Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletico Bilbao and Real Sociedad are in contention from Wednesday in a four-way final.
From the Red Sea to Andalusia: after inaugurating its new “Final 4” formula last year in Saudi Arabia, the Spanish Super Cup returns to the country from Wednesday due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the organizers to reconsider their juicy contract with the Saudi leadership.
One year after the controversies that accompanied the “four-man final” in Jeddah, it is under the mild winter sun of southern Spain that the four participants of this new edition will face each other, with the stars Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema. Far from the historic snowstorm that swept through Madrid and much of the Iberian Peninsula last weekend.
The first semi-final will pit FC Barcelona (second in Liga last season) against Real Sociedad (Copa del Rey finalist) on Wednesday (9 p.m.) in Cordoba. The second will see Spanish champion and Supercup title-holder Real Madrid face off against the other Basque Copa del Rey finalist Athletic Bilbao on Thursday at 9 p.m. in Malaga. The final will take place on Sunday at 9:00 p.m. in Seville.
A return home which forces Spanish football to question the need for a relocation of the competition to Saudi Arabia. Like its French and Italian counterparts, who have been competing for their equivalent trophies outside their borders for several years, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) had agreed to move this dying competition to Saudi Arabia for the period 2020-2022, in exchange for 120 millions of euros. A contract renewable over three years at the end of the first lease.
In 2020, for the first time since its creation in 1982, this trophy did not therefore pit the winner of La Liga against that of the Copa del Rey, but the two best of the Spanish Championship and the two finalists of the Cup. national. It was disputed in January instead of August, over 6,400 km and ten hours flight from Madrid.
A choice strongly criticized in Spain: very few Spaniards were able to attend the three matches of this mini-tournament with four played in oppressive heat, and this relocation to an ultraconservative kingdom, much criticized by human rights defenders, was badly received by public opinion.
Barça in force, Atlético absent
It was there that Barça’s black year began, with the defeat in the semi-final against Atlético (2-3), the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde and the appointment of Quique Setién in the wake. And a year later, Barça arrives in a strong position to erase this bad memory. For this first trophy of 2021 in Spanish football, Andalusian stadiums will still be empty due to health restrictions.
Luis Rubiales, the president of the RFEF, therefore obtained the green light from the competent authorities within his federation to renegotiate the contract with Saudi Arabia, due to the absence of an audience in the Saudi stadiums and the obligation to repatriate the tournament to Spain. On the pitch, the big absentee will be Atlético Madrid: finalists last year (0-0, 4-1 tab against Real), the Colchoneros did not finish in the first two places in the championship and were eliminated from the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey last year (2-1 afterwards against Cultural Leonesa). Joao Felix, Luis Suarez, Diego Simeone and others will therefore not have the opportunity to take revenge on their neighboring rival this year.
Program of the Spanish Supercup (January 12-17):
First semi-final, Wednesday in Cordoba:
(9:00 p.m.) Real Sociedad – FC Barcelona
Second semi-final, Friday in Cordoba:
(9:00 p.m.) Real Madrid – Athletic Bilbao
Final, Sunday (9:00 p.m.) in Seville