Man Utd 1 (Lukaku 62′) – 2 (Casemiro 24′, Isco 52′) Real Madrid
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. 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 timeframe the current manager might have. The champions of Europe three times in the last four years and a team at the peak of their development – Madrid are quite simply very hard to play against.
They took the Super Cup again, as they had in two of the previous seasons and there were times when this was a sobering lesson for United in what it takes to rule Europe, delivered by those usual cruel masters of the midfield, Isco, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Yet at this level every team can deliver surprises and United came off the ropes in the final half an hour, with a goal from Romelu Lukaku and a final rally that saw them go close to taking the game to extra-time.
They were fortunate that in Keylor Navas, Madrid had a goalkeeper who let them down, spilling efforts back into the area while at the other end David De Gea did as much as anyone to keep United in the game during their difficult periods. When crisis loomed, Mourinho still turned to Marouane Fellaini, a second half substitute who ended the game with a head bandage from a Sergio Ramos collision and his appetite for hurling himself at back post crosses undimmed. At their best, Madrid settled into passing sequences that United could not break, although it will not be every week that they have to face teams who are this good, as Mourinho was at pains to point out afterwards. For a man who can kill the post-match mood in an instant with his list of grievances, Mourinho was unusually positive afterwards, his only complaint being that Casemiro’s first goal might well have been offside.
The turning point was when Gareth Bale struck the bar with a shot on the hour and Madrid ahead by two goals and threatening more. Bale had been selected to start, 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, this will have reassured him.
Even without Cristiano Ronaldo in the team – he came on for the last eight minutes – 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.
United started the better but they ended the first half with 40 per cent of the possession and just one effort on target, a Lukaku header that went straight into the mitts of 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.
Madrid seemed to sense a weakness in United down their right flank and it was from that kind of position that Casemiro ran to meet Carvajal’s cross on 24 minutes, sweeping the ball in with his left foot at the back post. The Uefa-sanctioned 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.
The second goal 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.