Sevilla FC play host to Real Madrid CF on Saturday in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup to kick-start a three-week spell which could determine their whole season.
In the last two years Juande Ramos's men have finished fifth and third in the Primera División, won two UEFA Cups and confirmed their Super Cup participation with a Copa del Rey victory. This weekend's curtain-raiser at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium will therefore be the first step in a campaign certain to carry more expectation than any in the club's history.
The Andalusian side face a hectic few weeks as they play AEK Athens FC home and away in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round either side of the return in Madrid, and travel to Monaco for the UEFA Super Cup on 31 August against European champions AC Milan. For the players, such a schedule could be daunting but midfielder Adriano said the only priority is the next game. "This is our chance to win another title for the club," said the Brazilian, who has been getting to know new team-mates including Mali midfielder Seydou Keita.
Ramos has focused on the merits of training rather than friendlies, with just one win in the three played. Captain Javi Navarro and fellow central defender Julien Escudé will miss Saturday's game along with striker Frédéric Kanouté, while new recruit from Chelsea FC Khalid Boulahrouz is undergoing tests on a muscle strain. Madrid also have concerns, with Gonzalo Higuaín out with a thigh injury and Emerson, Ruud van Nistelrooy and new centre-back Christoph Metzelder struggling.
New coach Bernd Schuster also has the difficulty of integrating the likes of centre-half Pepe, wing-back Royston Drenthe and forward Javier Saviola as Madrid look to hang on to the crown they won last season for the first time in four attempts without the likes of the departed Roberto Carlos and David Beckham. "The team is getting better and, although we still have work to do, the motivation on Saturday will be huge," said the German coach. "The players are hitting form and we will face Sevilla without problems."
Pre-season form has been mixed with three wins from six matches, ten goals scored and nine conceded, and plans are in place to strengthen the squad, with Chelsea FC and Netherlands winger Arjen Robben the No1 target. Yet while Madrid can look forward to the UEFA Champions League group stage, Sevilla - who may yet lose key right-back Daniel Alves - could have much of their season decided by the start of September.
All to play for
The Sevillistas could find themselves about to begin a maiden campaign in Europe's premier club competition having won two Super Cup trophies, domestic and continental, or they could be back in the UEFA Cup again with no trophies and Madrid having established a psychological edge on them for the new season. For Sevilla, there is all to play for, but everything to lose.
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