The shock of the Spanish Supercup on Wednesday between Clasico the rivals did not disappoint, as Real Madrid hung on to defeat Barcelona 3-2 in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Saudi Arabia. (Highlights of the stream here: US only.) After Barca fought twice after a goal to carry the game into extra time, Federico Valverde’s 98th-minute goal settled the case and saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side advance to the Sunday’s final, where they will face Athletic Club or Atletico Madrid for the Title.
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So what did we learn about these two super clubs on Wednesday night? Alex Kirkland (Real Madrid) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona) break down the game from two points of view.
Real Madrid: Class of Vinicius, Benzema masks legitimate problems
Real Madrid’s victory here was, in a sense, their season so far in a nutshell. The victory highlighted some of their notable strengths – and they’ll be enough to see them through most games – but it also revealed some worrying weaknesses, some of which could cost them competitions bigger than this mid-size Supercopa. season.
Let’s start with the positives. In the first half the team looked very direct and clinical, with Vinicius Junior cutting inside to score the attack and Karim Benzema and Luka Modric pulling the strings. Vinicius’ opener in the 25th minute was a case study of how far he has come as a player, as he made it seem effortless tough luck.
When facing all but the best opponents, even the quality of Madrid’s best players will tend to get them through. Benzema prepared Vinicius for his first game with a carefully weighted pass and scored his own 72nd minute goal with typical composure, having forced a good save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen moments earlier.
Madrid also have a well-built and deep squad, although coach Carlo Ancelotti is reluctant to take full advantage of it. Rodrygo, Lucas Vazquez and match winner Valverde all were practical and forceful introductions when the starters started to run out of legs in the second half. Still, there were moments of worry, lingering doubts that made you think this team may not be as good as their La Liga dominance suggests.
The midfield trio of Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos lack dynamism for their entire class. This is something Ancelotti does his best to minimize by allowing them to skip the press and sit deeper in midfield instead, but there will always be games when they get passed, like sometimes they were at the start of the second half by the exuberant young people of Barcelona.
Then there are the lingering problems in defense, which goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is often able to hide. David Alaba’s leadership and organization were sorely lacking, while Eder Militao’s dramatic improvement did not eliminate his talent for the occasional catastrophic lack of defensive judgment. He is partly responsible for Barca’s two goals.
Ancelotti has many admirable qualities and deserves credit for quickly transforming this team into a largely effective counterattacking unit looking to capitalize on their strengths, but his insistence on staying with the same team week after week could come at a cost to them. Madrid later in the season. They will go to the final as favorites, regardless of who qualifies for Thursday’s semi-final. They should have enough firepower against either opponent to get home with the first silverware of the season.
Once back home, the points accumulated in the first half of the La Liga season should be enough to see Ancelotti clinch his long-awaited first Spanish league title. But we wonder if it will be enough against a Manchester City, Chelsea or Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Fortunately, that’s a question for another day. – Kirkland
Barcelona: Another defeat, but Xavi’s team have passed the course
Finally, there is the light at the end of the tunnel for Barcelona. They have been locked in the dark for most of the season, knocked out of the Champions League and sixth in La Liga, but Wednesday’s loss to Real Madrid at least showed they are capable of competing again. with their rivals.
‘Compete’ has been a buzzword for coach Xavi Hernandez since his side were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in December. After this loss in Germany, he said it was time for the club to turn the page and start a new chapter in their history. Ahead of facing Madrid this week, he called on his players to make that extra Clasico a turning point for their season. From the way they fared against Madrid, it could turn out to be exactly that even if it ended in a loss.
For the first time in a long time, Barca faced a side many would consider one of the Champions League favorites. Madrid lead La Liga and 17 points ahead of Barca, but the gap was not obvious on Riyadh’s ground. Barca sometimes worked in the first half and maybe were too cautious, but they woke up after Vinicius’ opener. Luuk de Jong had already seen two heads saved by Courtois when he accidentally slightly returned home after Militao’s overly casual clearance.
The Catalan side have struggled to score goals this season – they’ve only scored twice in six Champions League appearances – but they forgot about their troubles after De Jong leveled. They even seemed to be having fun. With the introduction of the always brilliant Pedri, making his first appearance since September after recovering from an injury, they started the second half on the front foot. Chances were coming and going, but it looked like their efforts would be in vain when Karim Benzema returned the lead to Madrid.
Another Xavi buzzword was “bravery”. He wants his players to take risks with the ball, and he certainly set an example there, as Barca were forced to continue the game, moving to a 3-2-3-2 formation and securing their reward. . Ansu Fati, who like Pedri coming back from injury, headed for Jordi Alba’s cross to carry the game into overtime. » Tiene gol“, They say in Spain (“ he has a goal ”) and Ansu certainly has it. It was his fifth goal of the season in his ninth appearance – five of them were substitutes.
In extra time, Barca had chances to win the game but were caught at the break, leaving themselves two-on-four as Madrid blocked to win the game thanks to Valverde.
The history books will show a fifth consecutive victory for Madrid in the Clasico, but they can also show an inflection point for Barca. They avoided the 90-minute defeat to Madrid for the first time since December 2019 and besides competing, they could have won the game. There have also been returns for youngsters Pedri and Ansu, both of whom are so essential for this Barca side, and full debuts for Ferran Torres, following his € 55million transfer from Manchester City.
President Joan Laporta recently announced that ‘Barca are back’. They still have a long way to go on and off the pitch, but they seem to be on the right track under Xavi. With a team in great shape and one of Europe’s most exciting generations of young players, they should at least finish in the top four this season and avoid missing out on the Champions League. From there, they can focus on bigger challenges. – Marsden