Real Madrid departed for Saudi Arabia and the semi-final of the Supercopa de España today, leaving three key offensive cogs at home. Gareth Bale was left off the team sheet for an upper respiratory tract infection, while Karim Benzema is suffering from a muscle injury in his left leg and Eden Hazard has an ankle knock.
The 2019 rendition of the Supercopa de España is a departure from previous formats, with the trophy competition increasing from two to four teams. The winner and runners-up of La Liga constitute half the squads, while the winner and runners-up of the Copa del Rey fill out the remainder.
The overlapping nature of these top teams likely signifies that La Liga will have to regularly reach further down into the table to round out the four teams, which allowed 2019 third-place finishers Real Madrid to occupy the final spot. Barcelona qualified as La Liga champions, Atletico Madrid as La Liga runners-up, and Valencia as Copa del Rey trophy-winners.
Madrid, having finished third in consecutive La Liga campaigns and having not featured in a Copa del Rey final since their 2014 victory, will be happy for another chance at a trophy. Youngster such as Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior will be expected to step up in the absence of several veterans, and embarked for the match with excitement:
Bale has netted a meager two goals in 14 matches for Los Blancos. After his jibes at the importance of his club during recent international duty, many expect the Wales captain to be headed for the exits. However, the winger has appeared in each of Madrid's previous four matches, including a 90-minute foray against Barcelona on December 18th.
Benzema, meanwhile, has become more critical than ever at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Frenchman has started 18 of 19 matches in La Liga and poured in 16 goals across all competitions, good for first on the team and second in La Liga.
Real Madrid will face Valencia in the first Supercopa semi-final on January 8th. Valencia have expressed disagreement with the new format (per Marca), which reduces their trophy odds given that their standing as Copa del Rey winners historically would have automatically qualified Los Ches for the Supercopa Final.
The decision to award the hosting rights to Saudi Arabia has also been met with considerable backlash, due primarily to the country's human rights record. RTVE, the Spanish state broadcaster, refused to bid on the television rights while Amnesty International and even Spain's minister for education weighed in on the decision (per The Independent).