On the 8th of August 2017, two of the most widely supported football clubs in the world in Real Madrid and Manchester United will lock horns for the first piece of silverware on offer as current holders of the two European trophies—the Champions League and Europa League, respectively.
Real Madrid have had a disappointing pre-season, in complete contrast to their double-winning 2016/17 campaign—in the preparatory International Champions Cup 2017—where the reigning European Champions were defeated by the two Manchester clubs and FC Barcelona before they completed the tour with a 4-2 win (through penalties) against the MLS All-Stars. Manager Zinedine Zidane has not made giant strides yet in the summer, unlike some of Real Madrid’s domestic and European rivals, yet they are still the team to beat, having won the Champions League thrice in the last four years.
Los Blancos do have a busy schedule in the opening weeks as a two-legged Clásico affair against arch nemesis FC Barcelona awaits in the Supercopa de España before they begin the defence of their La Liga crown on the 20th of August. But ahead of that, old employee Jose Mourinho and his new look Manchester United side stand in the way between themselves and a fourth Super Cup win.
For Mourinho, this is an opportunity to face his old side Real Madrid and pick up more silverware against the best side in the continent. The Portuguese, unlike his counterpart, has made three significant additions to his first team squad, spending close to £150-million in the process of building on the platform he had laid last season, largely supported by the Europa League win in May—which has brought Manchester United back in Europe’s premier competition.
The Red Devils have enjoyed a good pre-season campaign, winning six out of seven games, without any major debilitating injuries. Mourinho is particularly determined to make it memorable in Macedonia to launch the new campaign on a positive note and continue from where they left off in Stockholm: thrusting silverware into the night air. Mourinho, who has never won the competition as manager, said:
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to play against the best team in Europe, and one thing is to do that in friendly matches in the USA, and it’s quite another to play against them when they are in peak condition and fully motivated.”
Former United star Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to play a preseason match for Real Madrid because he was afforded an extended summer break due to his involvement with the national team in the Confederations Cup. After initial suggestions he would definitely not feature in Macedonia, reports claim he is now working hard in a bid to be drafted back into the squad in time to face his former employers.
Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, and Ashley Young are still on their road to recovery and rehabilitation and will not be available to play in Skopje, while goalkeeper Sergio Romero and Jesse Lingard were not part of the traveling squad in the club’s final pre-season fixture in Dublin.
Eric Bailly will miss out through suspension after UEFA extended his initial one-match ban to three games, following the red card he received against Anderlecht at Old Trafford, and Phil Jones will be unavailable too due to another punishment handed by UEFA in relation to a doping test, announced last week.
- Madrid are aiming to become the first team to win successive UEFA Super Cups since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990.
- This is the sides’ 11th meeting, with Madrid having won four and United two with four draws. Madrid have scored 20 goals to United’s 16.
- United are unbeaten in their last 11 European matches (W8 D3) since a 2-1 loss at Fenerbahçe SK on matchday four of last season’s UEFA Europa League.
- Madrid’s overall record against English clubs is not exactly overwhelming, having recorded 14 wins and encountered 10 losses in 34 fixtures, with the rest (10) resulting in draws.
Dani Carvajal – Real Madrid
Dani Carvajal has become one of the best full-backs in Europe—with devastating pace on the ball that allows Real Madrid to counterattack with ferocity. The Spaniard is no stranger to scoring in this competition either as his superb solo goal in extra time against Sevilla last season clinched the Super Cup for Real Madrid in a thrilling fashion. On facing Man United, the 25-year old said:
“Manchester United are a huge, historic club and you cannot ask for more. It will be a fantastic final and hopefully it goes our way. We are working hard to get to the 8th and be able to compete against Manchester United in order to lift the Super Cup.”
Paul Pogba – Manchester United
This is going to be an important campaign for the Frenchman. Probably, the most significant in his career, given the signings (i.e. Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku) that have been made to extract the best out of him—the extent of which will prove to be the difference between Manchester United fighting for top four and mounting a serious challenge for the Premier League crown.
The stage is set for him in Skopje to produce against the 12 time UCL champions.
On paper, Real Madrid still look the better side, even without the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo playing the entire game. But United in the last two years have developed a knack of winning finals (3 wins out of the last 3), and are objectively better prepared.
Real Madrid 1-2 Manchester United