Like England's Community Shield, Spain's Super Cup is normally viewed as a glorified friendly. But when the team's matched are Barcelona and Real Madrid, the intensity gets turned up a notch.
Super Cup living up to name with Barca-Real clash
BARCELONA // Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Gerard Pique could not contain their delight as they tweeted messages welcoming Barcelona's expected new signing, Cesc Fabregas.
"Welcome home!!! Happy to have you here," wrote Puyol. Football's longest running transfer saga, which dates back to 2008, is finally coming to a close, but it is not entirely definite.
Fabregas, the 24-year-old Arsenal captain, is expected to sign for the Catalans tomorrow in a deal worth £35 million (Dh207.5m), but the tweets irritated Arsenal and did not delight Pep Guardiola, the Barca coach, either.
"If I want to know about Cesc then I don't look at the Twitter account of players, I ask club officials," Guardiola said tersely.
The Catalans' attention will shift away from their new signing to the first leg Sunday night of the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.
Normally viewed as a glorified friendly between the league and cup winners, its status has increased as the Spanish giants are meeting in the Super Cup for the first time since 1997.
Barca's captain then was Guardiola, and while they won the home game, 2-1, in front of 120,000, they lost the cup after a 4-1 defeat in Madrid.
Guardiola will be hoping to avoid a similar score line, but with two wins, two draws and two losses from their six pre-season games, he is faced another unsettled run into the season.
Copa America and international friendlies meant he did not have access to his full squad until Thursday night.
He is unsure which players will start in Madrid as "very few of my players played 90 minutes during pre-season".
Lionel Messi, Daniel Alves and the new signing, Alexis Sanchez, did not start training until Monday, although all have been named in his squad.
With seven successive wins, Guardiola concedes that: "Madrid had a prefect pre-season - they won everything.
"They continue their good form of last season."
There is a positive vibe around Madrid, and they held an open training session in the Bernabeu Saturday night for fans to see established stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo as well as their new signings - Fabio Coentrao, Nuri Sahin, Jose Callejon and Rafael Varane - for the first time.
Real's solitary aim is the same as it was a year ago: to overhaul Barca.
Pre-season results will count for little tonight, but while Barca's Javier Mascherano accepted that his side might still be a little short of preparation, he said: "Regardless of the form we might be in, this is a derby game, and there is a trophy at stake.
"The result won't be a big influence on the rest of the season, though a victory will give whoever wins a boost."
Mascherano also offered words that will be of little comfort to the majority of the 80,000 crowd, saying, "Leo [Messi] looks like he hasn't been away. He's been perfect in training."
Almost 150 countries will televise the opener live and the second leg on August 26.
Like England's Community Shield last weekend, they can be sure that they will not be watching a glorified friendly.
A LOOK AT SOME RECENT HISTORY BETWEEN BARCA AND REAL
Primera Liga, November 29, 2010, Barca 5-0 Real
Pep Guardiola’s side give their rivals a footballing lesson with a scintillating display of attacking football. Two up inside 20 minutes, a David Villa double made it 4-0 at the hour mark and Jeffren’s goal capped things off before Sergio Ramos took his anger out on Lionel Messi and was sent off.
Primera Liga, April 16, 2011, Real 1-1 Barca
Real fought back from a goal down with 10 men to earn a draw at the Bernabeu, but Barcelona still retained an eight-point lead in the title race. Raul Albiol was sent off and conceded a penalty that Messi scored in the 52nd minute, but then Real came alive and Cristiano Ronaldo equalised late on from the penalty spot.
Copa del Rey final, April 20 2011, Barca 0-1 Real
As they often do, Barca dominated possession, but the Spanish Cup final, which was played at Valencia’s stadium, turned into a tense, volatile match. The one moment of beauty was Ronaldo’s looping header in extra time which won the cup for Real.
Champions League semi-final, first leg, April 27 2011, Real 0-2 Barca
When players were not diving, fouling each other or remonstrating with the referee, football was occasionally played. Real’s Pepe was sent off on 61 minutes, and Messi stepped up to add two moments of magic to a turgid affair.
Champions League semi-final, second leg, May 37 2011, Barca 1-1 Real
After the disgrace, and subsequent condemnation, of the first leg, the return was slightly less heated. Despite going a goal down, Real should have won on the night. Gonzalo Higuain had a goal bizarrely disallowed which would have made it 2-1 with 20 minutes left.
* Thomas Woods