The two Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, not the force they once were, will face each other once again in the semifinals of the Supercopa de Espana (Spanish Super Cup) at a neutral venue in Riyadh on Wednesday.
The last time Barcelona faced Real Madrid, the team was still coping with the departure of Lionel Messi and one of its worst financial crises ever.
Ronald Koeman was still at the helm, and the Catalan club struggled on and off the field.
The 2-1 loss at Camp Nou in La Liga last October came as no surprise to most, highlighting Barcelona’s fragility at the moment.
But things are different as the rivals enter their second El Clasico of the season. Barcelona appear to be back on track after restructuring their finances and showing signs of improvement on the field under coach Xavi Hernandez.
“It’s a different scenario now,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. “We were going through a tough moment at that time. We are doing better now and we hope to take advantage of it.”
Triumph in the Super Cup could mean a turning point for Barcelona, the veteran defender said.
“In the situation we are in, each victory, and hopefully the title, would mean a big boost for us,” Pique told Movistar. “It would give us more confidence and would be important going forward.”
Barcelona have several players back from injury who were unavailable for that league match against Madrid last year, including young midfielder Pedri Gonzalez. Since then it also added some new signings who could make a difference on Wednesday, including veteran Brazil defender Dani Alves and young Spain international Ferran Torres.
Torres and Pedri recently tested positive for the coronavirus but were cleared on Monday to make the trip to Saudi Arabia to join the squad.
The Spanish Super Cup is being played in Saudi Arabia again after the coronavirus pandemic transferred last year’s edition back to Spain.
The Spanish football federation reached a deal reportedly worth 120 million euros ($136 million) to play in Saudi Arabia beginning in 2020. The competition was expanded to four teams instead of two and moved from the start of the season to its midpoint. The changes were made despite criticism from human rights activists and complaints from fans who preferred the competition stayed in Spain.
The other semifinal match will be played on Thursday between defending Spanish league champion Atletico Madrid and Copa del Rey runner-up Athletic Bilbao.
“It makes no sense to go to Saudi Arabia to play our tournament,” veteran Athletic midfielder Raul Garcia said. “We are not thinking about the fans anymore.”
Madrid made it to the “Final Four” after finishing second to Atletico in the league last season. Barcelona qualified as the Copa del Rey champion.
Madrid have been in great form heading into Saudi Arabia, with the team leading the Spanish league behind a superb start to the season from their attacking duo of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior.
Atletico Madrid enter the Super Cup trailing Madrid by 16 points with a game in hand. Athletic are five points further behind Atletico.
(Reported by AP)