For the eighth time in nine years, a Spanish team has won the UEFA Super Cup. This glorified exhibition between the final season’s Champions League and Europa League champions was claimed by Real Madrid for a third time in four years.
As it happens, the most successful club in continental soccer has also been European champion three times in four years. So the 2-1 win over Manchester United in Macedonia on Tuesday didn’t precisely cement this dynasty, but did add a itsy-bitsy more polish to its shine.
But whether the score was close, the game itself didn’t really feel that way for much of it. Until Real, which started its preseason a week after United did and has played fewer games, tired in the final half hour or so, the Spaniards were utterly dominant.
Real had United largely pinned back early on. Although, as often, that felt like a conscious tactical choice by former Real and current United manager Jose Mourinho. Black jerseys swarmed around the United area until they finally broke through in the 24th minute.
Wave after wave of Real attacks stranded in United’s box, but then Dani Carvajal flipped a ball over the top into the path of Casemiro, who slid it behind David De Gea. Was he offside? perhaps, possibly a tad. But the goal stood besides. And it wasn’t undeserved for being doubtful.
Seven minutes after the intermission, the scintillating Isco, starting in set of Cristiano Ronaldo — who began his pre-season late — got the goal he deserved for total his energy and trickery. In a quick one-two combination with Gareth Bale at the top of the box, he freed himself up and finished cleanly.
It wasn’t stellar defending from United. But then this Ronaldo-less Real also looked like something it hasn’t resembled in years: dynamic and quick and uncatchable. The absence of the increasingly statuesque Ronaldo, who still very much merits his set and accommodations for the bundles of goals he produces, created space to slip and slice through.
United, for its allotment, continues to seem like an expensive but shoddy facsimile of a world-lesson, course team. Hundreds of millions possess been spent since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. But not any of the legendary manager’s successors possess managed to forge a collective that could compete in Europe. Or, in some seasons, even reach Europe’s top competition, the Champions League.
This team looks no closer to being a real European power in spite of the pricey additions of Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof. Instead, it plays muscular and direct soccer that feels incompatible with a sport that is fitting ever faster and more intricate.
At any rate, United got its equalizer after a threatening spell. Paul Pogba’s header from a sharp Ander Herrera cross was parried into Lukaku’s path by Keylor Navas. But the huge Belgian striker airmailed it. He got another chance a short while later, when a Matic bullet from just external the box fell nicely for him as well. This time, he slotted it in coolly.
United created the stray chance for an equalizer but converted not any of them, with Navas denying Marcus Rashford well.
And so now, with most total of the various super cups around Europe played, the club season is to finally initiate. Real looks like the inevitable aging of Ronaldo won’t gradual it down any so long as Isco — and Marco Asensio — are around. United, meanwhile, is still a diminished giant that has misplaced its identity.
It was only an exhibition, but the narratives for the upcoming campaign are already taking shape.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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