A comprehensive defeat to a superior Real Madrid sees Barcelona in panic mode ahead of the new season. But Madrid have their own drama deal with
The Spanish Super Cup first-leg came crashing down on top of a disappointing Barça after a masterful final twenty minutes by Real Madrid (1-3). What began as a diluted version of ‘El Clasico’ finally heated up in its final stretch with plenty of drama, penalties, a controversial red card and the usual saucy details this game is famous for.
There’s simply too much difference in ability and sheer depth on the bench between the two giants. Whereas Ernesto Valverde placed all of his eggs in the same basket with his starting XI, Zinedine Zidane had a luxurious gallery of weapons to chose.
The midfield gets tired? Rest easy, there’s Marco Asensio. Gareth Bale has an awful night? Don’t worry, there’s a relative unknown named Cristiano Ronaldo who can come in and dynamite the game.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The game began with bad news not only for the players, but also for all fans around the world: due to some infamous planning and management from the Powers that Be in Spain, both teams and the referee wore strikingly similar dark kits, something that made the viewing experience incredibly frustrating.
Even some plays ended in a ball loss due to midfielders failing to pass the properly to a team mate, confused by the colour. Take notice that we’re talking about the famous ‘El Clásico’, the biggest matchup in the world of football, and even in this case Spain’s bosses manage to fumble it. Appalling.
The first half didn’t present us with too much to savor, except for a few Messi runs, some chances missed by an amazingly slow Gareth Bale and many, many bookings for regular tackles. I see what ref De Burgos Bengoetxea was trying to do – making sure the game was always under his control – but he failed miserably. Barça slowly gained possession of the ball while Real was happy to wait in their own half, trusting the magician Isco and their attackers to take advantage of any counter-attacks they could mount.
After a quiet beginning and a goalless first-half, the second was utter madness. Once Zidane understood that Bale was nowhere near in an optimal state, his substitutions sent the game into the stratosphere. Ironically, it was one of Madrid’s arch-enemies (‘El Presidente’ Gerard Piqué) who sent his own team spinning to the ground after an unlucky own goal, one that gave Los Blancos an advantage they were happy to accept.
Overall, Piqué’s performance in the game wasn’t too pleasing to the eye, leaving too much room for attackers to dribble against him and never feeling as powerful or secure as, for example, his frenemy Sergio Ramos felt in the opposite box.
The sudden booing meant that the time had come: Cristiano, fresh, entered the pitch while Leo Messi struggled to carry his team to a draw that Barça had pursued without much faith. A disappointing Gerard Deulofeu left and a much more subtle Denis Suarez came in. Valverde grasped for solutions while Real defended with a group of disciplined men together outside their box. In one of those plays, Luis Suarez clashed with Keylor Navas when chasing a loose ball. The ref didn’t doubt, although the Madridista side couldn’t believe the Uruguayan’s dive had tricked him.
Messi’s equalizer from the penalty spot brought balance to a match that was becoming more and more unbalanced as time went by, with a tired Barça without much more to offer and a plethoric Real, symbolized by Cristiano’s screamer (one-on-one with Piqué) and, later, with Marco Asensio’s stunner that shattered the angle of Ter Stegen’s goal. Real Madrid sensed blood and sought the prey; two goals later and with a 1-3 result in their suitcase, their belly was more than full.
But the ref had one more controversial decision left: the harsh second yellow and red to Ronaldo for a questionable dive, an expulsion that enraged the superstar who pushed the referee and left the pitch pouting and fuming. It was an act of petulance that lead to a five-match suspension for the Madrid man, that will be appealed.
With ninety minutes left to play on Wednesday and a Neymar-less plan of action to dream of an impossible comeback, Barça must deal with a terrible blow just days away from the beginning of La Liga. Possibly, desperation will send them to the market with loads of cash in their wallet and an eagerness to bag anyone who significantly improves their squad: Paulinho is a done deal, and Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembelé are other possible targets. Meanwhile, Real sits comfortably on top, one hand already on the Super Cup trophy, watching downwards as their mortal enemies scramble for answers to their predicament.