Barcelona v Real Madrid, 21:00
The first leg of the Spanish SuperCopa is always a fairly big deal, but a combination of factors have come together to make this one of the most significant in recent memory. The departure of Pep Guardiola from Barcelona at the end of last season raised many a question, not least of which was whether this was simply a break he was taking from the club, rather than the game, and whether we could expect to see him back at the Nou Camp anytime soon. Only a few people know the truth, but judging by the reaction of the players, the squad at least are convinced Pep is gone for good.
In his place comes Tito Vilanova, a man whose main claim to fame up until now was having had Jose Mourinho’s finger in his eye in this game last season, one of many unseemly incidents that marked the last season Pep was in charge. His promotion is, in some ways, a sign that little will change about the team and their tactical approach, but when you look at the astonishing record Guardiola had it seems obvious to continue his work rather than look to reinvent the perfect circle. Having said that, the signings over the summer of Alex Song and Jordi Alba suggest the new man does see room for improvement in his playing options.
The loser in this match will stress that it is still early days, and Jose has been fairly vocal in the build-up that this is by no means an indicator of what lies ahead in the league. Although Valencia in particular have made some decent signings in the summer, the gulf in class and resources between the top two and the rest will probably mean the matches between these teams decide the title, so Mourinho may be proved wrong for once. There is a worrying trend in the Spanish system of Real and Barca ruling supreme, and if the authorities in the Spanish FA are not careful they’ll end up with a two-horse race, like the Scottish Premier League was until Rangers disappeared.
Both teams come in fully fit, with Real yet to add to their squad as Luka Modric’s transfer drags on, but one interesting note is the appointment of Clos Gomez as referee. The official was branded a ‘liar’ by Pep Guardiola in 2009, but publicly applauded by Jose in a typically Special display of chutzpah. Bet365 have 14/1 on a 2-1 away win, and with the attacking options Real have that is nowhere near impossible, although the return of David Villa could be a factor. Bwin have the striker at 6/1 to score the opening goal of the game.