Real Madrid vs Manchester United is a mouthwatering UEFA Super Cup final and is the perfect way to kick-off the season before the domestic football campaign gets underway.
Ahead of the match in Macedonia, both teams have decisions to make over selection and personnel.
What do you make of the key talking points?
Starting with United’s backline…
Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof will likely start the game in the heart of Manchester United’s defence after the Red Devils found themselves on the wrong side of UEFA.
Eric Bailly and Phil Jones would most probably be Jose Mourinho’s starting centre-back pairing, but both have been given bans. Mourinho has been experimenting with a back five in pre-season but he might switch back to a traditional four for the final.
Either way it means starts for new signing Lindelof, who has looked shaky in pre-season, alongside the much maligned Smalling.
Towards the end of last season, Zinedine Zidane turned his back on the 4-3-3 formation he had previously used almost exclusively, instead fielding a midfield diamond which allowed Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to control possession while Isco roamed and Casemiro held firm.
It worked superbly and there’s no reason for Zidane to revert back to his former 4-3-3, unless he feels obliged to find a place for Gareth Bale.
Mourinho now has three of the four signings he demanded this summer after bringing his former charge Nemanja Matic (right) in from old club Chelsea last week. The Serbian, importantly, gives United discipline in midfield.
It means Paul Pogba will be allowed to exert his influence on the game, while Ander Herrera is free to be at his creative best, while not being stymied by having to sit back and screen the defence.
Bale’s playing time and position at Real Madrid will depend to a great extent upon whether Zidane decides to give Cristiano Ronaldo his first pre season run-out after being given an extended break following his Confederations Cup involvement with Portugal.
Ronaldo’s rebirth as a centre forward means he is highly unlikely to return to his old left-wing berth.
But if he starts on the bench, Zidane could field Karim Benzema as a lone frontman.
Finding space to attack against a Jose Mourinho team is never easy, but Madrid have a couple of wild cards up their sleeves in the form of Marcelo and
More than any other full-back duo in world football, Madrid’s pair are responsible for giving their team attacking width.
United must be forever diligent in tracking their attacking runs if they want to minimise their influence upon the action.
Over the last 12 months, several football stars have shone bright.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have continued to operate in a world of their own; Isco was brilliant in Real Madrid’s double- winning run-in; Kylian Mbappe exploded onto the scene in the Champions League; rising star Paolo Dybala and veterans Gigi Buffon and Dani Alves excelled for Juventus, and, Neymar made history with a world record transfer.
Many more names would be worthy in that list of the world’s best players, but there is one notable absentee: Gareth Bale.
In the relentlessly ruthless world of elite football, he is now in danger of suffering a severe loss of status.
The 2016/17 season was a poor one for Bale, partly because he entered it physically and mentally exhausted by his sterling performances for Wales during last summer’s European Championships, when he manfully bore the weight of a nation of his shoulders.
A few months later, as Real Madrid accelerated towards the finishing line in their ultimately glorious quest for a league and European double, Bale was nowhere to be seen. The Welsh winger missed the last few weeks with the latest in a long line of injuries, and the most concerning thing was that his absence didn’t even matter.
In fact, Madrid played their most convincing football for many years while Bale was on the sidelines, with Marco Asensio and Isco making the most of their opportunities to shine and Zinedine Zidane implementing a new winger-less formation which makes it difficult to see where Bale could fit in.
Gareth Bale's LaLiga record for Real Madrid:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 7, 2017
92 starts 🏃
54 goals ⚽️
33 assists 🅰️
Involved in a goal once every 89.9 minutes. 👊 pic.twitter.com/713PVQkB1s
The upshot is Bale is becoming a peripheral and unnecessary figure and, when you take into account his astronomical wages and expectations for extended playing time, an unwanted burden.
Madrid’s likely signing of Mbappe this summer would shunt Bale further down the pecking order, and the question of his continuity at the club has become a genuinely hot topic for the first time since he arrived in 2013.
If he does leave, one potential destination looks far more likely than any other, and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s confession on Monday that he would like to sign the Welshman was nothing more than the revelation of an open secret.
So the timing of Tuesday’s UEFA Super Cup between Bale’s current employers and his probable next home could not be more intriguing, but Mourinho’s statement that the winger being selected would indicate he is not available for sale is somewhat misleading.
Even if Bale does play from the start, it will be in the knowledge that neither Cristiano Ronaldo (only just returned to training) nor Mbappe (not yet signed) will be there. Once they are both in place, two from Tuesday night’s starting XI will obviously have to make way, which means that being picked in Skopje does not necessarily reveal Zidane’s long-term plans.
A match-winning performance from Bale, however, would be a different matter. If he can roll back time and deliver the kind of show-stopping display which has made him an unquestioned starter at the Bernabeu for the last four years, it could force Madrid’s decision-makers into a reconsideration.
After claiming three Champions League winners’ medals in the last four years, you might think he has nothing left to prove.
But, in fact, if he wants to dispel doubts about whether or not Madrid should keep him, Tuesday could be make or break.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane indicated that Cristiano Ronaldo will feature in the UEFA Super Cup against Manchester United after travelling with the squad to Skopje on Monday.
Ronaldo was surprisingly named in the reigning European champions’ group for Tuesday’s match in the Macedonian capital after only returning to training with his club over the weekend.
His summer has been overshadowed by accusations of tax evasion in Spain, which led to him 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 was handed an extended summer break after playing for Portugal at the Confederations Cup in Russia. He also reportedly became a father to twins in June.
But despite all that, Zidane said: “There have been a lot of things happening, a lot of noise around him as always, but he is relaxed.”
Ronaldo’s last club appearance saw him score twice in the 4-1 Champions League final win over Juventus in Cardiff in early June as Madrid successfully defended the trophy.
“What impresses me the most about him is that physically he is just as he was on the day of the final, which was two months ago now,” Zidane added at a press conference at the Philip II Arena.
“In the end that is what interests me, him and everyone else.
“The fact he is here with us means a lot because if he is with us he is here to play.”
Having not played any part in Real’s pre-season tour of the United States – which featured a defeat on penalties to United in California – it would still be an enormous surprise if the 32-year-old started in Skopje against his former club.
However, he took part in training on the Skopje pitch on Monday evening and he could get some game time as part of his preparations for the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona this Sunday.
“Cris is a very important member of our squad,” said skipper Sergio Ramos.
“It is important too that he travels with the team. He has a different role to any other player and his presence with us is always good, whether he plays or not.”
Zidane took his entire 24-man squad to Macedonia for the game as Madrid look to win a trophy they also claimed last year, when they beat Sevilla 3-2 in extra time in the Norwegian city of Trondheim.