JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The Spanish capital’s two soccer powerhouses will face off on Sunday thousands of kilometers from Madrid in the final of the new-look Spanish Super Cup.
Real Madrid plays Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to decide the winner of the first edition of a revamped tournament.
The Spanish federation expanded the competition to four teams – instead of two – and moved it from the start of the season to its midpoint. The federation was not deterred by human rights activists and European football’s governing body who criticized it for taking the mini-competition to Saudi Arabia on a three-year deal reportedly worth 120 million euros ($134 million).
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin had recommended for European soccer teams not to play in countries “where the basic rights of women are not respected.”
Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales has tried to deflect the criticism by highlighting that opening the games to women spectators was part of the deal to play in the country.
Coach Ernesto Valverde, whose Barcelona team was beaten by Atletico 3-2 in Thursday’s semifinal, has publicly said that the games are about making more money.
Amnesty International organized a small peaceful protest in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy in Madrid on Wednesday to call for the release of women activists who have been fighting for their rights in Saudi Arabia.
On the field, and despite the limited interest the games have drawn back in Spain, the semifinals offered some exciting contests. Madrid showed off the quality of its midfielders to overcome injuries to its forwards in a 3-1 win over Valencia on Wednesday, while Atletico stunned Barcelona with two late goals.
Traditionally the Super Cup was the league vs. cup winner. Barcelona won last season’s Liga, while Valencia claimed the Copa del Rey.
Madrid will still be without the injured Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard. Against Valencia, manager Zinedine Zidane successfully experimented with a line-up loaded with five midfielders, and three of them- Toni Kroos, Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Luka Modric – found the net.
Zidane, however, was tight-lipped over whether he would repeat the formula against Atletico at the King Abdullah stadium.
“I am not going to tell you how we are going to play,” Zidane said Friday. “The important thing is that we play on the attack, not with a certain scheme. The important thing is to have a balanced side.”
This will be the third time the crosstown rivals have met since the end of last season. Atletico embarrassed Madrid 7-3 in a preseason game in the United States in July. They then drew 0-0 at Atletico’s stadium in a Spanish league match in September.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone said that his two most in-form players, goalkeeper Jan Oblak and forward Angel Correa, have recovered from knocks they received against Barcelona. Oblak made several saves to keep his team alive against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona until Alvaro Morata and Correa struck to flip the score.
“Madrid is a team that we know very well,” Simeone said. “They transmit the sensation that they have to win, and then they do so. We are both teams that are extremely motivated to win this cup and we will both use all our weapons to win this game.”
MADRID — Without some of his best forwards, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane trusted his midfielders to get the job done.
Zidane used five players in the midfield to make up for the absence of forwards Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup against Valencia on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, and it paid off handsomely.
Madrid had one of its best games of the season, cruising to a 3-1 victory and advancing to Sunday’s final against either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid.
Zidane used newly arrived Luka Jovic as the lone striker up front. Instead of adding forwards Lucas Vazquez, Rodrygo or Vinicius Junior on the flanks, he packed the midfield with Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde and Casemiro.
Kroos, Isco and Modric each scored to give Madrid the comfortable victory at King Abdullah Sports City.
“We always like to try new things,” Zidane said. “We could have used two forwards, but we decided to bring Isco and Modric toward the middle and give more space to the fullbacks. It’s an attacking-minded lineup. The important thing is that we pressured our opponent on its field. We wanted to make things difficult for them from the start.”
The tight midfield kept Madrid in control throughout the match, dominating Valencia by constantly threatening in attack while not conceding much ground defensively. Madrid ended with more than 60% of ball possession and exchanged a team season-high 798 passes.
“We were in control,” Casemiro said. “It was an experiment to play with five midfielders and we showed that it can be done.”
Zidane said the good performance against Valencia does not guarantee he will use the same formation again.
“It was the choice today, but we may change things again for the next match,” Zidane said. “We need to get some rest before we start preparing for the final.”
Benzema, Madrid’s leading scorer with 16 goals in all competitions, didn’t make the trip to Saudi Arabia because of a left hamstring injury, while Bale stayed home because of a throat infection. Hazard has been nursing an ankle injury since last year.
The Spanish Super Cup is being played in a “Final Four” format for the first time. Previously, only the Spanish league winner and the Copa del Rey champion participated. Madrid made it this year as the third-place finisher in the league after Spanish champion Barcelona lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.
Madrid is seeking its eighth Spanish Super Cup title. Barcelona is the competition’s most successful club with 10.
Best players of decade for each Premier League club
Yes, this will cause controversy. Yes, you won’t agree with these 20 selections.
There is no right answer here because certain players may not have been the best technical player to play for a certain team over the last decade but they may have been the most important to their success.
Anyway, here it goes.
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez – Yes, it didn’t end well for him at Arsenal. But for four seasons he led them to the FA Cup, top four finishes and scored superb goals along the way. His hunger to win drove Arsene Wenger‘s teams on and along with Jack Wilshere (when he was fit) and Aaron Ramsey, he was one of the few world-class quality players the Gunners possessed.
Aston Villa: Jack Grealish – A local lad who arrived from the academy with his low socks and slick Peaky Blinders-esque haircut, Grealish is Villa through and through and Villa’s hopes of staying in the Premier League this season revolve around the English playmaker. He stayed with them when they went down and brought them back up as skipper and his mercurial talents mean the big clubs are circling.
Bournemouth: Steve Cook – It is amazing to think he is just 29 years old. Cook has been with Bournemouth throughout their promotion from League One to the Premier League and is now at the heart of their defense. Some great players have been key to Bournemouth’s success but Cook has held it all together.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Lewis Dunk – Another local lad who has com through the ranks to be a star, Dunk is a towering, powerful center back who was with Brighton when they were at the Withdean and has been influential in their promotion and consolidation in the Premier League. He’s also played for England. His decade has been a Slam… Dunk.
Burnley: Ben Mee – A mainstay in Burnley’s defense after joining from Man City in 2011, initially on loan, Mee has been essential to their promotion campaigns and keeping them in the Premier League. A no-nonsense defender, Burnley can totally trust Mee. The unsung hero in a club of unsung heroes.
Chelsea: Eden Hazard – My favorite player of the decade in the Premier League because he could change the game on his own. Hazard led Chelsea to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League and when he was at his best he was unstoppable. Ask players around the PL who was the best player they came up against and the vast majority will say Hazard.
Crystal Palace: WilfriedZaha – The academy product was a star in the Championship, left for Manchester United, came back and ripped it up. Zaha is loved by Palace’s fans and is probably the best player outside of the top six in the Premier League. His pace and power is just too much to handle for most teams. And even though he wants to leave for a team challenging for trophies, Zaha will go down as a Palace legend.
Everton: Leighton Baines – Okay, so it was a flip of a coin between Baines and Seamus Coleman, but I’m going for Baines. His quality from set piece situations was incredible and he was just wonderfully reliable. Everton’s two full backs will be etched into Toffees history but Baines’ extra quality in the final third gives him the nod.
Leicester City: Jamie Vardy – Okay, with N’Golo Kante, Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez around, this wasn’t that easy but Vardy should get the nod. He scored the goals to lead Leicester to an incredible Premier League title win as his pace and clinical finishing capped off his unreal rise from non-league to the Premier League, and his resurgence over the past 12 months has been amazing. Vardy isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but when he’s at his best, nobody can stop him.
Liverpool: Virgil Van Dijk – This could be a controversial pick given the fact that he’s only played for Liverpool for two years, but there’s no doubt that no other player has been as important to the team as VVD. Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah have been attacking stars for the Reds over the last decade but Van Dijk’s arrival helped lead Liverpool to the Champions League and improved their entire defense which had been their Achilles heel under Jurgen Klopp. Van Dijk is a Rolls Royce and probably the most complete defender the Premier League has ever seen.
Manchester City: Vincent Kompany – A proper Man City legend, Kompany was the captain for all four of Man City’s Premier League title wins over the last decade. Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva have all been key parts of City’s glittering decade but Kompany was the glue who held it all together. Injuries hit him hard in the second half of the decade but he was no doubt one of the greatest center backs in the history of the game. His goal to clinch the 2018-19 title was the perfect way to go out.
Manchester United: David De Gea – He routinely won United’s Player of the Season over the last decade and without him Red Devils fans shudder to think where they would be. He has had a few big errors over the last 12 months but DDG has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League over the last decade. Amid all of United’s struggles to get back to the top, De Gea has been their one true star.
Newcastle United: Yohan Cabaye – Had the quality on the ball to rip teams apart and led the Magpies to a fifth-place finish under Alan Pardew. Papiss Cisse, Chieck Tiote, Moussa Sissoko and Demba Ba all had exceptional stints at Newcastle, but Cabaye had the extra class required to sew it together. The way he left for PSG wasn’t ideal but when all is said and done the former Lille midfielder was a game-changer at St James’ Park.
Norwich City: Wes Hoolahan – A yo-yo decade for the Canaries who went all the way down to League One and worked their way back to the Premier League via back-to-back promotions. Republic of Ireland midfielder Hoolahan was their main attacking threat throughout the promotion years and he was capable of the sublime.
Sheffield United: Billy Sharp – A local lad who has spent three spells at his beloved Blades and most recently signed for them in 2015 in League One, he scored the goals to take them back to the Premier League. Sharp has spent his entire career scoring boatloads of goals in the lower leagues and his dream was to play for Sheffield United in the Premier League. He’s achieved that, even though he hasn’t played a big role in their incredible season back in the top-flight. Sharp, 33, will forever be a Sheffield United legend.
Southampton: Rickie Lambert – Another star forward who led his team from League One to the Premier League. Lambert signed for Saints from Bristol Rovers for $1.3 million in 2010, just after they had come out of administration, and then led them to back-to-back promotions as they returned to the PL. He then established himself as one of the top strikers in the league, got a call-up to the England team, play at the 2014 World Cup and eventually sealed his dream move to hometown club Liverpool. Known as “Sir Rickie” at St Mary’s, there will be a statue of him at the club one day as he led them back to the top-flight and did it was pure style befitting of the legendary No. 7 shirt he wore. He did Matt Le Tissier proud. Sadio Mane, Morgan Schneiderlin, Van Dijk, Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte and others were stars for Saints in the last decade but Lambert was the reason they were even in the PL in the first place.
Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane – Has any other player in the Premier League burst onto the scene more than Kane in 2010? The London lad has come through Spurs’ academy to become a global star and is a goalscoring machine. In 2013-14 he was struggling to break through after several loan spells and now Kane is one of the best center forwards in the world. Kane scores every type of goal imaginable for club and country and is the captain of England and Tottenham’s talisman. The only thing left for him to tick off is winning a trophy. Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen have all been mainstays but without Kane’s goals, Spurs would not have turned into genuine title contenders and regulars in the Champions League.
Watford: Troy Deeney – Mr. Watford, Deeney led them to promotion to the PL in 2015 and they’ve been there ever since. Deeney’s goals (126 in 380 games in all competitions) and bulldozing displays have kept Watford in the top-flight and they’ve reached FA Cup semifinals and finals as they continue to punch above their weight. Deeney is Watford’s captain and sets the tone for the entire club.
West Ham United: Dmitri Payet – Yes, West Ham fans will not like to admit this, but Payet was otherworldly at Upton Park and the London Stadium. The way he left for Marseille wasn’t great, at all, and the current owners have pretty much removed him from their history. But his amazing goals, free kicks and general outrageousness turned him into a club legend. Payet was box office as Slaven Bilic‘s side qualified for Europe.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Conor Coady – A mainstay in central defense for Wolves, Coady has led the charge since Fosun bought the club and Nuno Espirito Santo took over. A produce of Liverpool’s academy, he is a true professional who sets the standards day in, day out. Coady joined Wolves when they were struggling in the Championship and they are now in the Europa League knockout rounds and are challenging for the top four four after taking the PL by storm over the last two seasons. All of the recent impressive signings in attack and midfield have been important, so too has Matt Doherty who has been with Wolves since their days in the third tier, but Coady is the heart of Wolves and has been since 2015.
With the 2010’s nearly behind us, the last 10 years of Premier League action have been euphoric.
Stunning goals, great players, jaw-dropping moments, trophies lifted, and millions spent. It’s nearly impossible to recap all the action appropriately, but it is necessary to recognize the absolute best of the best. So, the ProSoccerTalk writers have selected their favorite moments, players, and managers to mark the end of the decade and usher in a new 10 years sure to be filled with new memories to be made.
Without further ado, our Of The Decade awards.
TEAM OF THE DECADE:
Joe Prince-Wright: De Gea; Zabaleta, Van Dijk, Kompany, Azpilicueta; Kante, David Silva, Hazard; Aguero, Kane, Mane
“De Gea has been the best goalkeeper over the decade, while Zabaleta and Azpilicueta are as reliable and dependable as they come. Kompany is a Man City legend, and Van Dijk will be one at Liverpool. In midfield I’m going with Kante, Hazard and David Silva for a little bit of balance, and in attack I have Mane (he just beat out Sterling and Salah) with Kane and Aguero. Don’t @ me.”
Kyle Bonn: De Gea; Walker, Van Dijk, Kompany, Azpilicueta; Kante, Yaya Toure; de Bruyne, Hazard, David Silva; Aguero.
“David De Gea has slipped over the last two years, but the incredibly high bar he set has partly contributed to why many have a somewhat negative opinion of his recent play, and he deserves to be the top goalkeeper for the consistency he showed for nearly half the decade. Yaya Toure was a pioneer at his position and won three Premier League titles, displaying excellent tenacity and discipline. Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero represent Manchester City’s true stranglehold on this decade, while Eden Hazard leaves a legacy behind after leaving for La Liga. Leaving Harry Kane off was difficult, but his impact on the league was trumped by Aguero, and having two pure strikers on the squad seemed unfair to other more influential players at other positions.”
Nicholas Mendola: Cech; Kompany, Van Dijk, Azpilicueta; Toure, Kante, Silva, Bruyne; Hazard, Aguero, Kane.
“Petr Cech won with two teams while drumming on the side and preparing to be a semi-pro ice hockey goalie. Kompany, Toure, and Silva were the lynch pins of the decade’s best teams, while Kane spurred Spurs to relatively new heights. N’Golo Kante won titles in back-to-back years with different teams, and Cesar Azpilicueta somehow feels like he creeps into this list while also totally deserving his place.”
Daniel Karell: de Gea; Azpilicueta, van Dijk, Kompany, Robertson; Kante, D. Silva; de Bruyne, Hazard, Salah; Aguero.
“Imagine this team in action? My goodness. I know Salah’s impact has only been felt recently, but he has just been so good, and in some ways he’s getting better. Virgil Van Dijk is the standout though, just in how he’s single-handedly taken Liverpool to the next level.”
Joel Soria: Cech; Evra, Terry, Kompany, Walker; Kante, Gerrard, D Silva, Yaya Toure; Rooney; Aguero.
Andy Edwards:De Gea; Zabaleta, Kompany, Van Dijk, Azpilicueta; Yaya Toure, Kante, Silva, Hazard; Kane, Aguero.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE:
JPW: Eden Hazard – “One of the greatest players in Premier League history and won two league titles with Chelsea in the last decade and he was influential in both. When he ticked so did Chelsea and no other top six team relied so heavily on just one player. Hazard was untouchable when he was at his best.”
Bonn:Sergio Aguero – “Nobody in the league over the past decade has been at Aguero’s level for the same length of time. Full stop. The Argentine has logged at least 2,000 minutes in five of his eight full seasons in the league, falling less than 100 minutes short of the mark in another two. He has reached the 20-goal mark in six of his eight seasons and looks well on his way to that total this campaign despite dealing with injuries and heavy competition from Gabriel Jesus. With 174 goals since joining Manchester City, nobody comes close to his impact on the league.”
Mendola: David Silva – “Just twice in the PFA Team of the Year, I’ll make amends by giving this overlooked wonder his decade’s due. Arriving in 2010, he has 74 goals and 136 assists in 415 matches for Man City. For the decade, he’s posted 102 league assists and 57 goals. The gentleman’s only been carded 40 times in almost 32,000 minutes in Man City blue, and his trophy case for decade includes four PL titles, four League Cups, two FA Cups, a World Cup and a EURO.”
Karell: Virgil Van Dijk – “The signing of Van Dijk has been worth every penny for Liverpool. He’s one of the main reasons the club has improved so much – remember, just a few years ago Liverpool kept finishing in 7th and having to play in the Europa League – and Liverpool is on pace to set records this season and win the club’s first Premier League title.”
Soria: Sergio Aguero
MANAGER OF THE DECADE
JPW: Pep Guardiola – “Back-to-back Premier League titles with 100 points and 98 points on the board, and all the time his Man City are probably the best we’ve ever seen in terms of entertainment in PL and Football League history. They said he could never bring his style of play to England and dominate. Pep proved everyone wrong and to date has won five trophies domestically in three-and-a-half seasons.”
Bonn: Pep Guardiola – “Others have won as much as Pep Guardiola this decade, but nobody has had the influence on the game he has. His transformation of that squad into a perennially dominating side is nothing short of legendary. Jurgen Klopp has reached these heights, but his influence comes towards the end of the time period, leaving the German a cruel second in this category.”
Mendola:Pep Guardiola – “The Spaniard authored the best season in Premier League history and has won two titles in three tries, and the age of managerial tumult means it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him. Alex Ferguson also won two PL crowns and is a close second, while third and fourth would be a toss-up. Jurgen Klopp has done well, for sure, but hasn’t claimed a crown (and won’t inside this decade). Jose Mourinho’s in the discussion but he’s only won one PL and the Europa League. Claudio Ranieri deserves a shout, as does Mauricio Pochettino to round out our Top Six. Steve Bruce finishes just ahead of Arsene Wenger to round out our Top Eight (There’s a joke there somewhere, and it’s on me).”
Karell: Pep Guardiola – “Guardiola may be struggling a bit this season but what he’s done for both Man City and the Premier League is nothing short of sensational. It now feels like a disappointment when Man City “only” wins, 1-0 or 2-0, as Guardiola has created a juggernaut that usually scores for fun and runs up the score on a regular basis.”
Soria: Pep Guardiola
TRANSFER OF THE DECADE
JPW:N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015) – “Has become one of the best central midfielders in the world and only cost Leicester $9 million back in the summer of 2015 and was instrumental in their amazing title win. Kante has since moved to Chelsea and won the title there and the World Cup with France in 2018. Hard to see past this deal for value and how important he was in one of the greatest stories sports has ever seen.”
Bonn: Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool, $95 million; Jan 1, 2018) – “Nobody has singlehandedly transformed a team from good to great like Virgil van Dijk has done with Liverpool. The Dutchman has been a model of consistency, durability, and rock-solid perseverance than van Dijk. Liverpool may be on the verge of a level of domination not yet seen in the English top flight, and none of it would be possible without the defender. The price tag was high, but he was worth every penny.”
Mendola:N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015) – “Transfermarkt says the now World Cup and 2x Premier League winner is worth 10 times that, as he won the league with Leicester and was instantly snared by Chelsea. Honorable mention to Sergio Aguero, Man City from Atletico Madrid, 7/28/11 – The Argentine carried a price tag of $46 million, huge at the time, but 244 goals and 71 assists later… yeah. Also a nod to Jamie Vardy, but Leicester City wasn’t in the Premier League when he was purchased from Fleetwood Town.”
Soria: Luis Suarez (Ajax to Liverpool, $30 million; Jan 31, 2011)
Edwards:N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015)
GOAL OF THE DECADE
JPW:Olivier Giroud v. Crystal Palace; Jan 1, 2017 – “If we are just talking about one goal and the difficulty and outrageous nature of it, leaving out factors like importance for trophies etc., then I’m going with Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick for Arsenal against Crystal Palace. It defied belief and nobody has ever tried to recreate it. Emre Can’s bike was pretty special too.”
Bonn:Wayne Rooney v. Man City; Feb 12, 2011 – “The most spectacular goal scored this decade was none other than Wayne Rooney’s unbelievable bicycle kick in a derby atmosphere. The skill it took to not only meet the cross perpendicularly but also find the top corner from that far out…unmatched by any other moment.”
Mendola: Wayne Rooney v. West Ham; Dec 3, 2017andCheick Tiote vs. Arsenal; May 2, 2011 – “I’ve got two, including one from Wayne Rooney that didn’t come via overhead kick in Manchester United red. It came on his return to Everton, when he finished off a hat trick against West Ham United by smoking an absolute missile from inside his own half, one time. An emotional nod, and my 1B goal of the 10s is when the late Cheick Tiote scored the only goal of his 156-match career with Newcastle. It was a beauty. Of course Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney have authored better, but his 87th minute goal to lead Newcastle back from a 4-0 deficit in a 4-4 draw versus Arsenal was the stuff that makes football worth the down times.”
Karell: Jack Wilshere v. Norwich; Oct 19, 2013 – “If you grew up watching Arsenal under Wenger, but had seen the team really struggle to live up to the Invincibles from a decade earlier, this absolute flash of brilliance would bring tears to your eyes. Wilshere combines with Santi Cazorla before a wonderful one-touch sequence Olivier Giroud, with both players using the outside of their boots to perfection. Norwich was hoodwinked and Wilshere scored arguably the most Arsene Wenger goal you could draw up. Deft passing in a tight area and a perfect one-touch finish.”
The Blaugranas drew 2-2 after VAR did not decide to review a late shirt pull of Gerard Pique in the box, giving Barca 36 points. Real Madrid could climb to 38 points with a win away to Valencia at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.
Hazard looks unlikely to be ready for Wednesday, but Real’s strength this season has been its defense. Only Atletico Madrid has allowed fewer than Real’s 11 conceded goals (and the remarkable Atleti has played two more matches).
Barca’s defense has been far less impressive, allowing 20 goals. That’s not great, but 43 goals scored is a pretty great figure.
The leader? No surprise here, as Lionel Messi has a league-best 12 goals and his six assists are tied with Valencia’s Rodrigo for the top mark. That’s despite missing five matches and only going 45 minutes in two others.
That’s nuts, and the 32-year-old Ballon d’Or winner will enter the match as the all-time El Clasico goal scorer (26). If he nabs a hat trick, he’ll pass Ferenc Puskas and Paulino Alcantara for the most in El Clasico history.