Sunday’s El Clásico in the Supercopa de España has an added significance.
Yes, it is still the biggest teams in Spain going head to head. Both are at the top of the LaLiga table. Real Madrid cruised into the Champions League knockout stage, while Barcelona slumped into the Europa League, a competition it can, and should, win. Finally, both are in the running for the Copa del Rey. Yet, both Barcelona and Real struggled in their round of 32 games against lower league opposition.
So, if both clubs are still alive for domestic and European trophies, the Spanish Supercup, perhaps the smallest trophy available, would bear little significance.
That is not the case for this game. Only one can win LaLiga. One can win the Copa del Rey. Both could come away victorious in Europe, but that is a stretch. At least, that is the case for Barcelona. Real Madrid always seems to play its best in the Champions League.
Still, the Supercopa de España is a chance to set the tone for the rest of the season. Neither side looks like a true dominant force in Spain or in Europe, despite the gap at the top of the LaLiga table. Winning a trophy early on can speak volumes for intentions in the remainder of the season.
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Importance of the Clásico for the Supercopa
The Catalan club has one trophy over the last three seasons, including the current one. That was a Copa del Rey victory in 2021/22, which required some serious dramatics just to get to the final. This gap in trophies is a lifetime for the club.
You must go back to 2007/08 to find the time Barcelona did not lift a trophy in a season prior to 2019/20. Only one of those seasons from 2007/08 to 2019/20 had less than two trophies. Therefore, success is baked into the core of Barcelona. Fans expect greatness in every competition, regardless of its size.
This season, Barcelona had all the expectation in the world. It closed out last season on a good note in the league to finish second. That is the only reason Barcelona is even competing in the 2023 Supercopa de España. This would be Xavi’s first trophy after he missed out on the Europa League and LaLiga last season. That would bit immeasurable confidence in the young manager, who already has Barcelona fans peering down on him.
Real Madrid, perhaps the most decorated and successful club in the history of soccer, has not won a treble. That does not come into play in the Clásico in the Supercopa. Spain’s treble-winning awards are traditionally LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
That being said, Real Madrid is in the running for those three. Carlo Ancelotti has had no shortage of success in cup competitions with Real Madrid. Last season, Los Blancos won the Champions League and LaLiga after lifting the Supercopa around this time in 2022, defeating Barcelona on the way. Real Madrid can take the momentum from defeating a rival and apply it to the remainder of the season.
On top of that, it would be a second win over Barcelona this season. That certainly strikes nerves into Barcelona come the tie at Camp Nou later in the season. That game may have serious title implications.
Previewing the fixture
In league play, Barcelona would be without Robert Lewandowski. His three-game suspension is ongoing, as he missed the Atletico Madrid clash. However, this is a different competition. As a result, he is back, and he scored against Real Betis on Thursday. Moreover, Barcelona brings its full complement of talent. Pedri and Gavi run the midfield, and both had exceptional games against Betis. Even more impressive was that of Marc-André ter Stegen. The German made two stops in the penalty shootout against Betis to carry his LaLiga form into Saudi Arabia for this miniature tournament.
Real Madrid is also pulling no stops for this game. Karim Benzema, back from injury after missing the World Cup, converted a penalty in the regular 90 and the shootout. Alongside him, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric continue to rack up awards in what could be their last season together in Real Madrid’s midfield. It is virtually the same Real Madrid team that won last season’s Champions League and LaLiga. Plus, it is similar to the team that defeated Barcelona in this very competition, minus the departure of Casemiro replaced by a resurgent Fede Valverde.
That game last year in the Supercopa was a gem that went to extra time. This one on Sunday could shape up to be the same.
ABC will broadcast the 251st El Clásico on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m. ET from King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This 2022-23 Supercopa de España Final match will mark the first El Clásico on ABC Television. ESPN Deportes will televise the game in Spanish. English- and Spanish-language coverage will stream live on ESPN+.
Your match commentators are Rob Palmer and Stewart Robson. On ESPN Deportes, it’ll be Fernando Palomo and Mario Kempes.
PHOTO: IMAGO / NurPhoto
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