Football Features

Zidane extends perfect final record as Real Madrid secure Spanish Super Cup

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:18, 12 January 2020

In an attritional night of football, Real Madrid beat Atlético Madrid 4-1 on penalties after drawing 0-0 after extra time to win their 11th Spanish Super Cup.

The game itself was nothing to write home about with both goalkeepers starring with several saves and the highlight beating Fede Valverde picking up a late red card for a last-man tackle. What did we learn?

1. Thibaut Courtois is back amongst the best

Back in 2014, Thibaut Courtois was one of the best goalkeepers in the world. You could argue he was second-only to Manuel Neuer. His potential was enormous. He had just won La Liga with Atlético Madrid, picking up his second consecutive Zamora Trophy in the process. No one doubted that he was headed for greatness. He then joined Chelsea and won two Premier League titles in three years, confirming his quality.

But since then he’s just sort of been, off? He’s not looked at his best, despite an excellent 2018 World Cup ensuring he was crowned ‘The Best’ goalkeeper for that year. But he has struggled so much for Real Madrid, looking anything like the titan he was the last time he played in Spain’s capital. But of late he has been improving, showing signs that he was becoming the Courtois of old.

Tonight was confirmation that he is now back amongst the conversation as one of the three best goalkeepers in the world. Of course his opposite number Jan Oblak is another one of that trio (along with Barcelona’s Marc-André Ter Stegen) and today Courtois was even better than the Slovenian. The duo exchanged wits during the match (with Courtois’ reaction save to stop a Ferland Mendy own goal the pick of the saves) but in the penalty shootout, Courtois excelled himself.

Where Oblak looked lost (and afterwards referred to penalties as a “lottery” – Courtois looked deadly prepared and basically decided the shootout with his absurd save from Thomas Partey. It was 2-0 at the time and many expected Thomas to thunder the ball into the back of the net and bring his side back into it, but Courtois judged it perfectly, getting down like lightning to palm it onto the post. It was frankly a ridiculous and perfect way to announce that Courtois is back amongst the best.

2. The new format flops

The Spanish Super Cup final was contested between two clubs who had won nothing the previous season. That just about sums up how ridiculous the new format of the competition is, but just in case that wasn’t enough for you there’s also the fact that it took place half-way around the world in Saudi Arabia, in front of stadiums full of neutrals complete with a pre-season atmosphere.

Players flew half-way around the world in the middle of a busy season in order to contest a Super Cup. That is just absurd. It makes no sense to hold a Super Cup in another country as it is an intensely domestic affair. It makes even less sense to hold it in the middle of the season.

Valencia won the Copa del Rey at the end of 2018/19, and could have carried some of that momentum into a Super Cup against Barcelona in August. Instead they went through a tumultuous six months, changed their manager and arrived in Saudi on a low ebb and were promptly dispatched. That is so cruel on a side that last appeared in the competition back in 2008. They earned their shot and were denied even a chance at a final.

Even with the drama in extra-time, with the red card and the two sides genuinely getting testy with each other, the final never really carried any real weight. There is no way in which the new Super Cup format worked, and not just because the final ended in 120 goalless minutes (an ironic figure as Saudi Arabia paid €120m for the rights to host it for three years).

3. Cholo bluffs Zidane

Zinedine Zidane beat the brains out of Valencia thanks to a 4-3-2-1 formation that was very heavy on possession. It was a great idea and it worked superbly, and figuring that he would face a parked bus against Atlético Madrid, Zizou went to that well again. It made sense, of course, as Madrid would see so much of the ball a team full of ball-players would be better at carving Atleti open.

But Diego Simeone bluffed Zidane. The Argentine didn’t send his team out in their usual manner of a packed defence, but instead had them push as high as possible and squeeze Real Madrid in their half. Cholo gambled that Zidane’s possession side wouldn’t have the electric ability on the break that Los Blancos normally do.

Simeone was absolutely correct. With Atleti pushing up high, Real Madrid were utterly dominated in the first-half. They struggled to get out of defence and certainly didn’t have the speed to get in behind Atleti on the rare occasions that they did get out. Los Blancos eventually brought on Rodrygo and Mariano in an effort to give his side more space in attack, and it definitely worked.

Being confident enough to play in possession against big sides could be the new edge that Simeone has been looking for to take Atleti to the next level. Although…

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4. Cholo plays himself

Cholo Simeone had Real Madrid by the you know whats. His side looked fitter and sharper as the match wore on and bar a couple of brief moments, Real Madrid did not look like they had it in them. They weren’t going to roll over Atleti like they did Valencia; Cholo’s bluff had fooled Zidane and this Super Cup was there for him to take.

Then in extra-time all the old habits came back. He subbed off the excellent José Giménez for Stefan Savic. A pointless like-for-like change that only served to rob him of an extra offensive change. Then he took off Joao Felix for Santiago Arias. Now Felix had been poor, sure, but he was a player who could conjure a match-winning moment out of nothing. Yet off he went for a god damn full-back.

Atleti retreated into themselves and surrendered the initiative of the game. They are the reason it all petered out. Yes, they had the last big chance of the game as Alvaro Morata was sent running through on goal and got chopped down by Valverde, but that only came because Dani Carvajal uncharacteristically gave the ball away. It wasn’t something that Simeone planned for, it was a fluke.

This is why Atlético Madrid lose. This is why they always lose. Simeone is one of the world’s greatest coaches but he is also wholly his own worst enemy.

5. Zinedine Zidane is still perfect

Zidane is a charmed man. After winning three Champions Leagues in three years (two of which involved inordinate amounts of luck) he left Los Blancos rather than contend with the impending departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. In the absence of those two, Madrid flopped so hard they had to beg Zidane to come back, which he did.

And now, in part thanks to Zidane’s motivational skills and in part just because the team invested in some impressive talent and got comfortable playing without Cristiano, Madrid are rolling. They’re joint-top of La Liga with Barcelona, into the round of 16 in the Champions League, and despite being outplayed and not having their three starting forwards, they just won the Spanish Super Cup.

This game continues the unreal final streak of Zidane’s. The Frenchman has won every single final he has managed in for Real Madrid. Nine finals, nine wins. Plus one La Liga for a perfect 10 trophies for a manager who is seemingly incapable of losing.