Football Features

“Marcelino does it again!” – Five things learned as Leo Messi sees red in Barcelona’s shock Super Cup final defeat to Athletic Club

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:15, 17 January 2021 | Updated: 13:47, 11 September 2021

In a dramatic night of football, Athletic Club de Bilbao beat Barcelona 2-3 after extra time to win the Spanish Super Cup.

Barcelona twice took the lead down in Seville only for Athletic to peg them back twice and then win it in extra time. Leo Messi then got sent off just before full-time as Athletic won their first trophy for six years. What did we learn?

1. Inaki Williams’ superstar potential

Inaki Williams has long been a special talent for Athletic Club, but a lot of his potential has gone unrealised. Despite his awesome record of 175 consecutive matches in La Liga, he’s never scored more than 14 goals in a single season. But now with Marcelino in charge could that be about to change?

In three games under Marcelino, Williams has 2 goals and 1 assist. And one of those goals, his strike today, was a tournament and trophy-winning one. A frankly storming strike from the edge of the box that left semi-final hero Marc-André Ter Stegen absolutely no chance.

That came as an extra time cap to a solid 90 minutes where he ran Barcelona ragged and indeed set up the opening goal with a delicious cross to the back-post that exposed Jordi Alba’s weakness. This was a consummate performance from Williams, and with Marcelino at the helm of Athletic Club he could be about to take off as a true La Liga superstar.

2. Antoine Griezmann is cursed

Was this it? Was this finally the moment that Antoine Griezmann established himself as a Barcelona player? Well, no.

After his €120m transfer the Frenchman has been what can charitably be described as inconsistent. He’s shown none of the leadership and lethal incision he did for Atlético Madrid or the French national side, or at least no ability to do it more than one game in three.

After picking up a fortunate assist in the semi-final, he came into the Supercopa final knowing that there was a lot riding on his shoulders with Leo Messi playing when half-fit. And, well, he didn’t really play well. But then no Barcelona player besides Ronald Araujo really played well, with the team looking utterly exhausted after their semi-final exertions.

What Griezmann did do, what he hasn’t done with any sort of consistency, was score. And score in big, high pressure situations. If you can’t play well then the least a striker can do is score anyway. Luis Suárez kept his reputation alive for two years by doing exactly that.

So was this Griezmann’s arrival? Well, no. His high pressure goals in a final will be forgotten, lost to the wind, because Barcelona lost the game. Not only did they lose, but they capitulated miserably and largely because of Griezmann.

The Frenchman missed a simple clearance which led to Athletic’s late equaliser, then he failed to mark Inaki Williams properly, giving him enough room to let the clip fly for the game-winner, and finally he missed a great chance to equalise late in extra time when unmarked six yards out. It was an incredible disaster of a last 30 minutes for Griezmann and seemed to confirm that yes, he is cursed.

3. The baffling duality of Jordi Alba

Jordi Alba is an attacking phenomenon for Barcelona. Despite ostensibly being their left-back he usually plays like a left-winger. His movement and ability to pick out crosses, especially crosses to Leo Messi, is a major attacking weapon for the Blaugrana.

Barcelona’s first goal came from Alba making one such run into and space and then cutting the ball back brilliantly for Leo Messi (whose pass was deflected into Antoine Griezmann’s path). Barcelona’s second goal came from Alba overlapping Ousmane Dembélé before cutting the ball across superbly for Griezmann to finish. So you can see why Alba keeps getting played when he does stuff like that.

The thing is Alba is also a defensive calamity. His pace allows him to cover superbly, but when defending 1-v-1 he can be weak and forget about asking him to cover space and be aware of runners around him.

Athletic’s first goal came from Alba making one such defensive lapse a mere two minutes after helping give Barcelona the lead. Inaki Williams sent a looping cross over top of the Barcelona defence towards Alba and instead of clearing the ball, Alba lets it run completely unaware that Oscar De Marcos is on the move and the Athletic man gets onto it and promptly equalises.

Then, so late in the game, literally in the 90th minute, when a cross came in from the right Jordi Alba literally ducked under the ball! It flew past him, then Griezmann, then Asier Villalibre slammed it home to equalise for Athletic and force extra time! And while Athletic’s winner had nothing to do with Alba, the Spaniard had one last magical moment when a supreme cross he flung in should have led to an equaliser.

This is the baffling duality of Jordi Alba. A player who is simultaneously a key offensive weapon but also a massive defensive liability.

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4. Marcelino does it again

In 2019, Marcelino faced a Barcelona in disarray in a cup final. Then it was the Copa del Rey final and the disarray was Barcelona being just weeks after their capitulation against Liverpool in the Champions League. Subsequently Valencia outplayed and beat Barcelona in a dramatic victory. A sensational triumph for the manager that he wasn’t able to build on as he got sacked the next season following a falling out with Valencia owner Peter Lim.

In 2021, Marcelino faced a Barcelona in disarray in a cup final. This time it was the Supercopa de Espana final and the disarray was, just, everything to do with the Ronald Koeman reign and the fallout from the Josep Bartomeu administration. Subsequently Athletic Club outfought and outthought the Blaugrana to pick up a massive win.

Marcelino has devastated Barcelona twice in the last three years now. The big hope for Athletic is that Marcelino will have a chance to build on it because this triumph could mark an incredible turning of the corner. In his first three games in charge Marcelino has faced Barcelona twice and Real Madrid one and only lost one of those games and even in that one his team fought all the way to the end.

That is a remarkable run and could lead to so much more.

5. Koeman out of time

Ronald Koeman was always a controversial appointment at Barcelona given his history of being, well, not good. Obviously they hoped his status as a Barcelona legend and his genuinely decisive nature would be enough to carry him to success. No such luck, however.

Barcelona have been hideous under Ronald Koeman. Yes there are obviously reasons that they’ve struggled, Messi’s issues in front of goal, Griezmann’s inability to step up (until tonight anyway) and the injuries to Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé meaning that they only ever had one young, quick winger with skill at a time.

But still, beyond insisting the club sign Dest and simply unleashing Pedri on La Liga, what good has Koeman done? Nothing. He’s not got the team dull and winning like Ernesto Valverde, he’s not making the most of the talent available to him like they hoped Quique Setién would, and his team is routinely worse after half-time than they are in the first-half which is always a sign of a manager in trouble (see also: Tata Martino).

Barcelona were always going to struggle this season but Koeman is making a bad situation worse. Leo Messi is so agitated that he’s out here punching opponents and getting sent off. Through all the highs and the lows of the last decade the Argentine has never lost his cool like that, nor looked quite as inconsequential in a final (alright he was half-fit, but still…)

If Barcelona want to salvage anything from this season, Ronald Koeman’s got to go.