Can Xavi clinch 1st trophy as Barca boss?


It’s January, which implies it is now time for the Spanish Supercopa to take centre-stage with 4 of the most effective groups in LaLiga doing battle for the prize, based in 1982. This 12 months, we have the 2 largest groups in Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona, as effectively as Copa del Rey winners Real Betis and the cup runners-up, Valencia, within the combine.

But how does this match work? How do the 4 groups look heading into the motion? What are a few of the memorable moments of Supercopas previous, and might this quartet ship some contemporary drama and magic of their very own?

ESPN’s Sam Marsden and Alex Kirkland break all of it down and get you prepared for the motion, which begins on Wednesday and concludes with Sunday’s closing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

– Stream on ESPN+: Spanish Supercopa, Carabao Cup, extra (U.S.)

What is the Supercopa? How does the format work?

It was the standard curtain-raiser to the brand new season, pitting the LaLiga champions in opposition to the Copa del Rey winners. But after a revamp in 2020 it’s now a four-team competitors that takes place in January annually. So now, as an alternative of two groups sweating it out over two video games (house and away) in August, there are 4 groups vying for the trophy in Saudi Arabia this January.

Qualification for the match is straightforward. The prime two in LaLiga the earlier season and the 2 Copa del Rey finalists make the final 4. If the identical groups end within the prime two and attain the Copa closing, the numbers are made up by the groups ending third and doubtlessly even fourth in LaLiga. It was simple this 12 months: Real Madrid and Barcelona certified as the highest two within the league, with Copa winners Real Betis and runners-up Valencia becoming a member of them.

However, the draw has not at all times been so easy. The semifinals have been determined in varied methods, from an open draw one 12 months to making sure league and cup winners prevented one another the subsequent. The concept was usually to try to arrange a Clasico closing, however there’s now a transparent framework in place: LaLiga winners (Madrid) vs. Copa runners-up (Valencia) (LIVE Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+ within the U.S.), and Copa winners (Betis) vs. LaLiga runners-up (Barca) (LIVE Thursday, 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+ within the U.S.). — Marsden

Why is the Spanish Supercopa being performed in Saudi Arabia?

Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales’ need to spice up Supercopa income required a change in location, too. The elimination of the two-legged, home-and-away format meant something was doable, and in 2018 the Supercopa was performed abroad for the primary time, Barcelona beating Sevilla 2-1 in a one-off sport held in Tangier, Morocco. Sevilla’s protests — they’d already promised a house leg to followers as a part of their season ticket bundle — had been ignored.

The Morocco swap was only a trial run. In September 2019, the RFEF signed a six-year take care of Saudi Arabia price €40 million per season. It later emerged that Gerard Pique’s firm Kosmos had performed a key function, in return for a ten% fee.

“We have good links with the Middle East,” Pique stated final April. “They wanted to take football competitions there and we spoke with Rubiales to see if he could be interested in taking the Supercopa … Saudi Arabia wasn’t the only [option], we spoke with Miami, [the RFEF] had an offer from Qatar.”

The first “Final Four” Supercopa happened in Jeddah in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic then compelled a change of plans, with the 2021 match coming house to Andalusia, earlier than returning to Saudi Arabia — this time in Riyadh — for 2022. The transfer has drawn widespread criticism, with considerations over human rights and an absence of gender equality, however there are not any plans for a rethink. The RFEF has since prolonged the preliminary six-year settlement till 2029.

“We took the decision, it’s signed until 2029, we can’t keep questioning it,” a combative Rubiales informed the RFEF normal meeting in December. “If there are embassies, bilateral relationships and other businesses there, why can’t football go? We’re doing positive work [in Saudi Arabia]. There’s now a women’s league… We can either turn our backs on an entire society or try to show that things can change.” — Kirkland

How are Barcelona wanting when it comes to type and health?

Barcelona supervisor Xavi Hernandez stated that the crew’s hard-fought 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday within the league was price “more than three points” and it sends them off to Saudi Arabia with a “massive morale boost.” Barca are nonetheless a crew underneath development, however that victory took them three factors away from Madrid on the prime of the desk after 16 video games.

It was a lot wanted as a result of Barca had returned from the World Cup break in gradual movement. They had been held at house by Espanyol of their first sport again and wanted additional time to beat third-division aspect Intercity within the cup in midweek. The win over Atletico, which was not fairly at occasions, provides them the idea that they will win ugly, they usually can compete in opposition to Europe’s greatest. They had misplaced their final two visits to the Estadio Metropolitano with out scoring.

They now want to hold that momentum into the Supercopa, the place Xavi has the prospect to win a primary trophy since changing Ronald Koeman as coach final November. The competitors shouldn’t be excessive up their listing of priorities however successful it may present a platform and perception for additional success in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League. Failure, relying on the context, may carry the highlight again on to Xavi, who fell brief within the Supercopa, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League final season.

Barca must be at full energy within the Middle East. Robert Lewandowski is at present serving a three-game ban in LaLiga however he’s out there to play the Supercopa. An enforced relaxation within the league may benefit him in opposition to Betis on Thursday and his targets — he has 18 in all competitions this season — might be the distinction between the 4 groups. — Marsden

How are Real Madrid wanting when it comes to type and health?

Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Villarreal was the third time in 5 LaLiga video games that Real Madrid have dropped factors, a run stretching again to the top of October, earlier than the World Cup break. Their solely different sport this month was a laboured 1-0 Copa del Rey win over fourth-tier Cacereno. It’s not precisely inspiring type, and there will be no let-up anytime quickly. This Supercopa journey is the most recent step in a frightening New Year fixture listing which incorporates one other go to to Villarreal subsequent week within the Copa, robust league video games with Athletic Club and Real Sociedad, and subsequent month’s Club World Cup.

There are worries in defence — coach Carlo Ancelotti criticized the defending in opposition to Villarreal, saying “the team wasn’t compact” with the defence and midfield “too open.” Left-back Ferland Mendy was at fault for Villarreal’s opener, giving the ball away. Right-back Dani Carvajal hasn’t been match and now David Alaba has a calf harm, resolving doubts over which of Alaba, Eder Militao or Antonio Rudiger begin at centre-back. In midfield, the inconsistent Aurelien Tchouameni is out with one other calf downside, whereas Eduardo Camavinga remains to be greatest deployed as an lively impression substitute.

There are not any considerations over Vinicius Junior or Rodrygo Goes in assault — Rodrygo’s late solo aim saved Madrid from additional time in opposition to Cacereno — however major man Karim Benzema hasn’t but hit prime type. His goal-scoring figures are strong, with eight targets in 9 LaLiga appearances this season, however three of these have been penalties and in build-up play he is regarded a stage beneath his fluid, easy greatest. Madrid’s prospects in Saudi Arabia rely upon that altering quick. — Kirkland

What in regards to the different groups: Do Valencia or Real Betis have an opportunity?

Betis are in a a lot better place than Valencia. A 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday lifted them into the Champions League locations in LaLiga. Manuel Pellegrini is doing a wonderful job in Seville. After main Betis to a trophy by successful the Copa del Rey final season, the subsequent step for the Chilean coach is to complete within the prime 4. They have a squad filled with expertise. Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir are enjoyable to look at, though they’ve been setback this week by the lack of Alex Moreno, with sources confirming to ESPN the left-back is near finishing a €15m transfer to Aston Villa.

Things are usually not going so effectively for Valencia, regardless of the early season promise proven underneath Italian coach Gennaro Gattuso. Back-to-back defeats have seen them slip out of the highest 10. Friday evening’s reverse at house to Cadiz was significantly painful. They stay a menace to Madrid on Wednesday, although. Veteran striker Edinson Cavani has proven indicators of coming to life in latest weeks they usually have a proficient crop of younger midfielders coming by way of, together with United States worldwide Yunus Musah.

What each Betis and Valencia have proven lately is that they will compete with Barca and Madrid. Barca wanted a late Lewandowski aim to beat Valencia at Mestalla this season, whereas Madrid solely simply edged out Betis at house. You solely have to show to final season, too, to search out Valencia beating Madrid 4-1 and Betis bettering Xavi’s Barca at Camp Nou. And you solely have to return to 2021 to search out the final non-Clasico winner of the Supercopa, when Athletic Club beat Madrid and Barca to carry the trophy. — Marsden

What are some memorable moments in latest Supercopa historical past?

Barcelona are the Supercopa crew to beat, having gained the competitors 13 occasions to Real Madrid’s 12 for the reason that match was created in 1982. Their report from 2009 till 2018, successful six Supercopas in a decade, displays their home dominance at the moment, kicked off by Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering 2009 classic. But a notable energy shift got here in 2017 when Madrid gained the Supercopa by beating Barcelona 5-1 on mixture, with a 3-1 win at Camp Nou adopted by a 2-0 victory on 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 closing — the primary within the “Final Four” format — is greatest remembered for Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde’s spectacular, match-saving skilled foul on Alvaro Morata. Atletico Madrid ahead Morata was by way of on aim within the a hundred and fifteenth minute — the sport had completed 0-0 after regular time — and one-on-one with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois when Valverde sprinted again to hack him down, incomes a purple card however preserving Madrid’s clear sheet. The Uruguayan even acquired a pat on the again of the pinnacle from Atletico coach Diego Simeone — maybe recognising a kindred spirit — on his means off. Madrid went on to win on penalties.

In 2021, Athletic Club pulled off back-to-back upsets, knocking out Madrid earlier than beating Barcelona 3-2 with a dramatic finale, turning round a 2-1 deficit with added time targets from Asier Villalibre and Inaki Williams. And final 12 months’s semifinal was an epic Clasico all-timer. Madrid led Barca twice by way of Vinicius and Benzema, solely to be pegged again by Luuk de Jong and Ansu Fati, earlier than Valverde was as soon as once more the hero with an extra-time winner. — Kirkland


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