The first trophy of the 2013-14 season will be decided on Wednesday evening, as Atlético Madrid look to cause an upset against La Liga champions Barcelona by winning the Spanish Super Cup.
Last week’s first leg in Madrid was evenly contested but ended all square, Neymar cancelling out David Villa’s opener with the all-important away goal, putting the Catalans in pole position heading into the return clash.
Kick-off in the Camp Nou is again the late time of 23:00 CET.
On the back of a demanding pre-season, Atleti have started the campaign in style, and despite not getting the win last Wednesday, gave enough of an impression to suggest that the tie is more than open tomorrow night.
In the first half especially, Diego Simeone’s side more than matched Barcelona, and stopped them from doing what they do best: taking the lead early on in spectacular fashion. New boy David Villa showed no mercy for his former employers, sending a thumping volley past Victor Valdés to send the home fans into rapture.
However, at 1-1, the red-and-whites still have it all to do in Catalonia, and will need to score should they stand any chance of taking home the trophy.
A lot of preparation has been done though, both in the games so far and throughout the summer. Sunday’s 5-0 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano ensures the team make the trip north in high spirits, and also in great form, with our current run of 12 successive away matches without defeat the best in club history.
Cholo also has a full squad to choose from, with a clean bill of health to boot. All 24 first team players have been called up – Cristian Rodríguez, Óliver Torres, Javier Manquillo, Leandro Cabrera, José Giménez and Bono joining the 18 who featured at the weekend.
For the latter two, it is their first-ever involvement with the senior side, whereas Cabrera returns for the first time since May 2010, having spent the last three seasons out on loan at various second division sides.
In Simeone’s only visit to the Camp Nou as a manager so far, we were comprehensively beaten 4-1, despite racing into a first half lead. The Argentine seemed confident there would not be a repeat when speaking to the press on Tuesday, and insisted his team wouldn’t change their normal approach for the encounter.
“We go into the game with everything wide open,” he said. “Playing at [Barça’s] place with this squad doesn’t change anything. We will go there looking to compete as we always do.
“There are many possibilities for us, but we will choose the one that gives us the best chance of reaching our goal, which is to win. You can expect the same enthusiasm and competitiveness as always.”
After travelling up on the AVE on Tuesday, the 43-year-old tactician took charge of one last training session at Espanyol’s Dani Jarque sports facilities. Across town, his compatriot Lionel Messi was doing the same for Barcelona, and looks set to return to the home side’s line-up.
Much has been made of the four-time World Player of the Year’s injury in the first leg last week, in particular, Diego Godín’s apparent attempts to target his troublesome thigh injury with defensive partner Miranda.
However, his coach Tata Martino played down the Uruguayan’s actions in his press conference earlier today, as well as confirming his star man’s return to fitness.
“I didn’t see any bad intentions in Godín’s gestures, I know him well and he is a noble professional,” he said. “Messi is doing well, he trained normally with the team and has been working hard to return.”
Whether he will play from the start against Atlético is yet to be seen, although he has been included in the squad. The same goes for Brazilian star Neymar, still yet to make his full Barça debut after opening his account in the Calderón.
“Neymar could start. He’s ready, but we’ll make a decision tomorrow,” said Martino.
Definitely missing for the Blaugrana will be Adriano, who joins Carles Puyol on the treatment table. Oier and Jonathan dos Santos are also out as a result of a technical decision, and one other player will also have to drop out of their 19 man squad.
Atleti will return to Madrid straight after the match, with the draw for the Champions League group stage set to take place on Thursday, followed by a tough trip to European rivals Real Sociedad three days later.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Aranzubia, Bono
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Cabrera, Giménez, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda, Demichelis, Manquillo
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, David Villa, Diego Costa, Léo