Supercopa not the antidote for tired La Liga legs
The plan for the expansion of the Supercopa was, the Spanish FA thought, a masterstroke. The competition would be expanded from two to four and outsourced to Saudi Arabia. Ok, only a tiny amount of fans from Spain would get to see it in the flesh but the lucrative three-year deal made it worth it for the authorities.
Few could have predicted the current situation but it has meant the Supercopa staying home, with the Andalucian cities of Córdoba, Málaga and Sevilla hosting this year’s edition. With Barcelona and Real Madrid deliberately kept apart in the semi-final draw (really), the former will face Real Sociedad and the latter Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday and Thursday respectively before a Sunday final. Zinedine Zidane’s team, one suspects, will not be thrilled about the timing, having strongly believed that the weekend’s goalless draw at Osasuna should not have gone ahead, given the difficulties posed by Storm Filomena.
Athletic coach Marcelino, meanwhile, might have been one of the few out there to be grateful for the weather disruption. Rather than facing a tough afternoon at Atlético Madrid, Athletic’s new coach has had a few days to work with his players and get some of his ideas across, which is a minor miracle in the current situation. Time is key to the team absorbing his ideas and having stretched El Real on their recent visit to Madrid, they can make it tough for them again.
Back Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao to draw at 3.953/1
First silverware on the horizon for Poch
While last year’s Supercopa was the first ever staged outside of Spain, Ligue 1’s players and clubs are far more used to travelling abroad for their equivalent. Yet they too will be staying at home as Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille lock horns in Le Classique at Lens, on Wednesday, for the Trophée des Champions.
It represents an almost immediate opportunity for Mauricio Pochettino to win his first trophy as coach in Paris, and he has already pledged to field “the strongest team possible”, despite the ever-present concerns over scheduling. That means something with Neymar back in the squad for the first time since December, with PSG having been very careful with his fitness ahead of the Champions League last 16, and key defender Presnel Kimpembe also returning.
Marseille, who have stuttered either side of Christmas with only one win in five matches, will have their work cut out, even though they removed their mental block in this fixture by winning at the Parc des Princes in September, their first victory over their fierce enemies in nearly nine years. Their currently disjointed play – save the excellent recent win over Montpellier – is not a deal-breaker in terms of getting a result but OM will have to defend much better than they have of late to push PSG.
Back draw at half-time/PSG at full-time at 4.216/5
Can Haller hit the heights for Ajax?
It was always a question of finding the fit. It’s what Sébastien Haller had at Eintracht Frankfurt, with perfect complementarity between him, Luka Jović and Ante Rebić. At West Ham where – until the David Moyes-inspired cohesion of this season – talented players have often drifted, without a proper plan for their integration and use, Haller often looked like a fish out of water.
The early signs of the Ivorian striker’s surprise move to Ajax are promising. Haller was a half-time substitute in Sunday’s big game with PSV and he made a big impact – having the ball in the net in his first five minutes (though it was eventually disallowed for a narrow offside), setting up Antony’s equaliser and almost creating a winning goal.
There is little doubt that a striker of Haller’s talent will find goals easier to come back in the Eredivisie but there is the sense that he will fit well into the team structure too, finding players around him on his wavelength that will make the most of his technical gifts, not just his physical ones. Erik Ten Hag could hand him his first start on Thursday at Twente, where Haller will hope to show he is the man to give Ajax the edge in a close title race.
Back Ajax at half-time/full-time against Twente at 1.9620/21