FC Barcelona can set up the second El Clásico matchup in less than a month with a win over Atlético Madrid on Thursday in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal. But what would otherwise seem to be an appealing prospect for fans not only in Spain but worldwide, remains mired in controversy thanks to the new Super Cup format and its location — at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
From 1982 until the current season, the Super Cup matched the La Liga champion against the Spanish Copa del Rey winner (or runner-up, if the league and cup winners were the same team). The otherwise meaningless matchup served as an appetizer for the season, usually played in the week prior to the La Liga opener. But all that changed in 2019, and Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde says he knows why.
"The bottom line is football has become a business and as a business it looks for income," Valverde said on Wednesday, as quoted by the BBC. "That's the reason we are all here."
"Here," of course, is Saudi Arabia, the country that paid the equivalent of more than $44 million per year to host the Super Cup for three consecutive years. The deal also involved expanding the format from two teams to four — and playing the games in January rather than August.
But as a concession, Saudi Arabian authorities agreed to allow women to attend the Super Cup matches.
The ESPN FC panelists offer their thoughts on the new version of the Spanish Super Cup in the video below.Under the new format, the second place La Liga team and Copa del Rey runner-up also qualify for the Super Cup. But in the first year of the revised tournament, Barcelona enter having won the league in 2018-2019, but lost the Copa to Valencia — meaning that Real Madrid as the third-place league finishers also qualified.
As a result, the ideal Super Cup final — an El Clásico matchup of Barcelona and Real Madrid — appears likely for Sunday's final. Los Blancos did their part by dispatching Valencia 3-1 on goals by Toni Kroos, Isco and Luka Modric, according to a Bleacher Report account.
Barcelona enter the semifinal as favorites to hold up their end of the bargain and move ahead into the Sunday final against their arch-rivals. According to the site Sports Betting Dime, the back-to-back La Liga titlists are at even money to win the match, while Atlético have moneyline of +275, meaning a $100 wager would pay a $275 profit in the case of an upset victory by the Madrid side.
The line on the match ending in a draw is set at +235.
Barcelona have won five of their last nine meetings with Atlético Madrid, without a loss, most recently on December 1 when Barca took a hard-fought 1-0 victory on an 86th-minute goal by six-time Ballon D'or winner Lionel Messi.