MADRID ( Associated Press) — The last time Barcelona faced Real Madrid, the team was still facing the departure of Lionel Messi and one of the worst financial woes of all time.
Ronald Koeman was still at the top, and the Catalan club struggled on and off the field.
Most were not surprised by a 2-1 defeat at the Camp Nou in the Spanish league last October, which highlights the fragility of Barcelona at the moment.
But things are different as rivals enter their second “classico” of the season in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Barcelona appear to be back on track after restructuring their finances and showing signs of improvement on the field under coach Xavi Hernandez.
“It’s a different scenario now,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. “We were going through a difficult moment at that time. We are doing better now and we hope to take advantage of that.”
A win in the Super Cup could mean a turning point for Barcelona, the veteran defender said.
“Every win in the position we are in, and hopefully the title, will be a big boost for us,” Pique told Movistar. “It will give us more confidence and it will be important to move forward.”
Several players at Barcelona have returned from injuries that were unavailable for that league match against Madrid last year, including young midfielder Pedri González. Since then it has also added some new signings that could make a difference on Wednesday, including veteran Brazil defender Dani Alves and young Spain international Ferran Torres.
Torres and Pedri recently tested positive for the coronavirus, but were cleared on Monday to travel to Saudi Arabia to join the team.
The Spanish Super Cup is being played again in Saudi Arabia following the coronavirus pandemic after last year’s edition was moved back to Spain.
The Spanish football federation reportedly signed a 120 million euro ($136 million) deal to play in Saudi Arabia in 2020. The competition was expanded to four teams instead of two and moved to its midpoint from the start of the season. The changes remained in Spain, despite criticism from human rights activists and complaints from fans who liked the contest.
The second semi-final match will be played on Thursday between defending Spanish league champions Atlético Madrid and Copa del Rey runners-up Athletic Bilbao.
“There is no point in going to Saudi Arabia to play our tournaments,” said veteran athletic midfielder Raul Garcia. “We’re not thinking about the fans anymore.”
Madrid made it to the “Final Four” after finishing second behind Atletico in the league last season. Barcelona qualified as Copa del Rey champions.
Madrid have been in great form in Saudi Arabia, with the team leading the Spanish league after an impressive start to the season with the attacking pair of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr.
Atlético Madrid enters the Super Cup with one game behind Madrid, 16 points. Athletic are five points ahead of Atletico.
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