Lucrative negotiations are under way between the Spanish Football Federation [RFEF] and Saudi Arabia’s government to bring the Supercopa de Espana to the Kingdom, according to reports.
Spanish sports daily Marca have stated that a proposal worth 30 million per year is under discussion that would see the showpiece season opener – that contains the preceding La Liga and Copa del Rey winners – held in the Middle East for the next six editions. A longer-term deal and future changing of locations are also up for discussion, with nothing official yet signed.
Big changes to the match in 2018 saw it both played abroad – at Morocco’s Stade de Tanger – and over just one leg for the first time. Barcelona defeated Sevilla 2-1 in August’s clash.
Further alterations could be approved by the RFEF assembly on April 29 that move the fixture from its traditional spot to January, beginning in 2020. The average daytime temperature in capital city Riyadh for August is 36C with a high temperature of 43C, making usual scheduling problematic.
In February, RFEF president Luis Rubiales also proposed the competition being expanded to four teams.
The 2018 Supercoppa Italiana was held at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City on January 16, 2019. Serie A holders Juventus defeated Coppa Italia runners-up AC Milan 1-0, with Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo netting the only goal.
It wasn’t a vintage Barca display but Alena struck in the 54th minute before Suarez converted from the spot six minutes later to seal the victory as the Catalans got three points closer to winning the La Liga title.
The visitors’ second goal was initially ruled offside but a VAR review, the referee pointed to the spot for a handball by Tomas Pina.
Messi did take to the pitch just past the hour mark but the job was done by then and it proved to be little more than a run out for the Argentine superstar.
The result means Barca will be crowned champions if they win their next game at home to Levante or even before that should Valencia defeat second-placed Atletico Madrid.
DOES ALENA HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?
When the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and later Sergio Busquets established themselves in Barcelona’s midfield, they set an extremely high standard, one that no La Masia product has come close to reaching since.
Even Cesc Fabregas who came through the academy before plying his trade with Arsenal in the Premier League returned to the Camp Nou as a seasoned pro, he never quite made himself at home in that midfield.
That said, a chasm has been created in the wake of Xavi and Iniesta’s departures and Alena may be primed to serve at the heart of Barca teams for years to come.
The 21-year-old is highly rated within the club having consistently impressed as he came through the ranks at La Masia. He has a certain grace on the ball, possessing excellent close control that renders him a fine dribbler as he drives forward in attack or manoeuvres his way out of tight spaces in midfield.
Of course he possess great vision and passing range but his goal against Alaves highlighted his intelligent movement and eye for goal. Alena darted into the box as Sergi Roberto played the ball in and aided by a clever dummy from Suarez, the Spaniard was able to latch onto it before finishing in the bottom corner with aplomb.
The youngster has impressed when given the opportunity this season and could prove to be the next great midfield prodigy Barca’s youth academy have produced. Consistency is key though if he is to succeed in that regard. The likes of Rafinha Alcantara for instance boasted excellent quality and technique but didn’t quite meet the mark.
The evidence at the moment remains positive though. Alena could very well become a household name in Catalonia.
The primary criticism made of Ernesto Valverde is that he’s far too cautious for a Barcelona manager. The Catalans have grown accustomed to seeing their side play boldly and take risks, smothering the opposition into submission.
The performance at the Mendizorroza stadium though was another underwhelming one. For the 78 per cent share of possession the visitors enjoyed, they only mustered a miserly six shots on target.
That said, it takes a certain resolve to keep picking up results even when you’re not performing at optimum levels. Slowly but surely, Barcelona are creeping to another La Liga crown.
Of course, they’ve been aided by the fact that neither Madrid side have been able to challenge them. Atletico suffer from a genuine lack of firepower while Real are in the midst of a rebuilding process.
Valverde has even had the luxury of fielding a second string side against Huesca a couple of weeks ago to focus on Champions League engagements instead and could bench Messi for this encounter without concern.
This Barca side may not be storming to a league title but they’re destined to achieve it nonetheless. And somehow, despite their lack of panache or irresistible football, they’re very much in the frame for a historic third treble.
A Barcelona title parade may well be in the works already with second-placed Atletico Madrid a safe distance away but there are still points to play for, three of which will be on offer at Alaves on Wednesday.
Abelado Fernandez’s side have the unenviable task of welcoming the La Liga champions in waiting, bidding to delay their coronation.
The Catalans however are chasing a historic third treble and will want to sew up the domestic league sooner rather than later.
LENGLET PROVING HIS WORTH
As far as Barcelona’s personnel issues go, there’s none more concerning than the steady decline of Samuel Umtiti. Having arrived from Lyon in the summer of 2016, the Frenchman was expected to be a pillar in defence for years to come and initially showed signs of fulfilling his role as such.
His form during the first half of last season in particular, as a more stable Barca side coped with the departure of Neymar, suggested that he was the centre-back extraordinaire the Catalans had yearned for to partner Gerard Pique. Instead, recurring injuries have taken their toll and even when fit now, Umtiti is struggling to get back to his best.
Fortunately, Clement Lenglet’s arrival in the summer has been a blessing. Not only has the former Sevilla defender slotted in alongside Pique effortlessly, but has even out-performed his central defensive partner.
The 23-year-old rarely succumbs to mistakes – something Pique seems to be growing prone to – and on current form should be the number one centre-back at the club. His goal against Real Sociedad over the weekend only highlighted his contribution this term.
Lenglet’s first league goal for Barca. He’s turned out to be a great signing. pic.twitter.com/nHhoGCUwAW— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) April 20, 2019
Luis Suarez has scored 20 goals in 31 games across all competitions this season. At first glance, that record doesn’t seem half-bad but given his pedigree and the fact that he’s Barcelona’s number nine, he really should be delivering more.
The Uruguayan has endured some notable droughts earlier this campaign. He scored in just one game in November not long after a six-game goalless run.
Given his tenacious style of play with much of his best work traditionally coming from relentlessly running the channels and quick bursts of acceleration, it’s only natural that he would begin to slow down at the age of 32.
It doesn’t help either that Kevin-Prince Boateng, signed in January as his deputy, has so far proved to be a dud. Suarez hasn’t scored in his last three games and a poor display against Sociedad which yielded just one attempt at goal reeks of another potential drought around the corner.
With a Champions League date set with former employers Liverpool, the striker can’t afford to play himself into a rut. That’s why it’s important he nets before then and Alaves serves up his first opportunity to arrest what could develop into a slump.
It’s no secret that Barcelona are eager to wrap up the title as soon as possible and on current form, Wednesday should take them a step closer to achieving their target.
Alaves welcome Barcelona to the Mendizorrotza Stadium having failed to win a single game in the last month with their most recent triumph coming in mid March away to rock-bottom side Huesca. Having impressed for much of the season, their recent dip in form has dealt a blow to their European credentials though they remain eighth, six points from a Europa League spot.
Barcelona on the other hand haven’t tasted defeat in the league since ending up on the wrong end of a 4-3 thriller at home to Real Betis in November.
The victory over Real Sociedad on Saturday has left the Catalans requiring just two more wins – assuming Atletico Madrid don’t slip up. Given the incentive to then focus on the Champions League where they face Liverpool in the semi-finals, there should be no shortage of motivation to get over the finish line sooner rather than later.