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Man Utd 1 (Lukaku 62′) – 2 (Casemiro 24′, Isco 52′) Real Madrid
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The Uefa Super Cup is still the one trophy that is not part of the Jose Mourinho collection but even a man who takes defeat as badly as him might regard this one at the hands of the best team in Europe as a lesson worth learning as he approaches his critical second season at Old Trafford.
This Real Madrid side are one of the great teams of the 21st century, and there were times in the game when it looked like it might take another generation for United to catch them, never mind within the scope of time the current manager might have at the club. Yet when it seemed like United could find themselves on the end of debilitating scoreline they recovered to make a game of it.
Their goal was from Romelu Lukaku after the new striker had missed another chance that might have flattened his confidence. On the left side, Marcus Rashford, a second half substitute gave the team a new burst of life. Paul Pogba was relentless in forcing his way back into the game and although United could not quite retrieve it against the masters of European football, they did adapt and evolve and almost take it to extra-time.
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In the end, Madrid had taken too much of the game, with goals from Casemiro and Isco and a performance that was at times breathtaking until they started to wilt when Lukaku scored after the hour. United had a claim that the first goal was offside but in the end it was the better team that won this trophy for the third time in four years.
The champions of Europe three times in the last four years and a team at the top, or at least near, the arch of their development – it should not be underestimated how hard it is playing against Real Madrid. Mourinho’s team might have hoped to catch the Champions League winners cold with Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench and no notable summer signings apart from Theo Hernandez, who was also a substitute.
Yet the Madrid of 2017 are quite capable of turning it on when they want and although United had their moments in the first half they were more of the hectic variety, openings that closed off suddenly. Zinedine Zidane’s side on the other hand, exerted a slow deadly grip on the game around the half hour mark, with a sequence of passes that moved United gradually and inexorably backwards towards their own goal.
That was the most impressive feature of the first half, even considering Casemiro’s goal, a period of dominance which showcased the quality throughout Madrid’s team. They have players who can pass and retain the ball all over the pitch and, superstars though they might all be, they have a keen sense of where their team-mates are.
United started the better but they ended the first half with 40 per cent of the possession and just one effort on target, a Romelu Lukaku header that went straight into the mitts of Keylor Navas. They never probed Madrid or had the kind of advanced possession that allowed them to pull the opposition out of shape and use the spaces that created.
Zidane selected Gareth Bale, a move that goes some way to spiking the suggestion that the Welshman is surplus to requirements if another big signing comes in. Mourinho had said that Bale’s selection was a test of his status at Madrid and, as such, he passed it – but then it was just a Mourinho theory and nothing more.
Early on Bale was often the beneficiary of the kind of diagonal ball into the left channel that eventually created the goal for Casemiro. Madrid seemed to sense a weakness in United down their right flank. Mourinho had started with a back three and Victor Lindelof was the man on the right side of it, obliged to come out to meet Bale when the ball was played in behind Antonio Valencia.
It was from that kind of position that Casemiro ran to meet Dani Carvajal’s cross on 24 minutes, sweeping the ball in with his left foot at the back post. The water break on the half hour came at the right moment for Mourinho whose team were wilting badly in the heat of the Macedonian evening. They were not pressing the ball at all and for the most part they were giving Madrid all the time they needed.
Before the goal Bale and Casemiro had chances to score with the Brazilian’s header from a corner hitting the bar. United had barely laid a glove on them and they still had Ronaldo to come. As he left for half-time, the former United man reciprocated Mourinho’s handshake and arm around the shoulder – a public show of friendship after their parting of the ways when the latter left Madrid four years earlier.
Jesse Lingard, stranded out on the right side with no real idea of how to make the wing-back role work, was replaced at half-time by Rashford who was asked to do it better. United seemed to invite the pressure.
The confidence to break up the passing of Madrid seemed to elude them and so they dug in and hoped for the best, although it only felt like a matter of time. Isco, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric had the run of the midfield and a position deep in United’s half. De Gea got a strong hand to Kroos’ left foot shot early in the half but there was nothing he could do about Madrid’s second.
That was created on the left side between Isco and Bale with a rapid exchange that saw Isco run through three United defenders to take the return ball and roll his shot into the far corner. The speed and movement of Madrid was overwhelming and when Bale struck the bar on the hour you wondered just how bad it might get for United.
Lukaku had missed badly when Pogba’s shot had been saved on 54 minutes, a terrible lash at the ball that sent it over. Navas had got away with that one but when he pushed Nemanja Matic’s left foot shot out on 62 minutes, United’s £75 million striker could not miss from such close range. The goalkeeper’s error had let United back into the match.
With Rashford making inroads on the left and Pogba’s incredible stamina in such difficult conditions United looked as good as they had since the start of match. Marouane Fellaini was back out there too, a replacement for Ander Herrera and playing higher up the pitch where he would soon head the back of Sergio Ramos’ head. They had their chances but so did Madrid, with Ronaldo on for the end and another trophy in the bank.
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