True to suspicions that Real Madrid could have turned the corner firmly against fierce opponents Barcelona in the wake of Neymar’s exit, the capital giants demolished the Catalans to win the Super Cup in style to confirm sentiments.
Seeing Los Blancos in their true elements, the question comes to mind that ‘is there a team in world football who could beat this Real Madrid side’?
Zinedine Zidane expanded on his incredible record as a manager on Wednesday night as he won his second trophy of the 2017/18 season, before the Spanish league has even begun.
The suspended Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t needed, nor even worthy of mention in the end, as Real Madrid saw off their arch rivals easily, doing so without several key players in a match which will leave Ernesto Valverde along with the Barcelona board, players and fans, worried about what they can realistically hope to achieve this season.
Real Madrid are an absolute monster under Zidane. They rested Gareth Bale, Casemiro and Isco for this second leg – the latter was the best player on the pitch at the Nou Camp – and Barcelona had no answer to their quick passing, high tempo pressing and slick movement.
Their dreadful start certainly didn’t help. Real Madrid began the first half pressing high and hard, showing a desire and energy to win the ball and keep it.
Barcelona, unlike the days recently passed just couldn’t match that hunger and drive. Samuel Umtiti was forced back towards his own goal from kick-off and any attempts to play out from the back were frustrated quickly and with purpose.
Valverde’s decision to abandon the usual Barcelona 4-3-3 was an attempt to deal with the giant Neymar shaped hole that has been left on the left wing but his decision to start with a 5-3-2 was surprising. A confused, nervous display in the first half may have revealed how little time they have spent working on the system during a packed pre-season.
It soon unraveled.
And if you replace the word ‘soon’ with ‘immediately’, you might get a better feel for just how woefully unprepared Barcelona looked for this. Real, by contrast, were buzzing from the first whistle.
Marco Asensio, Zidane’s bright new wonderkid, started in midfield in Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 – a departure from the usual 4-4-2 diamond that has yielded such success in recent games, including the 3-1 win in the first leg – and controlled the first 45 minutes.
With four minutes on the clock, the electric Asensio found himself in space 25 yards out from goal and launched an unstoppable bending, swerving, dipping shot over Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It crashed into the goal, leaving the net and the Barcelona defence visibly shaken.
Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi was probably the only of Valverde’s 11 men who looked in any way assured in possession or capable of genuinely threatening the Real back four, and he took it upon himself to help the team carve out opportunities, by doing it all on his own.
Some bursting runs from deep nearly unlocked the Real Madrid defence on a couple of occasions but often he found himself without support. Luis Suarez – another who also caused a bit of trouble in the final third – managed to pull the ball across the box in another dangerous situation but he too found that every time Barcelona got into the final third, they either had no support or Real had dropped into a deep defensive shape quicker than they could attack.
Messi grew visibly frustrated as the half went on and Real Madrid went into samba football mode, pinging passes about with the assured confidence of a team who, having already lifted one trophy this season with an impressive win over Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup, look unbeatable on current form. Luka Modric danced around the pitch, Karim Benzema turned up in space left vacant by confused defenders and in the 38th minute eventually this pressure told
Barcelona failed to pass out from the back (as if they’d even consider clearing their lines), Busquets was caught in possession and Benzema stole in behind Umtiti to control Marcelo’s low cross, and from the resulting flick, swiveled and powered a low shot past ter Stegen. Barcelona’s defenders stood staring like statues. Game over.
There was little change in the second half with Real sitting a little deeper and allowing their visitors more of the ball. There was a brief spark as Messi sprinted onto a cushioned pass from Suarez, dribbled into the box and found himself one-on-one with Keylor Navas but even he couldn’t finish the chance, striking the ball high and onto the crossbar.
Later, a hopeful Sergi Roberto shot was palmed away by Navas. Suarez had space, dived in at the back post to head into an open goal… and hit the outside of the post. As if it wasn’t already obvious, the sound of the ball striking the woodwork was confirmation that his was not Barca’s night
Zidane has worked wonders at Real Madrid and though football has always been cyclical and great teams peak and decline, it’s important to remember that a season is a long time and Barcelona still have some of the best players in the world on their roster. There is a growing suspicion that Barcelona – might be – at the end of their glorious, all-conquering era.
Real Madrid played this game with the hunger, energy and desire of a great side. They’ve won two Champions League tournaments in a row, two trophies this season already and will be huge favourites to lift yet another La Liga title.
On this form, Barca could struggle to finish second. Hard work on the training ground and some transfer market magic is desperately needed.
At the final whistle, Valverde cut a defeated look. His game plan had unraveled in the opening minutes and his substitutions struggled to make any impact at all. The irreplaceable Andres Iniesta was missing through injury, there was no shape or balance to the players on the pitch and even the great Messi struggled to truly influence either leg of this Super Cup tie.
Barcelona are – for the moment – a team without identity. Real Madrid’s is clear: they play beautiful football – and they win.
Culled from Telegraph.