Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal may hog the headlines after Real Madrid hoisted the Super Cup from Sevilla's grasp, but did Zinedine Zidane get lucky?
As far as habits go, edging tightly-fought European cup finals is not a bad one to pick up. And as Sergio Ramos headed home in stoppage time, bafflingly unmarked from all of five yards, Los Blancos had done it again. Ramos, more specifically, had done it again. An identikit copy of their 2014 Champions League final against Atletico, Real’s buccaneering bull-fighter of a centre-back had saved them once more. Then there was just the small matter of a stunning individual goal of which any Madrid legend, from Luis Figo to Raul via Ronaldo and Ronaldo, would have been proud. The scorer? Right-back and Man of the Match Dani Carvajal of course.
But what else did we learn from this typically topsy-turvy Super Cup clash?
Real’s fringe players impress
With the news that Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale were all ruled out of Tuesday’s glamour clash in rain-specked Trondheim, the hipsters and hopefuls were predicting another European trophy for arch-overachievers Sevilla. Yet Lucas Vasquez, Mateo Kovacic and, above all, Marco Asensio stepped effortlessly into the rather large boots of their much-vaunted team-mates.
Vasquez, a scuttling blur of energy and vigour, was a constant menace down the Real right, exploiting the space behind Sevilla’s all-new three man defence on numerous occasions. The only Madrid player to feature for a full 90 minutes in pre-season, Vasquez’ extra dash of sharpness proved the difference as he swung a game that had been drifting away from Madrid back in their favour. After clipping a beautiful cross onto the head of Ramos to take the game to extra time, the scampering wideman bamboozled Timothee Kolodziejczak into a second-yellow.
Mateo Kovacic also impressed in a more advanced role in the heart of the Madrid midfield. Though he turned his back meekly as Franco Vazquez levelled clinically on the stroke of half-time, the Croatian’s quick-feet and driving runs showcased an energy and directness that Kroos and even Luka Modric cannot match.
Asensio is the Real deal
The stage, however, was reserved for one man. Basking in the limelight of a Real Madrid first-team debut in a European final, Marco Asensio’s long-range wonderstrike to open the scoring was as inspired as it was important. Despite fading in the second half, a few petulant fouls showcasing the 20-year-old’s youthful exuberance, Asensio was Real’s most consistent creative spark, delivering a number of sublime balls into the Sevilla box and creating a presentable chance for Isco on 55 minutes. Now we know why former Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque described him as the nation’s biggest talent.
Morata misses big chance
26, 32, 20, 24, 22, 28: those are the figures Alvaro Morata will have to match if he is to replace Karim Benzema full-time in Madrid’s attacking trident. Returning to the Bernabau this summer after two trophy-laden years with Juventus and an impressive three goals for Spain at Euro 2016, many have tipped Morata to make lives a lot more difficult for reporters the world over by dividing up the BBC this season.
However, though he started brightly in Norway, displaying the excellent hold-up-play he used to good effect for La Roja this summer, Morata struggled to impose himself on the game and was caught offside three times in the first half alone. The 23-year-old is a different beast to Benzema: while the Frenchman drops off to link play and drifts into wide areas, Morata runs in behind and works the channels. On last night’s evidence, however, the understanding between this most classic of number nines and his team-mates is far from telepathic. It’s worth remembering that, for all the hype, Morata scored just 15 Serie A goals in two seasons at Juventus. A similar return will end his second Madrid spell as quick as his first.
Disciplined rather than daring
Zinedine Zidane gets rather frustrated when people describe him as a mere floating playmaker, drifting through games at his own pace. Zidane the player was a fierce competitor, hard-working, strong-willed and determined to win. Zidane the manager is no different. The watching world has become increasingly accustomed to ZZ’s somewhat surprising managerial pragmatism (Casemiro remains every bit as essential to Real’s gameplan as Ronaldo, Benzema or Bale), but the Super Cup also allowed the Frenchman to demonstrate his maturing game-management.
Like against Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals, Real sat back in numbers and allowed Sevilla, displaying their new-found possession-heavy principles under Jorge Sampaoli, to recycle the ball harmlessly in the midfield. Sevilla may have boasted 60 per cent possession in the first-half, but Luciano Vietto, Hiroshi Kiyotake and Franko Vazquez struggled to influence the game as an attacking threat early on. The latter’s clinically dispatched volley, after all, was Sevilla’s only chance of note and a half-chance at that.
Even Marcelo, so often the platform upon which Madrid’s attacks are built, reigned in his kamikaze attacking instincts, sitting back and restricting the space for rampaging full-back Mariano to drive forward. If the full-backs are usually Sevilla’s main threat, then Zidane negated this intelligently.
Madrid got lucky
However, that’s not to say Madrid were tactically perfect. Far from it. In the second-half, the Europa League winners dominated, upping the tempo and intensity of their passing and overwhelming the Madrid midfield. Even Carvajal, superb for the most part, struggled on the occasions that the elusive Vazquez dropped into midfield, opening space for runners in beyond. Kiyotake and Vitolo, meanwhile, constantly drifted into space, receiving possession and flicking it on quickly before Madrid had a chance to react.
In fact, moments before Ramos’ equaliser Sevilla looked comfortable, playing down the clock with assurance and a clinching goal in their sights. It was only their suicidal overplaying and aversion to the whole take-the-ball-into-the-corner routine, that gave Real a shot at redemption.