Isco magic sees Real Madrid edge Man United in Super Cup
Romelu Lukaku strike not enough in sweltering Skopje
Isco’s second half goal helped Real Madrid to Super Cup victory over Manchester United. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters
Manchester United were beaten but can take some credit 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, as goals by Casemiro and Isco were answered by Romelu Lukaku’s first serious return on his £75 million (€82m) transfer fee.
Madrid dominated for large swathes yet United might have forced extra-time when, near the close of normal time, Marcus Rashford raced in at goal but his effort won only a corner.
There was a large roar when Cristiano Ronaldo was given the final few minutes - there were seven added on – but Real’s real jubilation will be in making this 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 searing heat. 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 missed despite being close to David De Gea’s goal.
For this first competitive outing of the 2017-18 season José Mourinho sent out a largely predictable XI. The one debatable selection was Jesse Lingard’s inclusion for Marcus Rashford in a 4-3-3. The shape featured a midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Matic and Pogba which the manager will hope to field consistently, form permitting.
Real’s talking point was Ronaldo’s place on the bench – he has only recently returned to training – and Bale’s starting berth. According to Mourinho this means 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.
Despite the muggy air there was a fast pace to proceedings. Real’s initial burst was followed by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Matic and Lukaku combining in and around the Real’s area.
Matic particularly impressed. His was an all-round contribution that had 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.
Zinedine Zidane’s strategy was for Bale and Benzema to swap between the left and right and for the 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 Real’s opener. After a run-and-pirouette he took aim. The ball rebounded and fell to Dani Carvajal. The right-back scooped a sweet pass to Casemiro and his half-volley made it 1-0. When referee 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 avoidable mistakes. First Herrera aimed a free-kick straight out. Then when the same player charged down a Kroos pass Lukaku made 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 Keylor Navas, Real’s No1.
Mourinho replaced the anonymous Lingard for 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. This was too simple as an Isco-Bale one-two slipped the former in with a five-a-side like move and he made it 2-0.
Worse followed when Pogba headed straight at Navas and Lukaku blasted the rebound wide from close-range. Mourinho acted by swapping Herrera for Marouane Fellaini and after Bale hit the bar United pulled one back.
It came due to the Belgian’s alertness. The excellent Matic fired at Navas and when the ball squeezed out Lukaku this time slotted in with his right boot from a few yards out.
Following a Ramos-Fellaini clash of heads the Belgian 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 can be encouraged ahead of Sunday’s Premier League opener against West Ham United at Old Trafford.