1. Asensio stars as Madrid stroll to another trophy
Real Madrid strolled to the 2017 Super Cup with a 2-0 victory over Barcelona at the Bernabeu on Wednesday, sealing a thumping 5-1 aggregate win over their rivals to start the Spanish season in the best possible way.
Suspended Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo was barely missed as a Marco Asensio screamer made it 1-0 on just four minutes, Karim Benzema added a second before half-time and although Barca improved after the break they never looked close to a comeback. The victory was even more impressive given coach Zinedine Zidane had shuffled his squad and left usual starters Gareth Bale, Isco and Casemiro on the bench.
Barca’s chances of overturning the 1-3 deficit were pretty much gone before the game had settled down. A rushed Samuel Umtiti clearance fell to Asensio 35 yards from goal. He took a touch, steadied himself and launched a “folha seca” right into the far top corner. Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen watched motionless, with the Bernabeu also awestruck at the youngster’s latest moment of magic.
Lots of players have trademark goals, but little more than a year into his top-class career, Asensio is earning a reputation as someone who regularly just sticks the ball right in the top corner from well outside the penalty area. Even at 21, he now looks more likely to light up a game with a golazo than Bale, or even Ronaldo himself.
With Barcelona stunned, a second goal was coming. Benzema robbed a napping Javier Mascherano and played in surprise starter Lucas Vazquez, who struck a post. Soon afterward Sergio Busquets was dispossessed near his own area, and seconds later the Frenchman nipped in front of his countryman Umtiti to flick the ball up and dispatch an eight-yard volley into the net.
Barca tried to hit back in the second half, with both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez hitting the woodwork. But it was plain sailing really from an all-powerful Madrid who must surely be favourites to win everything — at home and abroad — this season.
2. Barca in disarray before the season starts
As Madrid took control in the first half, all over the pitch Barca players were struggling. The three-centre-back system used by new coach Ernesto Valverde in theory suited many in their side, but most looked uncomfortable and unsure of their roles. Even experienced players like Busquets, Mascherano and Jordi Alba were having shockers.
Barca were even well beaten in the possession stats at half-time, by 56 to 44 percent, something unheard of in the past decade, even against Madrid. Valverde’s men had just one shot at goal in the first 45 minutes, Suarez volleying well over the top to jeers from the Madrid fans.
Things did not improve much after the break, with Gerard Pique soon coming off injured, and Madrid fans joyously reminding him as he left of the infamous “se queda” (“he’s staying”) tweet about Neymar before the Brazilian left last month.
Captain on the night Messi then sprang to life, darted into the box and shot past Keylor Navas, but the ball struck the crossbar and bounced away to safety. Suarez also hit the post with a diving header after Navas had saved from the Blaugrana No. 10, as the Catalan side looked to regain some pride.
Valverde is now just the third coach in history to lose both his first two competitive games as Barca coach. There is widespread sympathy for the former Blaugrana winger, whose job has been made extra difficult by the Camp Nou hierarchy’s disastrous summer transfer market.
Everyone at the club has a huge amount of work to do, and quickly, to get their season back on track.
3. Ronaldo controversy can’t overshadow Zidane’s achievements
Since Madrid had last played at home, any game, they had won May’s Champions League in Cardiff, last Tuesday’s European Super Cup in Skopje, and of course gone to the Camp Nou and won 3-1 last weekend. Wednesday should have been billed as a celebration of such success, but instead the absence of Ronaldo overshadowed almost all of the build-up.
With the Portugal captain suspended after his first-leg red card and push of the referee, he was sat in the stands wearing a designer tracksuit as supportive chants of “Ronaldo! Ronaldo!” rang around the Bernabeu in minute 7. The accompanying white hankie “panolada” protest at recent refereeing decisions was half-hearted, however, as most fans were still marvelling at Asensio’s wonder goal and their team’s overwhelming of their rivals.
All over the pitch Madrid were on top. Benzema and Luka Modric were thoroughly enjoying themselves, while lesser-profile players like Mateo Kovacic and Vazquez were looking way more accomplished than their Barca counterparts. There were whoops of delight from the majority of the 75,167 crowd as Dani Carvajal nutmegged Suarez, moments before Modric outfoxed Andre Gomes. Summer signings Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos must have enjoyed their first Bernabeu outings as Madrid players as second-half subs.
Down on the sideline Zidane watched impassively, with just the hint of a smile, as around him fans celebrated joyously. This was his second Super Cup in little more than a week, a seventh trophy won in only 20 months in charge. He is doing an incredible job, and even for a club as storied as Madrid these are heady days to be a Bernabeu fan.
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