Manchester United were beaten but should take some encouragement for making Real Madrid fight until the end and, following Nemanja Matic’s fine performance, will hope real quality has been added to the midfield.
As it was, Madrid claimed the trophy, goals by Casemiro and Isco answered only by Romelu Lukaku’s first competitive strike since his £75m move from Everton – though he also missed an easier chance in what was a mixed outing for him.
Madrid dominated for large swathes yet United might have forced extra-time when, near the end, Marcus Rashford raced in at goal but his effort allowed goalkeeper Keylor Navas to steer the ball away for a corner.
There was a large roar when Cristiano Ronaldo was given the final few minutes - there were seven added – but Madrid’s real jubilation was in winning their second consecutive Uefa Super Cup to add to their back-to-back Champions League triumphs.
Gareth Bale missed the first golden opportunity in the oppressive heat inside the Philip II Arena. The 28-year-old, operating as a striker alongside Karim Benzema, won a corner. When play broke from this Marcelo swung in a cross from the left. For some reason Paul Pogba ducked and the ball landed on Bale’s right boot, but he spurned the chance despite being close to David de Gea’s goal.
For this first competitive outing of the 2017-18 term José Mourinho sent out a largely predictable XI. The one debatable selection was that of Jesse Lingard for Rashford in a 4-3-3. The midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Matic and Pogba is one the manager will hope to field consistently, form permitting.
The Madrid talking point was Ronaldo starting on the bench – he has only recently returned to training – and Bale’s inclusion from the off. According to Mourinho this meant Bale is not for sale, after the Portuguese’s claim in the buildup that should the Welshman be chosen by Zinedine Zidane he must be in his long-term plans. Mourinho conceded the point by saying it was “game over” in terms of that transfer and that Bale was going nowhere.
Despite the muggy air there was a slick pace to proceedings. Madrid’s initial burst was followed by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Matic and Lukaku all combining in and around the Spanish champions’ area.
Matic particularly impressed. His was an all-round contribution that saw him cleaning up near De Gea and prompting Lukaku and Lingard into attacking pockets with clever balls.
Casemiro, though, showed how dangerous the European champions are from a Toni Kroos corner. The German floated in the ball in from the left and the Brazilian’s stooping header hit the bar, the No14 beating Matteo Darmian’s challenge.
Zidane’s strategy was for Bale and Benzema to swap between left and right and for playmaker Isco to race into holes they created. An illustration came when the latter burned along the left, played a give-and-go and let fly a 20-yarder.
His effort was too high but it was Isco’s dazzling footwork that led to Madrid’s opener. After a run-and-pirouette he took aim, the ball rebounding and falling to Dani Carvajal. The right-back scooped a sweet pass to Casemiro and his half-volley made it 1-0. Mourinho later complained this was offside but it looked marginal.
When Gianluca Rocchi called for drinks at 30 minutes United could thank the referee for the relief. Each coach had an animated chat though Mourinho was the more concerned.
The 54-year-old was to wear a dismayed look when United’s next two attacks foundered due two mistakes. First Herrera aimed a free-kick straight out. Then when the same player charged down a Kroos pass and Lukaku played himself offside by touching the ball. The half ended with a Benzema shot being beaten away by De Gea and Lukaku aiming a rare header at Navas.
Mourinho replaced the anonymous Lingard with Rashford for the second half. Yet United were almost instantly pinned back. Kroos forced De Gea to save to his right, then a Mkhitaryan dribble foundered and Marcelo failed to make the keeper save again.
The next time they attacked there was no mistake. It was too simple, though, as an Isco-Bale one-two saw the former double the Spaniards’ lead.
Worse followed when Pogba headed straight at Navas and Lukaku blasted the rebound wide from close-range – this was the chance that might have taken the contest into a further half an hour. Mourinho acted by swapping Herrera for Marouane Fellaini and after Bale hit the bar United pulled one back.
The goal was down to Lukaku’s alertness. The excellent Matic fired at Navas and when the ball came back the Belgian striker slotted it in with his right boot from a few yards out.
Following a Ramos-Fellaini clash of heads Fellaini required lengthy treatment but after a sizeable protector was put on he could continue.
United did the same until final whistle. This was not a vintage offering but Mourinho is right to be encouraged ahead of Sunday’s Premier League opener against West Ham United at Old Trafford.
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