There are no La Liga matches this weekend, but the stretch from Wednesday to Sunday in Saudi Arabia* might give us the most compelling action we’ll see from Spanish clubs for a while.
*These games are being held at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – because what European soccer cathedral could possibly be a better host to four of Spain’s most storied clubs??
This year is the first of the revamped Spanish Super Cup (Supercopa from here on out). This year’s four-team edition includes last year’s La Liga champ (Barcelona), last year’s Copa del Rey winner (Valencia) and the teams other than those two that finished highest in the La Liga standings in ’18-19 (Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid).
It just so happens that those are the four Spanish clubs remaining in the Champions League knockout stage. At the moment, the four teams going at it this week are in first place (Barcelona), second (RM), third (Atleti) and sixth (Valencia) in La Liga.
So what should we expect Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern (Valencia-Real Madrid) and the following day at the same time (Barcelona-Atlético)?
Valencia (+270) vs Real Madrid (-110)
Let’s start with the clash between a scrappy Valencia squad (+270) and Real Madrid (-110). RM followed up back-to-back 0-0 draws against Barcelona on Dec. 18 and vs. Athletic Bilbao on Dec. 22 with an impressive 3-0 romp over Getafe on Saturday.
But without Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, who will both miss the game due to injury, Real Madrid is seemingly in a tough spot. We should point out here that Valencia, for their part, will be missing striker Rodrigo.
Benzema has probably been his team’s best player this season – and there’s no doubt he’s been the best attacking option for Zinedine Zidane – so his loss is huge. It would be tough to replace a guy with 12 goals and five assists in league play regardless of his supporting cast. But considering RM’s next-highest scorer this year is 34-year-old Luka Modric (with three goals), the question of who fills Benzema’s shoes in this game is the top storyline.
The good news is in their most recent win over a solid defensive opponent in Getafe, RM racked up three goals – two from centerback Raphael Varane and one from Modric. The even better news is that Los Blancos are somehow tied with Atleti for fewest goals in La Liga allowed to this point.
We’re used to Diego Simeone’s club giving up something like 12 goals through 19 matches, but seeing Real Madrid do it is a different story. Thibaut Courtois has reminded us how good he is the last three games, all shutouts, including the Clásico. It’s also worth noting that the last team to score multiple goals on RM was PSG in the Champions League back in late November.
Valencia, however, will be a stiff test. Anyone skeptical of whether they can hang with RM need only look back to these teams’ most recent battle, on Dec. 15. That game ended in a 1-1 draw, but probably should have been a 1-0 win for Los Che. Anyone wondering what I mean by that should watch Benzema’s last-gasp equalizer as many times as it takes to figure out how A) the ball ended up at his feet and B) how he managed to put that away in that much traffic.
I get why RM is favored here, but Valencia plays its best opponents tough (just ask Ajax and Chelsea) and is absolutely worth a flier at +270.
Barcelona (+100) vs Atletico Madrid (+280)
In case anyone needed a reminder that Barcelona aren’t the same away from Camp Nou, they settled for a draw on the road at last-place Espanyol in their last game. It’s understandable that a road trip to their crosstown rival would pose somewhat of a challenge, but the gap in quality between those squads makes that a disappointing result.
The Catalans (+100) are even money in this one, but the payout on Los Rojiblancos (+280) makes them a tempting choice.
We at High Press Soccer have been the first to groan after offensive duds by Atleti, so let’s give them their due for scoring multiple goals in a whopping four (!) consecutive games dating back to the 2-0 UCL shutout of Lokomotiv Moscow on December 11. With three straight La Liga victories (over Osasuna, Real Betis and Levante), Simeone’s side is in as good a form as it has been all season.
Nothing would tell us that all those new pieces for Atleti are finally on the same page more definitively than a win over Barcelona.
It took a number of great saves by Marc-André ter Stegen to keep Atlético from scoring in the last meeting on Dec. 1, which Barcelona won 1-0. If not for Lionel Messi curling in an unreal (even for his standards) game-winner in the 86th, that one would have gone down as a draw.
Both these Supercopa semis this week will be must-see, but if you have to catch just one, make it this one, which Barcelona probably wins, but only by the skin of their teeth.
Spanish Supercopa preview podcast
Listen to more of our thoughts on the Supercopa in this podcast.