Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (L) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF shake hands prior to the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou. The two sides meet again in the 2012 Spanish Super Cup on August 23, 2012. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Barcelona and Real Madrid should play Thursday's glorified friendly at the intensity of a meaningful edition of El Clasico.
The Spanish Super Cup is supposed to be a glorified friendly. For some reason, the LFP can't manage to schedule the competition before the regular season, like every other league in Europe does with their Super Cup equivalent, and is forcing Real Madrid and Barcelona to play a couple of mid-week matches in-between competitive La Liga fixtures.
Of course, these are competitive fixtures. They might not be if any other two teams were playing, but there is no such thing as a friendly match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Last year's Super Cup also featured Spain's two giants and it was an absolute thriller, with the Blaugrana grabbing a 5-4 aggregate victory. Lionel Messi scored an 88th minute winner and the match ended in a fight that produced three red cards, as well as a poke to the eye of Tito Vilanova by Jose Mourinho.
Barcelona and Real Madrid might have to rest some players with La Liga fixtures in mind, but more likely than not, they'll take their chances with their weekend matches and play their best available players on Thursday. Both teams have all of their first choice players available, giving both managers plenty of tactical flexibility. The only key player who could sit out is Real Madrid central defender Pepe, who collided with Iker Casillas in the game against Valencia on Sunday.
With the return leg still to come next Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu, Mourinho will probably set up a defensive team and attempt to nick an away goal on the counter. Barcelona are favorites to win the first leg, but if their win comes by one goal with Real Madrid grabbing an away goal, that will suit Los Blancos just fine and will give them a great chance to overturn the result at home.
The first leg of the Spanish Super Cup kicks off at 4:30 p.m. ET, 10:30 p.m. local time on Thursday from Camp Nou in Barcelona.