Spanish Super Cup: How did Real Madrid qualify?
Despite coming third in LaLiga and going out of the Copa del Rey in the semis, Real Madrid are at the 2019 Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Real Madrid face Valencia on Wednesday evening in the first semi-final of the 2019 Spanish Super Cup, a tournament that has a fresh format, has been moved from summer to winter, and is being held in a new venue.
Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia courts controversy
The overhaul of Spanish football's traditional curtain-raiser has not been without controversy, particularly the choice of Saudi Arabia as the event's new hosts for the next three years; however, it is a move that Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales staunchly defends.
In the wake of criticism of the 120-million-euro deal with Saudi Arabia, Rubiales insisted in November: "The Super Cup was under threat, it couldn't be held in August. The money [...] is going towards women's football, to the grassroots game. Of course the money is important; who can deny that? It is very important, but it's going to clubs in the second and third tier in Spain."
A four-team Super Cup: Valencia, Barcelona, Atlético and Real Madrid
The Super Cup has been expanded from two to four clubs, with the RFEF agreeing at its general assembly in April to hand entry to the tournament to the two finalists in the Copa del Rey and the winners and runners-up in LaLiga.
Atlético Madrid, who take on Barcelona in the second semi-final, qualified by finishing second in Primera División last season, while Valencia and Barça booked their tickets to Saudi Arabia after contesting May's Copa final, which was won by Los Che.
But why are Real Madrid also there, having come third in LaLiga and been knocked out of the Copa del Rey in the semi-finals? Because, in addition to qualifying as Copa finalists, Barça also won LaLiga - so, as the league's next-highest team after the top two, Madrid were given the fourth Super Cup place.
See also: 2019 Spanish Super Cup schedule in full
Super Cup pairings usually pre-determined
Super Cup rules also state that the LaLiga champions should face the Copa del Rey runners-up in the semi-finals, with the Copa winners meeting the league's second-placed side. Because Barça accounted for two of those spots this year, however, the RFEF opted to pull the last-four pairings out of the hat instead.