Madrid, Aug 12: FC Barcelona entertain Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Supercup on Sunday night in what will be the first real indication of the relative strengths of the two major favourites for the La Liga title in the 2017-18 football season a week before that competition kicks off.
The two sides have already played each other in pre-season with Barcelona winning 3-2 in Miami, but that was after barely more than a fortnight’s training and with the now-departed Neymar in the side, reports Xinhua news agency.
Sunday’s match which comes two weeks later should give a realistic view of both sides’ respective merits.
Real Madrid had some poor results and performances in pre-season, but improved dramatically when defeating Manchester United 2-1 in the European Supercup on Tuesday night.
Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane will have to replace Luka Modric on Sunday as the Croatian is suspended and Mateo Kovacic could have his chance to stake a claim.
Meanwhile Cristiano Ronaldo could return to the starting 11, even though he has been training for less than a fortnight following his summer holiday.
Barcelona’s summer has centered around the loss of Neymar and the club’s attempts in the past fortnight to replace him. Although they appear to be edging closer to signing Dembele from Borussia Dortmund and Coutinho from Liverpool, it will be Gerard Deulofeu, who steps in on Sunday night.
Deulofeu looked sharp in Monday’s Gamper Trophy and his pace can trouble Madrid, while the rest of the Barca side will be virtually unchanged from last season.
This will be the first major test for new coach Ernesto Valverde, who replaced Luis Enrique at the start of the summer and a win would go a long way in easing the pressure on the former Athletic Club Bilbao boss.
A win for Madrid, with the return leg in the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday, however, would give Zidane’s side a huge boost ahead of the new campaign and be a pointer to the final destination of this season’s silverware. IANS