Lopetegui era begins in earnest as Madrid rivals clash in Super Cup

With both Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane gone and Julen Lopetegui in, a new era at Real Madrid officially begins when they face city rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in Tallinn on Wednesday evening.

Lopetegui will be eager to seize the chance to get his hands on a first piece of silverware since replacing Zidane, who quit the Spanish giants days after leading them to a third successive Champions League crown against Liverpool in May.

Real’s announcement that Lopetegui would take over led to him being sensationally sacked by Spain on the eve of the World Cup in Russia.

La Roja went on to lose on penalties to the hosts in the last 16 with Fernando Hierro in charge, and the 51-year-old Lopetegui has now turned the page to a new chapter in his career.

It has been a turbulent summer at times for Real, with Ronaldo having been sold and no marquee signing brought in to replace him. Pre-season results have been largely positive, but Lopetegui could hardly have been handed a tougher start in his first competitive outing.

If Real are to win a third consecutive Super Cup, and a record-equalling fifth overall, they must get the better of an Atletico side who have proven a match for their neighbours in the years since Diego Simeone became coach.

Atletico have themselves won twice before in this annual meeting of the European champions and Europa League winners, and they come here to the Estonian capital fresh from beating Marseille 3-0 in the Europa League final in May.

“My first official game is a final. A match that Real Madrid have earned the right to play in once again,” Lopetegui told his new club’s official website.

Of Atletico, he added: “They’re a team we know well and it’ll be a local derby. It’s all set up to be a great match and a great final.”

– Life without Ronaldo –
Lopetegui knows the compact, 15,000-capacity Lillekula Stadium well, having coached Spain to victory here in the under-19 European Championship in 2012.

He returns in charge of a team that must demonstrate it can cope going forward without Ronaldo, sold to Juventus after nine prolific years.

Wednesday’s game could come too soon for Luka Modric, with the Croatian playmaker only just back from a post-World Cup holiday. Meanwhile, new signings Thibaut Courtois and Alvaro Odriozola have travelled.

Belgium goalkeeper Courtois, who joined from Chelsea last week for a reported fee of 35 million euros ($40.6 million), will hope to play against the club he represented during a three-year loan spell.

Spain right-back Odriozola, recruited from Real Sociedad, is set to miss the game due to injury.

“Pre-season has gone well, it has been positive. The players are starting to take on board our concepts, even if little adjustments still need to be made,” Lopetegui said after Saturday’s 3-1 friendly win over AC Milan.

It has been a rather more serene couple of months for Atletico, especially with star striker Antoine Griezmann opting to reject a move to Barcelona and stay at the club.

Griezmann and defender Lucas Hernandez are only just back after helping France to World Cup glory, while new signings include their compatriot Thomas Lemar, Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic and Portuguese star Gelson Martins.

Simeone is aiming for his seventh trophy as Atletico coach, although he will have to watch the game from the stands as he serves a touchline ban.

“We need to improve on what we did last season. Expectations are high,” said Simeone, who is hoping to lay down a marker for a campaign that will culminate with the Champions League final being played in their own stadium.

“We have work to do, because after a year and a half without signing anybody, five or six new players have arrived.”

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