Real Madrid won the UEFA Super Cup for the second year in succession, beating Manchester United 2-1 in Skopje, Macedonia and thus ensure their status as the Champions of Europe.
Casemiro opened the scoring in the 24th minute before Isco gave Los Blancos a 2-0 lead early in the second half. Romelu Lukaku grabbed one back for the Red Devils in the 62nd minute, but Madrid held on to ensure they won the game.
Here are the major talking points from the game:
1 Real Madrid’s juggernaut looks unstoppable
Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City should be very, very scared. After having won all of their major targets last season, the hope amongst clubs in Europe was that Real Madrid would return sans their hunger and motivation, and if they were lucky, without their fluidity as well.
24 minutes in, and Real Madrid had extended their scoring streak to an incredible 66 games in all competitions, racking up 183 goals in the process. There is a tactical awareness to this side that looks equally comfortable playing a midfield diamond, a back three, or even their traditional 4-3-3. Madrid looked comfortably on top for the best part of an hour, and Ronaldo wasn’t even on the pitch.
It’s hard to find a weakness, because even when Madrid do concede, they remain eerily calm – it’s no secret where that comes from – Zinedine Zidane. The Frenchman aims to create history with a hat-trick of UEFA Champions League wins this season, and the omens look good.
Not bad for a manager they call ‘Lucky’.
2 Casemiro steals the limelight
Despite effectively being ‘fundamental’ to Zinedine Zidane (in his own words) The Brazilian midfielder has never really earned the plaudits his performances have deserved. Casemiro is incredibly important to the manner Real Madrid play, with the Brazilian ensuring the fluidity of Los Blancos.
Strangely, Zidane had Casemiro play ahead of Kroos and Modric in the first half, perhaps with a view to ensure Paul Pogba drops back. The Brazilian did not look out of place, with some clever driving runs that harkened back to his Sao Paolo days. A clever finish (albeit from an offside position) was the perfect way to open the game.
In the second half, Casemiro dropped back to his normal position, and prevented Rashford from sending Lukaku clear on goal with a well-timed interception in the 49th minute, with the score at 1-0. The Brazilian continued to be a calming presence in midfield as United’s onslaught began late in the second half. Real Madrid simply would not be the same team without him.
3 Jose Mourinho erred in starting defensively
The Portuguese manager has earned plenty of plaudits for his tactical nous over the years, most recently when Mourinho started with a defensive block against the effusive youth of Ajax in the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League final. It worked brilliantly, as United’s experience resulted in a comfortable 2-0 win.
Real Madrid are far cannier though – Zinedine Zidane anticipated Mourinho’s 3 man defence, and started with a diamond, thus ensuring that Los Blancos dominated the wings. The space Dani Carvajal was afforded to make his pass for the first goal would be criminal by Jose’s standards, and he rejigged his transitional shape in the second half, bringing on Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini.
The pair made United look far better, with the Red Devils troubling Navas far more often. Perhaps Mourinho needs to have more faith in his team, and begin games on the offensive because big teams in the UEFA Champions League will take full advantage of a head-start.
4 Red Debutants shouldn’t be judged too harshly
There was plenty of schadenfreude floating in the footballing universe when Paul Pogba’s header was saved by Navas, followed by Romelu Lukaku missing a gilt-edged chance with the score at 2-0. That’s €180 million on the football pitch and they really ought to have done better.
Lukaku managed to redeem himself with a clever finish when faced with Keylor Navas, and the Belgian sparked hopes of Manchester United’s revival. However, this was the first time the 24-year-old had ever faced an elite European club’s defence, and he did look a bit lost at times.
Nemanja Matic was fantastic though, and was even perhaps the best Red Devil on the pitch, although that bar wasn’t set too high. Jose Mourinho has found the perfect base to build his attacking unit around, but it would be wise to remember that Chelsea fans were left frustrated by the drop-off in Matic’s performances late in the season.
Victor Lindelof still needs a bit of time to adapt to his teammates, with a few positional mishaps requiring him to make a fair amount of last ditch tackles.
5 Madrid’s stars eclipse those of United
Paul Pogba seems like a player who is extremely aware of his price tag. The €105 million millstone around his neck forces him to be too ambitious, and the Frenchman paid the price tonight. Real Madrid won back possession from him countless times, while Pogba constantly picked the wrong option when going forward. Perhaps watching the tapes of his opposite number – Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will do him a world of good.
In contrast to United, Real Madrid’s stars look comfortable in their skin (a reflection of their manager). Gareth Bale was surrounded by transfer rumours before the match, but did not have the look of a player who’s had his head turned – the Welshman was bright, if a little unfamiliar with the diamond formation.
The Cristiano Ronaldo of years gone by would have been desperate for a goal when he came on, but not this mature avatar. The Portuguese star recognized that his team needed to kill the game off, and thus proceeded to earn fouls and keep possession – the performance of a team player, who’s been moulded that way by his manager. Maybe Mourinho ought to take a leaf out of Zidane’s book in how to manage your best players.