x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Barcelona may be serial winners but Atletico Madrid have cup pedigree

David Villa lines up against his former employers Barcelona for his new ones Atletico in second leg of Spanish Super Cup, reports Andy Mitten in Barcelona.

David Villa has been brought in by Atletico Madrid to replace Radamel Falcao. Emilio Naranjo / EPA
David Villa has been brought in by Atletico Madrid to replace Radamel Falcao. Emilio Naranjo / EPA

The Spanish Super Cup second leg between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will finish tomorrow. The unusual 11pm (1am UAE) kick-off time has been agreed so the game does not clash with Uefa Champions League ties, while Barcelona will pay local authorities €30,000 (Dh147,000) to keep the metro open.

In view of the unpopular start time, they have discounted match tickets to as little as €19.

Not a bad price to see some of the world's greatest footballers tested against an Atletico side who deserved their 1-1 draw in an absorbing first leg in Madrid. The 500 Atletico fans who have chartered a train will get home at 5am.

Atletico have been the emerging force of Spanish football. Long mocked for their chaotic instability and presidential follies, last season they enjoyed their first top-three finish since winning the league and cup double in 1996.

Their league positions have improved each season over the last four years, yet it is in the cups where they have won trophies, winning two Europa Leagues and two European Super Cups.

Last season, the Rojiblancos won their first domestic cup since 1996 when they beat Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final. They had not beaten their cross-city rivals this century, and with the final played at the Bernabeu, their chances seemed even slimmer, yet they triumphed for one of the great nights in their history.

It marked their growing confidence under coach Diego Simeone. Atleti's 76 league points last season would have been enough to win the Spanish title as recently as 2007, yet they lost at home and away to Barcelona, losing 4-1 at Camp Nou in a December title match. They have also lost their last seven games at Camp Nou, conceding an astonishing 28 goals and scoring five.

A full-strength Atletico travelled to Catalonia by train yesterday and Barcelona's neighbours, Espanyol, let them use their training ground. Like Barca, a largely settled Atletico side have won their opening two league games, scoring eight times.

Surprisingly, David Villa has scored none of their league goals. He is the man who was brought in to replace Radamel Falcao, who joined big-spending French side Monaco for €60m. Falcao scored 34 league goals last season, but Atleti are confident that Villa, 31, can keep the goals flowing.

Villa did get the goal at the Calderon in the first leg. The Asturian usually refuses to celebrate against his former clubs, but his adrenalin-charged celebration showed both how well he has settled at his new club and how uneasy he was at Barcelona last season, when he felt he should have had more minutes on the pitch.

His relationship with both Lionel Messi and club president Sandro Rosell was questioned, but Barcelona let the Spain side's all-time leading scorer leave for just €2.1m, rising to €5m if he stays for three years which would take him to age 34.

Barca could have asked for more, but they hope the goodwill to Villa and Atletico will be reciprocated should they make a future bid for Atletico's Under 21 midfielder Oliver Torres, 18, who has already played eight times for the first team. Torres is in Atletico's 24-man squad.

Neymar, Villa's replacement at Camp Nou, scored his first goal for the club in the first leg, and thus, Barcelona's past and future scored the game's only goals.

Gerardo Martino, the Barca coach, has proved popular with fans and players, including Sergio Busquets, 25, who extended his contract with the club until 2018. The Catalan midfielder is a key player for club and Spain, though he has not been immune to Martino's rotation and was on the bench for Sunday's 1-0 win at Malaga. Christian Tello, 22, has also pledged his future and will sign an extension until 2018 on Friday.

Neymar has come off the bench in all three Barcelona games so far, but while his teammates say the Brazilian is integrating well on and off the field, he did not sign to be a substitute.

With Messi's match fitness in doubt as he recovers from a hamstring injury, Neymar hopes that tonight could be the night for him and his new club to win their first trophy of the season.


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