All eyes will be on Jose Mourinho and Tito Vilanova when Barcelona and Real Madrid come together for the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Thursday at Camp Nou.
Enmity between the pair will be the talking point ahead of a game that often gets physical, with the two rivals for the league title looking to land a blow early in the season – sometimes literally.
However, it is the rivalry on the sideline that will have the most said about it, as this was the tie that hosted the infamous eye-poking assault by Mourinho on Vilanova – who was the then Barça assistant manager.
Both men were given suspensions by the Spanish FA (RFEF), though Vilanova’s seemed a little harsh having pushed Mourinho away after being poked, and were set to be absent from the touchline.
RFEF president Angel Maria Villar then exonerated all that were involved in the scuffle under a general amnesty after being voted back into the post last month.
Mourinho recently admitted he had done wrong and took responsibility for the incident, though he claimed there was no more bad feeling between he and the Barcelona manager.
“I should not have done what I did, obviously not, the person who messed up there was me,” he said during Real’s pre-season tour of the United States.
“There are no problems between him [Vilanova] and me. The story is over and what needs to be done now is to make sure nothing similar happens again.”
Mourinho’s opposite number may well have moved on but it appears some of the Blaugrana players aren’t satisfied with the apology, as Dani Alves illustrated in his response to the Portuguese’s regret.
“It is nice to see that he has changed his attitude, but I would not have waited so long if I were him; Mourinho has been too late (with his apology).” said the Brazil international.
Apart from dealing with the inevitable questions and media magnifying glass on his handshake with Mourinho, Vilanova will be facing the first big test since he was promoted to the manager’s post after Pep Guardiola left.
A number of football's biggest names were linked with taking the post, but the club went with the route they have favoured on the laying side in recent years and promoted from within.
Vilanova not only needs to make a statement with regards to his own managerial credentials, but has the club’s general morale to protect – the last time Los Merengues went to Camp Nou, they inflicted the decisive blow in last season’s title race.
Quickly followed by a Champions League exit, the loss to Cristiano Ronaldo et al. was billed as the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted Guardiola to take the decision to step down.
Barcelona had been the dominant club side in world football for the season previous and Mourinho was yet to oversee a victory in the famous stadium – it felt like a watershed moment.
Mourinho has downplayed the significance of the Super Cup, but the rivalry between the two clubs in Spain is such that any meeting between them takes on far greater meaning than what is essentially a two-legged friendly.
Comments coming out of both camps have been about keeping cool and not letting frustration boil over, but this is easier said than done.
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