The Spanish Super Cup is essentially a semi-competitive fixture so one must resist the temptation to overreact or over-analyse the two games. That said, the quality and intensity of the fixtures put the opening of the Premier League season to shame.
The first game at the Santiago Bernabeu finished 2-2, yet Real Madrid were probably the better of the two sides. Tellingly, Madrid fielded the same side that lost 5-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou last season. Madrid used much the same tactics as they did in that match, playing high up the pitch and trying to out-pass and out-press Barcelona. Interestingly Mesut Ozil was playing as a central playmaker behind a lone striker, the German only featured sporadically as a wide player during the Clasico mini-series the fixture list threw up at the end of last season.
Most surprisingly was Pep Guardiola’s side did not dominate possession – in fact Barcelona only had 48% of the ball. Barca were not at full strength, and were without Sergio Busquets and Carlos Puyol, while Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique were only fit enough for the bench, but it was by no means a reserve team. In the end a wonder goal from David Villa and a composed finish from Messi almost stole the tie, while Madrid, despite having the better of the game, had to fight back to equalise in second-half but despite their pressure, failed to find a winner.
Wednesday night’s game was equally enthralling as the first. Barca took the lead twice, first through Andres Iniesta then through Messi, while Real pegged them back with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring and then Karim Benzema equalising late in the game. At 2-2 the game looked like it was heading for extra-time. Enter Messi, who won the game late, volleying home Adriano’s cross. There was incident late on as Marcelo hacked down Cesc Fabregas, making his debut as a late substitute. The Brazilian received a red card as did Ozil and Villa, although both had already been subbed.
Barcelona won the Super Cup, while Madrid may well count themselves unlucky. It is clear Madrid have worked tirelessly during pre-season to close the gap between themselves and their Catalan rivals. Critics say the Spanish league is a two team league, a glorified Scottish Premier League. Yet, the two teams on display on Wednesday night, and on Sunday, are pure box office, playing the best football in Europe with the best players in the world. As it stands they are probably the best two sides in club football and the chase for La Liga will be as enthralling as ever.