Barcelona vs. Sevilla could set precedent as one-off Super Cup
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has all his players available for Sunday's Spanish Super Cup vs. Sevilla after Lionel Messi and the club's World Cup participants missed the U.S. tour. New signings Arthur Melo, Clement Lenglet, Malcom and Arturo Vidal could all play some part. Meanwhile, on the opposite side will be a familiar face: Aleix Vidal, who swapped Barcelona for Sevilla last week, could start for Pablo Machin's side.
Spain's annual curtain-raiser pits the Liga and Copa del Rey winners against each other, normally over two legs. However, in years when the same team wins both competitions, the runners-up of the cup (Sevilla), in this case, meet the double winners (Barcelona).
The game will be played in Tangier, Morocco and is a one-off occasion due to scheduling issues: Barca's tour of the United States, where they took part in the International Champions Cup, and Sevilla's participation in the Europa League, meant the Spanish Federation [RFEF] could not find suitable dates for a two-legged encounter.
Instead, the federation proposed -- eventually -- that it should revert to a one-off match. Sevilla president Jose Castro was reluctant but suggested he would compromise if the game could be played at his club's Sanchez Pizjuan, given the price of the game had already been factored into the cost of supporters' season tickets.
Barca were never going to agree to that, which led to the game being set for Sunday in Tangier, Morocco. The official announcement came around three weeks before the match. It is expected that, next year, the Super Cup will be two games once again, but maybe, with such a loaded calendar these days, a precedent has been set.
(Indeed, if former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had his way, this year's Spanish Super Cup would not be played at all. In 2016, speaking after Barca had beaten Sevilla, he argued that it "made no sense" playing the Super Cup when one team had won the league and cup.)
"We will see," Barca vice-president Jordi Mestre told ESPN FC when asked if the club would like the Super Cup to always be a one-off game. "This year it was complicated because of the World Cup, we had no dates [for two legs]. So this year it was extraordinary [circumstances]. So we will see.
"For our members, it is good to play the Super Cup in our stadium and for the other [team] as well. But we will see, every year is different. Next year, [there are] no [European Championship] or World Cup, so probably we would play in our stadium (...) but first of all we would have to win the Copa or La Liga [to qualify]!"
But wouldn't it be good to play it abroad, too, say in the United States?
"Yes, we are open to that," Mestre said. "Why not? I think the mentality of our club for a few years now has been: This is a global club. Why not play a game or a match in another country? Why not?"
It would not exactly be a radical decision. The RFEF's call to play the game in Tangier, a 70-minute journey on the ferry from the south of Spain, is not new. France's Super Cup was played in China and in recent years has been played in Morocco, Austria and Canada. It has not, in fact, been played in France since 2008.
Italy, too, have taken a similar path. Not only have they taken the Super Cup on tour to Qatar, China and Saudi Arabia, but they have also played around with the date. This year's game, for example, will not take place until January.
Completing the big five leagues, the Super Cups in Germany and England are also one-off occasions. The former's version is hosted by the cup winners and that of the latter is played at Wembley, the national stadium.
Only in Spain, then, is the game still played over two legs. Given the workload for each season and the fact that seasons seem to be lengthening; summers shortening, it should not be viewed as a bad thing to cut it down to one game, be that abroad or at home.
Further, while there are exceptions, in general the Super Cup around Europe's big leagues is viewed increasingly as a glorified friendly by the top sides. Sunday's game between Barca and Sevilla can certainly be used as a dress rehearsal in that sense.