History places an obligation on the clubs who contest Wednesday's Uefa Super Cup to entertain. Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt have met only once before in a competitive context, but so thrilling was that encounter it was dubbed ‘Match of the Century’. The label stayed attached to the epic 1960 European Cup final, won 7-3 by Madrid, through most of the remaining years of the 20th century.
Ferenc Puskas scored four that day and Alfredo Di Stefano grabbed a hat-trick but Madrid had to impose their authority after falling behind. Modern Real also perform stirring comebacks: They are in Helsinki today by virtue of a fifth Champions League title in the last nine years, which they captured after a rollercoaster ride towards the final against Liverpool.
A reminder: Madrid were behind on the aggregate scoreline deep into each of their knockout ties: In the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain, which featured five goals; in a quarter-final against Chelsea that had nine; and in the semi-final, where Madrid and Manchester City shared 11 goals.
Eintracht cultivated their own cliff-edge suspense on the way to claiming the Europa League, via a penalty shoot-out in the final against Glasgow Rangers. They had let leads slip in see-saw knockout ties against Real Betis and Barcelona, with whom they shared seven goals across the quarter-final. Ominously for the German club, the loose habits that were part of their adventure appear to have remained. Eintracht lost their opening match of the Bundesliga season at the weekend 6-1 to Bayern Munich.
Madrid will only begin their defence of their Spanish Liga title this Sunday but head coach Carlo Ancelotti insists that the Super Cup is no mere warm-up. “We have six titles in play this season and we want to fight for all of them,” said the Italian, surveying the long menu of commitments in the 10 months ahead: the defence of the Champions League and La Liga, plus the Spanish Super Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Club World Cup.
In his mind is also the impact of the Qatar World Cup on Madrid’s crowded schedule. With the exception of David Alaba, the Austrian defender, all Madrid’s senior players would expect to be involved with their national teams in Qatar in November and December.
Set against that heavy burden of fixtures, Madrid’s summer recruitment so far can look sparse. The club have spent heavily on one new signing - 22-year-old France international midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni at over €100m from Monaco. But so far in this transfer window, they only significantly reinforced one other area of the pitch, with the addition of Antonio Rudiger, who, having come to the end of his contract at Chelsea, will vie for a place in central defence alongside Alaba and Eder Miltao.
Tchouameni and compatriot Edu Camavinga, 19 and maturing fast, are reassuring successors for the time when the long-serving midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro, all now in their 30s, need rest or slip down Ancelotti’s hierarchy. But there are few obvious back-ups to the other stellar veteran Karim Benzema, who since turning 34 in December has had his best period as a Madrid striker. Benzema is at the sharp end of the calendar’s relentless demands, spearheading Madrid’s pursuit of prizes and France’s bid to retain the World Cup.
Ancelotti points to the huge progress of Vinicius Junior as a reason not to fear any Benzema absence with injury or dip in form. The Brazilian winger had a brilliant 2021-22, and capped it with the only goal of the Champions League final.
To score the winner on occasions like that is to guarantee a place in history. To do so while very young - Vinicius turned 22 last month - is also to draw scrutiny for the remainder of a career. Just ask Mario Gotze, who eight summers ago struck the winning goal in a World Cup final for Germany. Gotze was 22 at the time. He would reluctantly reflect that there have been no comparable high points for him since. He has suffered illness, several injury lay-offs, and moved downwards, from Bayern Munich, to Borussia Dortmund and then to PSV Eindhoven since his moment of glory.
This summer, Gotze transferred again, to Eintracht, where he has an early chance to appear in a showpiece final. “The World Cup is eight years ago but it’s always created a lot of noise around Mario,” said Oliver Glasner, the Eintracht head coach. “It doesn’t help him. But he’s calm and has unbelievable talent. We can offer him the stage to display it.”