Atletico Madrid began life without Radamel Falcao with a 3-1 win away to Sevilla on Sunday, but they face a far more daunting task against Barcelona in the Supercopa today.
A double from Brazilian forward Diego Costa overshadowed David Villa’s debut for Atletico after Spain’s all-time record goalscorer joined from Barca for a paltry initial fee of 2.1 million euros (US$2.8 million) last month.
However, Costa believes that Villa will prove to be a more than capable deputy for Falcao, who scored 70 goals in his two seasons with los Rojiblancos before making a 60 million euro move to AS Monaco in June.
“You notice the absence of Falcao because he is a great player, but we have Villa, who is also a beast and we know that he is going to do just as well,” Costa told the club’s Web site. “His work and commitment for the team is amazing. He is a very humble person and he has a great attitude.”
Villa will be desperate to impress against his former employers after never truly getting a consistent run in the side after breaking his tibia in the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2011.
A troublesome on-field relationship with Lionel Messi and Barca’s capture of Neymar in June made Villa’s exit from the Camp Nou somewhat inevitable.
However, with Champions League soccer and a regular starting place on offer at Atletico, he has the perfect platform to show he should be Spain coach Vicente del Bosque’s first-choice striker for the World Cup next year.
Under Diego Simeone’s tutelage, Atletico have already improved mightily and an unlikely success against the Catalans over two legs would mean a fourth trophy in little more than a year.
Simeone ruled out any idea of a title challenge from Atletico in the strongest terms following the Sevilla result, castigating La Liga as a “boring” championship that is only about two clubs.
However, Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes rejected claims that there is no competition for the big two in Spain and said he expects a tough test from Atletico.
“They showed against Sevilla that they will be a very difficult opponent. It will be another test for this Barca,” he said. “You only have to watch how Betis played against Real Madrid, the Sevilla-Atletico game and Valencia this weekend. It will be a difficult game wherever we play.”
After a dream start to his career in charge of Barca thanks to Sunday’s 7-0 trouncing of Levante UD, manager Gerardo Martino could hand Neymar his first start at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. The Brazilian only made an appearance as a second-half substitute at the weekend.
While the goalscoring performances of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez may keep Neymar on the bench again, international duo Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba are expected to return after being rested following their trip to Ecuador to represent Spain last week.