No sooner has the new year begun, than the first piece of silverware of the season is up for grabs in Spain.
The Spanish Super Cup is normally played at the start of each season in a two-legged home and away format.
As with so many other domestic tournaments Europe-wide, however, the various governing bodies have seen the opportunity to make some filthy lucre by taking the tournament out of their country of origin.Were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament – it’s now contested in a semi-final and final format between the two teams from the Copa del Rey final and the top two in La Liga – would’ve been played abroad.
As it is, this season’s Spanish Super Cup is taking place in southern Spain, and Barcelona have Real Sociedad in their semi-final on Wednesday night.
A fascinating game is in prospect with the winners gaining a place in the final on Sunday against either Athletic Club or Real Madrid.
Let’s take a look at three things that could define the outcome of the match…
Lionel Messi is back!
Until recently, Leo Messi wasn’t having a vintage campaign by his standards.
However, over the last few weeks something has clicked and the Argentinian is flying again. So much so that his two goals in both of his last two games has placed him in the lead for the Spanish top scorer’s award (Pichichi).
Not bad when you consider this is supposedly his worst season ever.
His associative play with Pedri has been one of the bright spots of the season, whilst the genesis of an understanding with Antoine Griezmann is beginning to bear fruit.
La Real’s run of poor form
At one point this season, Real Sociedad were flying at the top of the La Liga table and looked unbeatable.
However, things change very quickly in football and the Basques have been on the slide for weeks, coming into this match having only won one of the last 12 in all competitions.
Their record against Barcelona away from the Anoeta Stadium/Reale Arena isn’t the best either.
They’ve won on just five occasions out of the last 26 meetings, so the odds will be stacked against them when they take to the field.
Barca’s defensive woes
If there’s one area where La Real can benefit, it’s by putting pressure on Barcelona’s shaky back-line.
Gerard Pique is still out injured and is joined on the treatment table by Ronald Araujo. An expected central defensive partnership of Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza isn’t the worst, but they’ll have to be on their guard for the entire 90 minutes.
Ronaldo Koeman may even bring back Samuel Umtiti for this one, leaving Lenglet on the sub’s bench.
Whomever gets the nod centrally will have to be on it from the first whistle, because any weakness will get exposed.