On Tuesday August 8th the Europa League champions Manchester United will play Champions League winners Real Madrid in Skopje, Macedonia for the European Super Cup title.
Manchester United have only won this cup once; back in 1991 when they defeated the then European champions Red Star Belgrade.
Since then the English team have contested two finals; a defeat to Lazio in 1999, and again to Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2008.
Not as successful as the other elite sides
Manchester United pride themselves on being the biggest football team in the world. In commercial revenue terms according to Forbes they are exactly that. But in terms of silverware, the Red Devils fall very short of the other super powers.
United have achieved 1 Cup Winners Cup title, 1 Europa League title, and 3 European Cup titles. This is a decent achievement, but pales significantly to the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, A.C. Milan, Ajax and even domestic arch-rivals Liverpool.
But compared to Tuesday’s opponents – Real Madrid, the gap is staggering. The Spanish giants have 12 Champions League titles, 9 more than United.
The so-called richest team in the world will be playing catch up for about a decade before they can confidently boast of being the biggest at anything globally in playing terms.
Real the better record, United the better preseason
Real Madrid’s record suggests they are excellent in European finals. And they are, having lost none in their last 5 appearances.
Granted; considering the time of year, this match for all intensive purposes could be treated as a UEFA Charity Shield of sorts, but it is still a European title, and United could do with a few more of them.
However, Jose Mourinho is the current Manchester United manager and former Los Blancos boss.
From a tactical point of view; he is arguably the best coach in the world, and like Madrid when he reaches finals, he invariably wins them. Something will have to give in Skopje.
United have had a far superior preseason, beating Real Madrid in the USA, and they signed three players in the transfer market; defender Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku.
Madrid on the other have had a far more stressful summer thus far; just signing fullback Theo Hernandez, and midfielder Dani Ceballos. Their form is a concern though, having lost 4 matches this summer.
The Champions League winners have also failed to make any major marquee signings that the fans always crave. Off the field distractions are not helping either, with tax problems irritating an ever more restless Cristiano Ronaldo.
Thriving on the big occasion
But form means little when it comes to preseason, and Real Madrid thrive on occasions like a major final.
Big games involving such elite teams tend to be settled by the finest of margins, sometimes even boiling down to a key refereeing penalty or booking decision.
Gamesmanship is rife when there are titles at stake, so expect that to feature too.
Thanks to the profile of the teams and managers involved, expect a little extra edge to this encounter, with a dour defensive affair for large periods. It will most likely be decided on penalties.
United’s strong spine
Due to their big game experience, Real Madrid have the edge here, but Manchester United are quickly becoming a force again.
Under Mourinho they have developed a strong spine with power and pace in all areas, something they demonstrated when they effectively bullied Ajax out of the Europa league final in May.
The English side are now dirty and cynical too when they need to be, something they’ve lacked in Europe over the years. If United can win it, they’ll receive a massive confidence boost going into the upcoming Champions League campaign.
Due to their comparatively bare European trophy cabinet, expect the Red Devils to be the hungrier team. But will their hunger be enough?
Written by Nicholas Behan
Follow Nicholas on Twitter @NicholasBehan
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