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Know Thine Enemy: UEFA Super Cup Q&A with Om Arvind

Managing Madrid’s tactics expert offers some thoughts on Wednesday’s derbi in Tallinn.

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Just four months ago, we spoke ahead of a league derby at the Bernabéu. Lots has changed for both Madrid sides since then. What has a Cristiano-less preseason revealed about this Real Madrid side?

Julen Lopetegui’s tactics. Straight off the bat, he went about implementing a positional play system very similar to the one he employed with Spain. There was a lot of emphasis on keeping the central midfielders a little narrower than you’d normally expect in order to overload one wing before quickly switching play to create 1v1’s for Gareth Bale to attack. That produced some nice moments, but it’s clear that Madrid’s possession play still requires a lot of work. The movement toward the ball and speed of thought when it comes to ball circulation is a bit slow, and there have been issues with Dani Ceballos’ and Isco’s overly deep positioning in preseason.

Perhaps the strongest tactical element has been Real’s pressing — which, though unimpressive in the Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu, was excellent in the International Champions Cup. Based on this, I assume Lopetegui will instruct his men to attempt to win possession high up the pitch in the European Super Cup.

Atlético Madrid, too, had a transformative summer. What most impressed you about their transfer business?

I am impressed with the way Atlético signed to fit the more attack-minded philosophy that Diego Simeone has tried to transition to over the past couple seasons. As is common knowledge, Atlético have periodically struggled when asked to break down deep blocks, something that can be solved (at least partially) by having talented wide players like Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins. Rodri was also a fantastic under-the-radar signing who replaces the defensive qualities of Gabi while adding the passing quality and tempo control much needed for possession-based sides.

How will Lopetegui juggle Thibaut Courtois’ minutes with Keylor Navas’?

One would assume that Courtois will be the starting keeper, meaning that Navas would be relegated to the Copa del Rey and maybe the Champions League as well. However, I don’t think this hierarchy is set in stone. I believe that Navas will be given the chance to fight for his spot and may very well become the first option again if Courtois underperforms.

Onto the Super Cup. What is the key matchup you’re going to have your eye on?

It really depends on who starts, I guess. If Casemiro plays, I’d be super interested to see how he’s deployed and how he deals with the defensive attention I expect as part of a larger high press.

Otherwise, I think it’s important to pay attention to how Karim Benzema deals with Atlético’s formidable defensive line without Cristiano Ronaldo attracting the bulk of attention. Not only does Benz have to drop deep and connect midfield to attack, but he also has to battle Diego Godín and co. in the air and find space in the box — a task normally assumed by CR7.

Fill in the blank fun: Real Madrid will win the Super Cup if they ____.

If they score more than Atlético!

Kidding. I think Real win if they’re clinical. The Madrileño Derbi has never been an occasion that creates a ton of high quality chances for either side, so it’s usually the team that’s feeling it in front of goal that has the edge.

Scoreline prediction?

Hmmmmm. 1-1 into extra time, with Real nabbing a late goal through Asensio? IDK. Hopefully something that has Madrid winning.