Tuesday night in Skopje, Macedonia witnessed the UEFA Super Cup between Champions League winners, Real Madrid and Europa League holders Manchester United in the curtain raiser to the new European season. It was a game that saw Real Madrid retain the title defeating Manchester United by 2 goals to 1, even though not totally explosive, it was a thrilling 90 minutes of football that saw fans get a glimpse of the World Footballer of the year Cristiano Ronaldo for the final stages of the game. It has been endless bantering on social media, as United fans have suffered jeers from their Premier league counterparts, but are we reading too much into the game? Here are five things learnt from last night;
- Gulf in European Class, Manchester United have spent big in the transfer window as they prepare for life in four major competitions this season and whilst they may seem ready for the new Premier League season which kicks-off with the visit of West Ham United on Sunday, Jose Mourinho’s men will need to step it up if they are to compete with the elite teams in the Champions League. Last night’s game was the teams’ first competitive fixture and real test going into the new season and their performance confirmed what the fans had feared and what the manager alluded to after the defeat to Barcelona in a pre-season game, the team is still far behind in class compared to other top European teams. Real Madrid operated in a different class as Zinedine Zidane’s men oozed class and supreme understanding of the task at hand. The midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Modric and Casemiro who have played together and bonded well over the years were technically better than the United trio of Matic, Pogba and Ander Herrera, as they ran riot in the middle of the pack, pulling the strings whilst that of United kept on chasing shadows and Madrid came tops in almost every department on the pitch, winning possessions, creating more chances and transiting better.
- Matic looks like the real deal, recently signed from Chelsea and with only 45 minutes of pre-season game with his new team-mates, the Serbian midfielder distinguished himself on the night, especially in the second half when the team made a challenge of the game. Matic was calm in front of the defense, he did his bit breaking up play, kept his passes simple and tidy, made forward surges when the attack needed bodies, giving the team options and shape, crucially it was his effort on goal which Keylor Navas failed to handle properly that led to United’s solitary goal as Lukaku converted the rebound. He looks the most settled of the recent acquisitions and will be major for the team this season.
- Mourinho needs to sort his tactics, Manchester United started the game playing a 3-5-2 formation with Darmian slotting in as the third defender, and despite having tried it during his pre-season games, the players looked out of sorts in that formation. Jesse Lingard was the make-shift right wing outlet, he seemed out of place and put in a below par performance for 45 minutes. The second half witnessed a much better performance when they changed shape to a 4-4-2, as the players looked more comfortable in their natural roles and were able to match their opponents.
There is also the thing of Maroune Fellaini being Jose’s plan B, the big Belgian was introduced in the second half and justified his manager’s faith as his entrance witnessed a spell where United gained a foothold and actually troubled the Madrid defense, he won every aerial duel, got bloodied in the process and was crucial in the build-up play leading to Lukaku’s goal but United fans should be worried if after all the money spent in recruiting players and the backing that Jose Mourinho has received from the board, is this the route that the team will be going all season if things are not working well? Fellaini may have been effective last night but the route one is predictable and not what is expected from a team seeking to return to its rightful place in Europe.
- Paul Pogba needs to man up, Following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury which may have ruled him out of Jose Mourinho’s plans and Wayne Rooney’s departure, 89MM signing Paul Pogba immediately rose up in ranks to become the senior figure in the squad. Pogba had a decent first season but was not too convincing and many are of the opinion that this is the season when he makes the team his own. He has enjoyed a good pre-season and his brand has been very visible on social media but when it is time for him to replicate this visibility in games that matter, the Frenchman has often failed the test and last night was another example. Paul Pogba just could not get into the game, was knocked around in the midfield by Kroos and Modric and when he had his moments, he was either caught in two minds or just uninterested. It might be one game too early but average will not cut it for Paul Pogba this season, he has to keep it simple at times, influence games more and see his team across the line especially in big games.
- Maybe one more transfer, Manager Jose Mourinho has opined severally that he needs at least one more signing before the window ends and openly pursued Inter Milan winger Perisic and even though that will not serve as an excuse going into the new season as the board has backed him up well, it was obvious last night that United lacked some quality especially going forward. The attack lacked spark and United rarely looked a threat until the latter stages of the game, Romelu Lukaku was isolated for most part of the game and missed a good chance before eventually getting his goal which hopefully should settle his nerves, Mhkitaryan had his moments but was shocking to see him last the entire duration of the game, Marcus Rashford is a special talent and he showed his again as he troubled the Madrid defense with his pace and skill but flashed a good chance to level the game wide and this was witnessed a lot last season and limits his game. The team struggled for goals last season and will be hoping there is no repeat of that this time. A natural winger should be added.
On Tuesday night, United played against unarguably the best team in the world who had scored in their last 66 games and the consolation for United fans is that no team in the Premier League matches the quality that Madrid offers but the Premier League does come with its own uniqueness and surprises and Jose Mourinho will be hoping for some consistency and improvement from his players whilst he continues his search for that final player to fit his jigsaw.
***Pictures Courtesy Uefa,com