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 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.
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.
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.
Drink breaks will be used in the UEFA Super Cup meeting between Manchester United and Real Madrid if the scorching Skopje weather continues into the evening.
Temperatures have rocketed across southern Europe thanks to a heatwave dubbed ‘Lucifer’, regularly taking the Macedonian capital above 40 degrees Celsius.
It is forecast to be 36C when Jose Mourinho’s United side train at the National Arena Filip II on Monday – and a repeat of those temperatures for the Super Cup itself would see cooling breaks implemented.
The match delegate will decide 90 minutes before Tuesday’s game whether to have drink breaks of three minutes, which will come approximately 30 minutes into each half.
Breaks will be brought in if the temperature exceeds 32 degrees using a digital thermometer reading, or 27 degrees using a wet bulb globe temperature device.
The UEFA delegate will also take into account other factors, such as the temperature dropping as the evening continues – although it is unclear just how low it will go for the Super Cup.
Even if cooling breaks are not used on Tuesday, UEFA says 20 kilos of crushed ice should be provided to both teams and shading provided if the substitutes’ benches are in direct sunshine.
Cristiano Ronaldo could feature against his former club Manchester United in Tuesday’s UEFA Super Cup after being included in Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane’s squad for the trip to Skopje, Macedonia.
Ronaldo’s summer has been overshadowed by accusations of tax evasion in Spain, which led to him being appearing in court last week, and speculation over his future.
According to a report from Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, Ronaldo told the court he “would like to return to England” due to his tax troubles in Spain.
The World Player of the Year only returned to training with his Real teammates on Saturday as he was handed an extended summer break after playing for Portugal at the Confederations Cup and is still not expected to start.
However, as is common for showpiece occasions, Zidane has decided to take his entire 24-man squad to Macedonia.