Real Madrid took the spoils in the first-leg of the Spanish Super Cup and placed themselves firmly in the driver’s seat to take the title on home territory next weekend at the expense of bitter rivals Barcelona.
The Spanish domestic season officially kick-started with the first leg of the Super Cup on Saturday with Barcelona and Real Madrid squaring up at the Camp Nou to get their hands on the first piece of silverware for the season.
In the end, it was Zinedine Zidane’s team that re-affirmed and established just why they were European and La Liga champions last time around. The first half largely played to expectations with Barcelona imposing their possession play and Real Madrid attacking on the counter.
The intensity of the contest rose several notches in the second half though. Los Blancos drew first blood on the night when Gerard Pique was dealt with the misfortune of scoring an own goal for his bitter rivals in the 49th minute of the game.
Barcelona, however, did equalize through Lionel Messi, who slotted in a penalty after Luis Suarez was apparently fouled by Keylor Navas. The decision was heavily scrutinized after replays showed that the Uruguayan clearly dived to win the penalty.
That didn’t affect the visitors though, who after bringing on Cristiano Ronaldo as a substitute had extra zing and penetrability going forward. And they were duly rewarded in the 80th minute as the Portuguese scored a spectacular goal on the break to send his side ahead.
The goal was made more memorable by Ronaldo’s re-enactment of Messi’s famous shirt celebration from the Bernabeu a few months ago. Marco Asensio then sealed victory with a spectacular third to send Real Madrid fans into delirium, leaving Zidane to cherish another sweet Clasico victory.
The Hard Tackle looks into some of the key talking points from an entertaining evening at the Catalan capital.
“The Transition from Neymar to Deulofeu was Depressing”
There was a lot of talk about who would take the position on the left side of attack after it was vacated by Neymar following his world-record move to PSG. While there’s been immense transfer speculation linking the club with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, Gerard Deulofeu took the starting place on the night.
And fans quickly saw what they missed in Neymar’s absence with all the trickery, pace and creativity on the flanks. The Brazilian’s adventurous runs on the wings were a distant memory at the face of Deulofeu’s laboured struggle throughout the game.
The fact that he struggled to make an impact at Everton and AC Milan made it all the more baffling that he was lined up as the temporary back-up to Neymar, of all players at Camp Nou.
While the Spaniard endured a tough night on the pitch, the man whose boots he was expected to fill was having a ball of a night in France as his PSG side beat Guincamp 3-0. Neymar scored and assisted a goal to take home the man-of-the-match honours in his first outing in Parisien colours.
Is there a growing gulf in class between Real Madrid and Barcelona?
It would be naive to fervently argue that Neymar isn’t being missed at Camp Nou. The Brazilian who was such an instrumental part of the club’s progress last season, especially during the second half, was sorely missed on the flanks.
Granted, the Catalan side still has the unenviable luxury of the services of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets from the club’s golden era in addition to a bit of Luis Suarez as well and you ideally shouldn’t be having too many complaints despite Neymar’s departure.
But, with all the players ageing and entering their thirties, the hopes of taking Barcelona into the new era was pinned on Neymar, until of course he chose to abandon the Catalan project in favour of a more lucrative setting in Paris.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, started without their star players Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric and still managed to remain up to pace with Barcelona. Zidane’s men made the La Liga triumph last season almost look too easy with the Blaugrana causing little trouble over the course of the campaign.
And on Sunday, there was an evident gap between the two teams as Real looked a class above Barcelona on the night, much to the worry of the Catalan faithful. Fans aren’t pleased by the club’s progress in the transfer window either, with Barcelona purchasing Paulinho from the Chinese Super League.
Their struggles to secure a deal for Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele is not helping matters either. Although, there is still time in the transfer window to potentially rope in both the players, the fans and the manager alike would like the work to be done swiftly.
Ernesto Valverde has quite the task on his hand trying to overturn the result at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night and set things rolling ahead of the new campaign.
Ronaldo’s Explosive Cameo
Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t a part of Real Madrid’s pre-season tour as he made his first appearance since the end of last season only in the final 30 minutes of the UEFA Super Cup. He was offered a similar opportunity on Saturday and boy did the Portuguese make the most out of it.
Ronaldo scored in the 80th minute to give his side the lead once again. But, his rather eventful cameo didn’t end there as the Portuguese was booked following his reenactment of Lionel Messi’s famous shirt celebration and was just a couple of minutes later booked once again for diving hence sending him back to the dugout.
The Portuguese forward, however, did not leave without a bit of theatrics as he argued with the referee over his decision and in the process appeared to have pushed him away. He would later be slapped with a five-match ban for that heated reaction.
Marco Asensio – A future star
Marco Asensio is fast growing into one of the hottest prospects in world football and, the Spaniard has enjoyed a remarkable year breaking into the first-team setup at the Bernabeu, scoring in the Champions League final and even starring in the U-21 European Championships for Spain.
Sunday’s goal at the Clasico, however, would be the cherry atop the cake for Asensio who is fast scripting a rise up the ladder in world football, prompting many to say that it is only a matter of time before he takes over the spotlight from some of the very best in the business.
The 21-year-old sent in a thunderous strike past Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 82nd minute to send Madrid two goals clear and with three valuable away goals to take back to the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Having been launched onto the scene by Zidane during the 2016-17 season, it’ll be interesting to see how Asensio does in the forthcoming campaign, the initial signs of which are already looking really good.