence. That shifts the focus towards Gareth Bale, Asensio, Isco, Lucas Vazquez and new signing Vinicius Junior to deliver the goods. For all their promise and talent, expecting them to score 30-plus goals in the league or 40-plus in the season would be a bit too much.

Now, moving to another man who won’t be on the pitch is Zidane. Having managed Real Madrid for two and a half years and leading to an unprecedented three consecutive Champions League titles, the Frenchman will not be in the dugout. Zidane’s final season did not produce the expected results in the league but in Europe, like Real Madrid do, the charm, confidence and, to a large degree, luck remained. His place has been taken over by Julen Lopetegui and in somewhat controversial manner. The former Spain U21 and then senior side’s manager, Lopetegui, has had four games in the pre-season – three in the International Champions Cup in the United States and over the weekend against AC Milan in the Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu – which has yielded three wins and a loss having scored nine goals. However, Atletico Madrid are a significantly different ballgame altogether. A compact team which defends with a purpose, is hard to break down, gets under the opposition’s skin and can be unstoppable when marching forward, not to forget, clinical on set pieces.

One could well consider this game as a taster for life without Ronaldo and Zidane for Real Madrid and president Florentino Perez. A disappointing show could well see the club bringing in a centre forward with 15 days left in the transfer period.

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QUICK THROW INS:

# This is the first UEFA Super Cup between teams from same city.

# Real Madrid have won the previous two UEFA Super Cups and Atletico Madrid won the previous two UEFA Super Cups they played.

# Real Madrid are looking for a record-equalling fifth UEFA Super Cup title. Currently, Barcelona and AC Milan hold the record of having won the matchup pitting winners of Europe’s elite competitions five times.

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# This will be a fifth successive UEFA Super Cup title for a Spanish club and eighth in nine years. Overall, 15th for a Spanish club. Italian clubs have won nine and England are third with seven titles.

# It is the seventh UEFA Super Cup match between two clubs from same country, and the fifth all-Spanish affair. It is the fourth meeting between two Liga teams in five years.

# Real Madrid record in UEFA Super Cups: Won 4, lost 2. Atletico Madrid in Super Cup: W 2, L 0.

First published on: 15-08-2018 at 07:58:32 am
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