REUTERS - European champions Real Madrid could be without the world’s most expensive player Welshman Gareth Bale and Portuguese defender Pepe when they meet city rivals and domestic champions Atletico Madrid in Tuesday’s first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Both players were unable to train on Friday when they nursed injuries ahead of Real’s final friendly fixture against Fiorentina in Warsaw on Saturday, a game they were treating as a key warm-up for their reunion with Atletico.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti, rotating his squad before meeting Atletico again for the first time since they beat them 4-1 in the all-Spanish Champions League final in Lisbon in May, made nine changes to the team that started Tuesday’s UEFA Super Cup final against Sevilla in Cardiff, which Madrid won 2-0.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored both goals, and newly-arrived Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez were retained as Madrid, the King’s Cup winners, finalised their preparations. Ronaldo scored an early goal but Real lost 2-1 to Fiore.
Bale, whose solo winning goal in the King’s Cup final against Barcelona in April secured Real’s place in the Super Cup, trained on his own while Pepe did only some light stretching. Both, however, were on the bench in Warsaw.
French defender Raphael Varane is likely to replace Pepe while Spanish midfielder Isco is tipped to step in for Bale, if he is unfit for the clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The return leg is at the Vicente Calderon on Friday, three days before the Spanish champions start the defence of their La Liga title at Rayo Vallecano. Real open their league campaign the same evening against Cordoba.
Ronaldo issued a warning to Atletico and all their rivals after Real’s win in Cardiff that the European champions are aiming for a clean sweep of all six trophies available to them - including the Spanish Super Cup and their local rivals’ La Liga crown.
“We are going to try to win all the trophies,” he said. “It’s good to win this trophy (the European Super Cup) to give confidence to the team and let’s see next week against Atletico what we are going to do.”
Boosted by the combined 120 million euros ($160.76 million)arrival of three World Cup stand-out players in Rodriguez, from AS Monaco, Germany midfielder Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich and Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas from Levante, they hope to retain the King’s Cup and the Champions League.
No club has successfully defended the European Cup in the Champions League era, nor since 1990, when current Real Madrid coach Ancelotti was in midfield for Arrigo Sacchi’s masterful AC Milan team, European champions in 1989 and 1990.
According to Ronaldo, they hope also to win the Club World Cup, but acknowledge, before any of that, they will face determined, if much-changed, opponents in Atletico on Tuesday.
Since their disappointment in Lisbon on May 24, Atletico have sold Spain striker Diego Costa and Brazilian left back Filipe Luis to Chelsea, who have also recalled Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from his loan at the Calderon.
In a period of almost-customary upheaval, they have also lost important squad players including former Spain striker David Villa as they balanced the books.
In their place, Argentine coach Diego Simeone has spent about 95 million euros to sign highly-rated forwards Mexican Raul Jimenez and Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, from America and Real Sociedad respectively, and Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak from Benfica to compete with Miguel Angel Moya from Getafe.
He also signed Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich, among others, as he rebuilt the team in the same durable image of last season’s successful side in which defensive strength and organisation was a priority.
”Our strong defence is one of our characteristics,“ keeper Moya told the club’s website (www.clubatleticodemadrid.com). ”Other than the strength, there are practically no cracks in the team. We will give our rivals few chances.
“The idea for this team is well set and the backbone is still here/”($1 = 0.7464 Euros)
Reporting by Tim Collings; Editing by Ken Ferris