After a successful preseason tour which started with a visit to the US, and ended with a win over Sampdoria in Dublin, Manchester United turn focus to the UEFA Super cup match against European champions, Real Madrid, at the Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia on Tuesday.
Two of the biggest and most decorated teams in the world, in United and Madrid, will be looking to kick start their respective new seasons on a high, just like they ended the last one, celebrating with a silverware.
So, how did both teams get to the match in Skopje? We start off with the Europa League winners, United.
The Red Devils defeated Dutch side, Ajax Amsterdam 2-0 in the final of the UEFA Europa League in Stockholm, Sweden, becoming just the fifth side in history to win all three major UEFA club competitions.
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For Real Madrid, there was also an historic touch to their journey to Macedonia, as they saw off the challenge of Italian champions, Juventus, with a 4-1 thrashing in the final of the UEFA Champions League. It was their 12th European title and they become the first team to defend the title since AC Milan managed similar feat in the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
Eric Bailly, who had a brilliant debut season in England, is out of the encounter tonight, after UEFA extended his initial one-match ban to three, following a red card he received in the match against Belgian side, Anderlecht at Old Trafford in April.
Also expected to miss the match tonight are the defensive duo of Phil Jones and Daley Blind, who are also banned by the European football governing body, UEFA.
United will also miss the services of Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw, who are longer term absentees, due to injuries. Ashley Young is another player missing for the Reds, though he was spotted training with the team in Skopje.
Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are, however, available for selection having recovered from knocks picked up during the club’s preseason matches.
For Los Blancos, they welcome star forward, Cristiano Ronald back into the squad, after the Portuguese star missed the club’s preseason matches, with manager, Zinedine Zidane also having Gareth Bale available.
Madrid’s manager, Zidane:
“We’re here to win, nothing else matters. I’ve been at Madrid for 16 years, but I played for other teams against Madrid and they were the team you always wanted to beat. It’s Madrid – the best side in the world and you want to claim their scalp. We know every year it gets harder for us, but we have personality and hunger and we aren’t tired of winning.”
“We’ll play as we always do. We won’t change the way we play just for tomorrow’s game. We’re really up for the game. We want to win trophies, and we’ll try with hard work and humility. We won’t change anything in that respect from last season.”
United’s manager, Mourinho:
“I’m excited to be playing the Super Cup and to be playing against the European champions. It’s an honour when it’s the European champions and even more so when these European champions are the team with the most history and trophies. We have to play and to enjoy a special moment because it is not many times a player has the chance to play in the Super Cup.
“I have a relationship which has carried on with some [Madrid players] – we’re in contact, on the phone – but with others there’s no relationship. But it’s the same with my players at Chelsea, Inter and Porto. If tomorrow I meet them, I would greet them all.”
Real Madrid had a preseason to forget, as the European champions managed just a win in four matches. The win came via a penalty shootout against an MLS All-stars team, while their opponents, Man Utd, had a brilliant preseason, winning all but one of their seven matches, including a penalty shootout win over Madrid, after the game ended 1-1.
Both managers are ready and focused on one thing, winning the game, and have prepared for that. But who are the key players for these two sides?
For Madrid, inasmuch as he missed the club’s entire preseason, Ronaldo remains the key for the Spanish side. They will need his goals, and would be glad that he’s back in the side and raring to go.
United are a side building a new team, but in Paul Pogba, they have a player with the ability to unlock Madrid’s defence. The Frenchman looked renewed during their preseason, prompting his manager to say he’s at the level of Neymar and Lionel Messi.
Tonight, both players will lead their sides, hoping to make an impact, one good enough for the title.
Real Madrid are making a sixth appearance in the Super cup.
Should Madrid win, only AC Milan and FC Barcelona, with five cups apiece, would have won the Super Cup more times than the Spaniards’ four.
Madrid would become the first team to win a successive Super Cup title since Milan in 1989, 1990 seasons.
United are gunning for just their second Super cup title, having won the first in 1991.
No English side has won the Super Cup since Liverpool defeated CSKA Moscow in 2005.
Tonight’s match will be the 11th time these two giants will be meeting, with Madrid having won four to United’s two.
Madrid have lost just one of their last 18 European matches, while United are unbeaten in their last 11.
No English side has beaten Madrid in their last ten meetings.
Jose Mourinho managed Real Madrid from 2010 to 2013, while Cristiano Ronaldo spent six fruitful years at Old Trafford.
Real Madrid [4-3-1-2]: Navas; Carvajal; Ramos; Varane; Marcelo; Casemiro; Modrid; Kroos; Isco; Ronaldo; Benzema
Manchester United [4-1-2-3]: De Gea; Valencia; Smalling; Lindelof; Darmian; Matic; Herrera; Pogba; Mkhitaryan; Lukaku; Rashford.
With a happy Mourinho, and Zidane eyeing more history with Madrid, all is set for a pulsating game. Who wins this one? Going by their last match, the preseason game in the US, we could see the winner decided via the penalty shootout again.
Written by Izu Akawor