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Spanish Super Cup burning question: Can Xavi win a maiden Barca trophy? Why is it in Saudi Arabia?

SportsFootballSpanish Super Cup burning question: Can Xavi win a maiden Barca trophy? Why is it in Saudi Arabia?
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It’s January, Which Means Now Is The Time For It spanish supercopa to take center-stage with the four best teams in Laliga Fighting for the prize established in 1982. This year, we have the two biggest teams in Spain, real Madrid And barcelonaAs well as copa del rey Winners real betis and cup runner-up, Valenciain the mix.

But how does this tournament work? How do the four teams look in action? What are some memorable moments from the Supercouple’s past, and can the quartet deliver some new drama and magic of their own?

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ESPN’s Sam Marsden and Alex Kirkland break it down and get you ready for the action, which begins Wednesday and ends with Sunday’s final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

– Stream on ESPN+: Spanish Supercopa, Carabao Cup, and more (Americas)

What is Supercopa? How does the format work?

It used to be the traditional curtain raiser to the new season, pitting the LaLiga champions against the Copa del Rey winners. But after a reform in 2020, it is now a four-team competition that takes place every year in January. So now, instead of two teams sweating it out in two matches (home and away) in August, four teams are vying for the trophy in Saudi Arabia this January.

Qualification for the tournament is simple. The top two in LaLiga from the previous season and the two finalists of the Copa del Rey make it to the last four. If the same teams finish in the top two and reach the Copa Final, the numbers are made up by the third and possibly fourth-placed teams in LaLiga. This year it was straightforward: Real Madrid and Barcelona qualified as the top two in the league, joined by Copa winner Real Betis and runner-up Valencia.

However, the draw hasn’t always been that simple. The semi-finals have been decided in a variety of ways, from an open draw one year to the league and cup winners playing away from each other the following year. the idea was often to try and establish classico Final, but now a clear set-up: LaLiga winner (Madrid) vs Copa runner-up (Valencia) (Live Wednesday at 1:30 PM ET on ESPN+ in the US), and Copa winner (Betis) vs LaLiga runner-up (Barca) (LIVE Thursday, 1:30 PM ET, on ESPN+ in the US, — Marsden

Why is the Spanish Supercopa being played in Saudi Arabia?

The change in venue was also necessitated by Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales’ desire to boost Supercopa revenue. The removal of the two-legged, home-and-away format meant that anything was possible, and in 2018 the Supercopa was played overseas for the first time, with Barcelona being defeated. Seville 2–1 in the only game held in Tangier, Morocco. Sevilla’s protests – they had already promised fans the home leg as part of their season ticket package – were ignored.

The Moroccan switch was just a trial run. In September 2019, the RFEF signed a six-year deal with Saudi Arabia worth €40 million per season. later it came to light Gerard PiqueK’s company Cosmos played a key role in return of 10% commission.

“We have good relations with the Middle East,” Pique said last April, “They wanted to take the football competitions there and we spoke with Rubiales to see if he might be interested in taking the Supercopa… Saudi Arabia was not alone [option]We talked to Miami [the RFEF] There was an offer from Qatar.”

The first “Final Four” Supercopa took place in January 2020 in Jeddah. The COVID-19 pandemic again forced a change of plans, with the 2021 tournament moving home to Andalusia before returning to Saudi Arabia – this time in Riyadh – for 2022. The move has been widely criticized, citing concerns over human rights and gender equality. With a shortage of , but no plans to reconsider. The RFEF has extended the initial six-year agreement until 2029.

“We made the decision, it’s signed until 2029, we can’t question it,” a combative Rubiales told the RFEF general assembly in December. “If there are embassies, bilateral relations and other businesses, why can’t football go? We are doing positive things.” [in Saudi Arabia], Now there is a women’s league… We can either turn our backs on the whole society or try to show that things can change.” — Kirkland

How is Barcelona looking in terms of form and fitness?

Barcelona manager Javi Hernandez said the team won 1-0 in a hard-fought match. Atletico Madrid The league were “over three points” on Sunday and it sends them to Saudi Arabia with a “massive morale boost”. Barca are still a team under construction, but that win put them three points clear of top-of-the-table Madrid after 16 games.

It was much needed as Barcelona returned from the World Cup break in slow motion. they were kept at home by espanyol In their first game back, extra time was required to beat third-division side Intercity in the cup in midweek. The win over Atlético, which at times wasn’t pretty, gives them the belief that they can win the ugly, and that they can compete against Europe’s best. They had lost their previous two visits to the Estadio Metropolitano without scoring.

He now needs to carry that momentum into the Supercopa, where Xavi has a chance to win his first trophy since replacing Ronald Koeman as coach last November. The competition is not high on their list of priorities, but winning it could provide a platform and confidence for further success in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and more. Europa League, The failure, depending on the context, could put Xavi back in the spotlight, having missed out on the Supercopa, Copa del Rey and Europa League last season.

Barca should be at full strength in the Middle East. Robert Lewandowski Currently serving a three-game ban in LaLiga but he is available to play in the Supercopa. The league’s enforced rest could benefit him against Betis on Thursday and his goals – he has 18 in all competitions this season – could be the difference between the four teams. — Marsden

How are Real Madrid looking in terms of form and fitness?

2-1 loss on Saturday Villarreal It was the third time in five LaLiga games that Real Madrid had dropped points since the end of October before the World Cup break. Their only other game this month was a tight 1–0 Copa del Rey win over fourth-tier Caserón. It’s not exactly an inspiring look, and there will soon be no shortage of it. This Supercopa trip is the latest leg in a challenging New Year’s fixture list that includes another trip to Villarreal next week in the Copa, alongside tough league games. athletic club And real sociedadand the Club World Cup next month.

There are concerns in defense – coach Carlo Ancelotti criticized the defending against Villarreal, saying “the team was not compact” with the defense and midfield “too open”. left back ferland mendy The Villarreal opener who gave the ball away was at fault. Right behind Dani Carvajal not fit and now david alaba There is a calf injury, alba resolve the doubt on which of the following, ader militao either Antonio Rudiger Start at centre-back. inconsistent in midfield aurelian tchoumeni while out with another calf problem Eduardo Camavinga Still best positioned as an energetic impact option.

but no worries Vinicius Jr. either rodrigo goes in attack — Rodrigo’s late solo goal saved Madrid from extra time against Caserno — but the key man Karim Benzema Still not in top form. His goal-scoring figures are solid, with eight goals in nine La Liga matches this season, but three of those were penalties and in build-up play he looked a level below his fluid, comfortable best. Madrid’s prospects in Saudi Arabia depend on that rapid turnaround. — Kirkland

What about other teams: do Valencia or Real Betis have a chance?

Betis is in a much better place than Valencia. 2-1 win Rayo Vallecano On Sunday lifted them into the Champions League places in La Liga. Manuel Pellegrini is doing a good job at Seville. After getting Betis the trophy by winning the Copa del Rey last season, the next step for the Chilean coach is a top-four finish. They have a team full of talent. Sergio Canales And nabil fakir Fun to watch, though this week’s loss has hurt them Alex MorenoThe left-back is close to completing the €15m move, sources confirm to ESPN Aston Villa,

Despite the promise an early season showed under Italian coach Gennaro Gattuso, things haven’t been going so well for Valencia. Back-to-back defeats have seen him slip out of the top 10. Friday night’s vicissitudes at home in Cadiz were particularly painful. However, he remains a threat to Madrid on Wednesday. experienced striker Edinson Cavani Has shown signs of coming to life in recent weeks and has a talented crop of young midfielders including United States of america international Yunus Musa,

What both Betis and Valencia have shown in recent years is that they can compete with Barca and Madrid. Barca needed a late Lewandowski goal to beat Valencia at the Mestalla this season, while Madrid only edged out Betis at home. You only have to turn to last season to see Valencia thrashing Madrid 4-1 and Betis getting the better of Xavi’s Barca at Camp Nou. And you only have to go back to 2021 to find the last nonclassico Winner of the Supercopa, when Athletic Club beat Madrid and Barca to lift the trophy. — Marsden

What are some memorable moments in the recent history of the Supercopa?

Barcelona is the Supercopa team to beat, having won the competition 13 times to Real Madrid’s 12 since the tournament was created in 1982. Their record from 2009 to 2018, winning six Supercopas in a decade, reflects their domestic dominance over that time. By Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering 2009 vintage. But there was a remarkable power shift in 2017 when Madrid won the Supercopa after beating Barcelona 5–1 on aggregate, a 3–1 win at the Camp Nou followed by a 2–0 win at the Bernabeu. It was after that second leg that then-Barca defender Pique famously admitted that he “felt inferior to Madrid for the first time in nine years.”

The 2020 final – the first in “Final Four” format – is best remembered for the Madrid midfielder federico valverdeMagnificent, match-saving professional foul on alvaro morata, Atlético Madrid forward Morata scored in the 115th minute — the game ended 0-0 after normal time — and one-on-one with the goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois when Valverde ran back to hack him, earning a red card but preserving Madrid’s clean sheet. The Uruguayan also received a pat on the back of the head from Atletico coach Diego Simeone – perhaps recognizing a similar sentiment – on his way out. Madrid won on penalties.

In 2021, Athletic Club endured one upset after another, knocking out Madrid before beating Barcelona 3–2 with a dramatic finish, overturning a 2–1 deficit with extra-time goals asir villalibre And inaki williams, and last year’s semi-final was an epic classico all timers. Madrid twice took Barca’s lead through Vinicius and Benzema, only to be held back by luq de jong And Anu Fatibefore Valverde was once again the hero with an extra-time winner. — Kirkland

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