By Samindra Kunti
Alas, this was a prestige match of little consequence that offered little titillation with the new season days away. How could it, after all those gargantuan face-offs between disinterested global super clubs in every corner of the world in pre-season? The commodification of the game lessened the repute of the European Super Cup even more.
In Skopje, Macedonia, an outer corner of the Old Continent, the Super Cup reunited Europe’s premier clubs, but as competitors Real Madrid and Manchester United had precious little in common. Last season, Madrid confirmed their aristocratic status, whereas United lumbered on in the Europa League with narrow victories against glorified village teams, often playing unpleasant football. The class schism between Madrid and Manchester was all too palpable.
Perhaps the tussle between both clubs about Gareth Bale did offer common thread. It was a predictable subject before the match, but then Jose Mourinho and his verbal pantomime fueled conjecture about the future of the Welsh winger, once a supremely expensive Tottenham export – today traded for petty cash in a world where fantastical and preposterous transfer fees have become the norm.
Bale to Manchester United offered plenty of angles: Mourinho’s past at Real, Mourinho versus Zinedine Zidane, Kylian Mbappe’s transfer speculation, and the general hysteria of this summer’s mercato. Zidane offered nothing but banalities in response to Mourinho’s allusions. Were Isco, Marco Asensio and Mbappe the future and Bale the past at the Santiago Bernabeu?
But Bale starting against Manchester United perhaps ended all the chatter. He struck the woodwork in the 75th minute, shortly before Asensio replaced him.
At the other end Romelu Lukaku, on his full debut, was the focus. The new centrepiece of Manchester United’s attack was playing in the image that has often been portrayed about him: sluggish, unintelligent and peripheral. His error when he should have let Ander Herrera take the ball was unforgivable.
The bulky striker was also a metaphor for his team. United’s first-half back three of Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, and Matteo Darmian, with Jesse Lingard, and Antonio Valencia at wing-back, struggled. The midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, and Paul Pogba were shadowed with little ball possession, failing to impose United’s game. The latter is undoubtedly talented, but, once more, played with the air of a superstar. He wasn’t one. The Frenchman needed introspection.
Real Madrid played a fantastic game
Perhaps United were playing with an inferiority complex. Madrid were A class, United scarcely B class. Isco, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos possessed so much control through the centre. They were marvelous players, toying with lesser opponents. This was indeed an encounter between the European and World champions against the number six team in England.
When United did attack they looked unhinged. The team’s forward pressure was lacking. It was all a bit impotent from the Premier League side, but Matic’s competitive debut provided a positive note on a barren night for United.
By the time Lukaku finally found the net, Madrid had switched off. They had become a bit nonchalant in their game after goals from Isco and Casemiro had given the Spanish champions a two goal cushion. Mourinho brought on Marouane Fellaini, who battled with his trademark, streetwise grit. United grew into the match and it was perhaps telling that yet again in the Mourinho era at Old Trafford the Belgian elbow merchant was among the outfit’s outstanding players.
In the dying minutes of the match, United pushed forward. Madrid simply protected their advantage and never looked like relinquishing it. In the end, it was a straightforward win for Zidane and Co. They have been dealing in victories and silverware under the French coach with frightening precision, always peaking when required to. Another season of Galactic domination is in the realm of mundane possibilities.
For Mourinho, once the coach in the Spanish capital, such considerations are Utopian. The 90 minutes in Skopje offered little encouragement, but perhaps Manchester United can prove that they will be genuine Premier League contenders, starting this Sunday against West Ham United, a whole different proposition than the mercurial champions from Madrid.
Featured image credits: Visual Hunt