Real Madrid braces for Atletico challenge in Spanish Super Cup final

An all-Madrid final in Jeddah offers both Atletico and Real the chance to claim a first trophy of the campaign and perhaps a valuable psychological boost too.

Atletico players celebrate their goal during the Spanish Super Cup semifinal between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid on January 9, 2020, at the King Abdullah Sport City in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah.   -  AFP

Lionel Messi has predictably been the star attraction but there will be no Clasico in Saudi Arabia this weekend, as Atletico Madrid's defeat of Barcelona set up a clash with rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday.

Messi was cheered by fans at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium from the moment he jogged out to warm up, yet Atletico was the one celebrating at the end of Thursday's semifinal in the competition that has been expanded and controversially shipped to a different continent, to a country with a long-condemned record on human rights.

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Atletico scored two late goals to beat Barca 3-2, with a derby final now to come against Real Madrid.

An all-Madrid final in Jeddah offers both Atletico and Real the chance to claim a first trophy of the campaign and perhaps a valuable psychological boost too.

Certainly, Barcelona and Valencia will resume in La Liga with their rhythm jolted and confidence knocked.

 

Gaining momentum

After seven games unbeaten, Valencia was outplayed in its 3-1 semifinal defeat by Real while Barca's late collapse against Atletico brings doubts around coach Ernesto Valverde rushing back to the surface.

Just as defeat to a rival creates instability, victory could prove affirming for Real, which looks to convert form into a lead in La Liga's title race, and Atletico, which is trying to close a five-point gap.

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Atletico has been gaining momentum in the league and its victory over Barcelona will be a major boost ahead of what promises to be a tough second half of the season.

It sits third in the league table with trips to Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabeu to come while in the Champions League it faces Europe's most feared team, Liverpool, next month.

Yet even if it was on the back foot for long spells of its 3-2 win on Thursday, Atletico defied its creative problems with three goals and at least two good chances for more.

“It is important for the club, we beat the best attacking team in the world,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “You saw our bite, our belief, our desire. It's what this club is all about.”

READ| Simeone: Atletico achieved the 'almost impossible' in Barcelona win

Real Madrid, meanwhile, was a class above Valencia, making it 15 games unbeaten even without its top scorer Karim Benzema, who has a hamstring strain, and Gareth Bale, who has a throat infection.

Bale could yet join up with the squad for the final on Sunday - although it remains unlikely - but there is no doubt Real will start as favourites to claim an 11th Spanish Super Cup and deny Atletico their third.

Real Madrid's progress means it will earn around 10 million euros from the tournament, with Atletico making around six. Success on Sunday would cap a highly profitable week.

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