Think European royalty and one could be forgiven for thinking this was a piece on the hectic world of the ruling elite, and in a way it is. Real Madrid and Manchester United clash in the UEFA Super Cup and as far as world footballing superpowers go, these two are about as elite as it gets.
True, United may not have abdicated their throne voluntarily, but they have certainly been usurped in recent times. The Europa League champions will want to put down a marker, however, and what better way than by beating Champions League winners Real Madrid in as glamourous a pre-season game as you can get?
Join us as we run the rule over both teams and suggest a few tips in our match preview that could even see Stan calling for our heads!
REAL MADRID V MANCHESTER UNITED
Tuesday 8th August, 19:45 | Live on Sky Sports 1
Phillip II Arena, Skopje
Bettor the Devil, you know!
All puns and themes aside, when Real Madrid and Manchester United clash it's a real footballing event. That they meet in the Uefa Super Cup as winners of the Champions and Europa Leagues respectively simply adds a little extra frisson to the event. Temperatures are expected to hit a sizzling 40c, but that's just pitch side - expect it to be far, far hotter when things get underway.
Since its inception in the early 70s, Real Madrid have won the cup three times to United's one. Many will say that tonight's clash is nothing more than a glorified friendly, a money-making exercise. Don't whisper that in the vicinity of Jose Mourinho, however. The United boss will be eager to get one over his past employers and in doing so claim one of the few trophies to have eluded him so far in his glittering career.
Real Madrid became the first team in the modern era to successfully defend the Champions League last season, when they smashed the defensively sound Juventus 4-1 in the final. They beat Sevilla the year before and Zidane would like nothing more than to make it a hat-trick of wins for Los Blancos. However, they won't have it all their own way, especially if preseason form is any barometer. Two wins and two draws (including one against Man United, who subsequently beat them on penalties) is nothing to write home about but ZZ's team of all-stars can (and usually do) raise their game when the world's attention is on them, as it will be tonight.
United, on the other hand, come into the game on something of a buzz. The acquisition of Lukaku up front has given them a shot in the arm and the Big Belgia seems to have taken to being a Red Devil with comparative ease. Given the competitiveness of a full season, Nemanja Matic, who they nabbed from rivals Chelsea could also be a key figure as Mourinho looks to build on United's preseason form. They've enjoyed victories against the likes of LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Manchester City, Valarenga, and Sampdoria, and the only blot on their copybook was a narrow 1-0 loss to Barcelona. It will also be interesting to see how our Fantasy pick Henrikh Mkhitaryan performs against the mighty Real. He grabbed six goals in 11 games in United Europa League success last season and the Armenian captain could be a key component if United are to enjoy success, both tonight and in the coming season.
It's thought that Cristiano Ronaldo will start on the bench for Real, but you just know that the ultimate showman will want a say in this game.Zinedane will probably give him some game time, but even without their talisman Real have strength in depth and their midfield, in particular, is enough to make one salivate. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco have the skill, drive and wizardry to unlock any defence, whilst Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema will be a handful up front. Bale, the Welsh wizard subject to increased speculation linking him with United, is only a possibility to start at the moment, due to a niggling injury. It's tribute to Real's strength that they might not miss even his mercurial talents.
Possible Starting XIs:
Real Madrid XI: Navas; Ramos, Hernandez, Nacho, Carvajal; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Bale, Ronaldo; Benzema
Man United XI: De Gea; Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Blind; Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Mkhitaryan; Martial, Lukaku
What we sayin'?
Despite everything, this is a hard one to call.. a really hard one. The absence of both Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who are both suspended, will be of concern to Mourinho, who will give a start to new signing Swedish centre back Victor Lindelof. It's likely to be a baptism of fire, however, as each of the six meetings between the teams has seen both score. Add into the mix the fact that it's been almost 16 months since Real Madrid failed to score in any competitive or friendly match and you can see where we're going with this. BTTS is a tempting 4/6 and is our banker bet for the match.
We expect an open, flowing game, even though Jose will look to keep things tight and hit on the break, with Lukaku the figurehead and main outlet. Given this, we'll take United to win a thrilling game, either 2-1 (10/1) or 3-2 (33/1). Lukaku to score anytime is 13/8.
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