Real Madrid enjoyed a phenomenal campaign last season, completing the La Liga and Champions League double under Zinedine Zidane.
They became the first team to successfully defend European football’s most coveted prize in the process and secured their tag as the team to beat for the 2017/18 season.
Ahead of the new campaign though, the team to beat has been beaten quite often in pre-season. Los Blancos have lost three of their four friendlies over the summer, including a defeat on penalties to Manchester United on July 23.
With the La Liga champions facing the Europa League winners in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday night, here’s a look at the key battles that could decide the tie.
ROMELU LUKAKU vs SERGIO RAMOS
Romelu Lukaku has enjoyed a fine pre-season and has a reputation of overpowering some of the finest centre-backs the Premier League has to offer. However, he also tends to blow hot and cold and has been known to be kept quiet when crossing paths with a powerful yet pacey defender.
The Belgian was famously kept under wraps by Eric Bailly last season when Everton faced Manchester United at Old Trafford and in Sergio Ramos on Tuesday night, he comes up against a defender of similar ilk, only more accomplished and experienced.
But with more quality around him and better service to feed off at United, it will be interesting to see if the striker can prove his worth against an elite defender.
PAUL POGBA vs CASEMIRO
Like Lukaku, Nemanja Matic is also set to make his competitive debut for United and his presence in the starting XI will see Paul Pogba enjoy a more advanced role than he was used to last season.
The Frenchman will have the freedom to stride forward more often and explore the space in behind Lukaku. However, that’s also the territory Casemiro is likely to patrol. The Brazilian has been a mainstay in Zidane’s side, offering the balance they require in midfield.
His energy and tenacity in the middle of the park challenges Pogba’s spark and extravagance. The two players employ very different styles and have very different roles but are equally vital to their respective teams.
GARETH BALE vs MATTEO DARMIAN
The reports linking Gareth Bale to United just won’t go away and Jose Mourinho has a lot to do with that. From hugs in the tunnel to openly admitting he would sign the Welshman if the opportunity presented itself, the Portuguese boss has made no secret of his interest in the 28-year-old.
Bale has enough minutes under his belt in pre-season and has looked lively. Left-back has been a position of concern for United with Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo out through injury. Matteo Darmian is most likely to be tasked with containing the Real Madrid speedster and despite the United man’s defensive capabilities, it is a bit of a mismatch.
Darmian may well struggle if he gets too tight to the former Tottenham star. However, a good display against Bale could see the Italian’s stock rise. That left-back slot is up for grabs after all.