In a glorious night of football, Real Madrid destroyed Valencia 1-3 in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final.
Los Blancos booked their place in Sunday’s final by strolling to victory against Los Che in Saudi Arabia. What did we learn?
1. Mr. Olympia
Toni Kroos has done a lot of impressive things in his career. He won a Treble at 22, a World Cup at 23, then he moved to Real Madrid and won three straight Champions Leagues. He’s made more passes than most people have had hot meals and despite only just turning 30.
But it’s hard to imagine that Toni Kroos has ever done anything better, on a pure skill level, than score from a corner. Which he did tonight. In a semi-final. The game had been fairly uneventful in the 15 minutes before Kroos spotted Jaume Domenech nattering away to his defenders instead of, you know, being ready to receive the corner. So he stepped up and bent a beauty of an inswinging corner into the box, straight into the back of an unguarded net. It was a breathtaking bit of improvisation that set the tone for the rest of the game.
2. Valencia’s sad capitulation
What happened to Valencia? The ferocious side that tore Madrid apart at Mestalla not one month ago, only missing out on victory because of a mad stoppage time equaliser? That side tore forward on the break with verve and intent, they soaked up Madrid pressure and then hit them on the break with ruthless intent.
At no point tonight did Valencia even come close to resembling that side. They were halfway involved in the opening 15 minutes but from the second Toni Kroos’ corner hit the back of the net, Los Che folded like a cheap pack of cards. Albert Celades; decision to go with three midfielders backfired immensely as Kevin Gameiro was isolated in attack and Valencia’s young wingers couldn’t get into the game. Alright Rodrigo wasn’t available but why not start Maxi Gomez next to Gameiro?
That Celades waited until the hour to make that change and introduce Maxi was so damning. Especially given how much better Los Che looked when he did. But in the end it was too little too late, and now the side that perhaps most deserved to win this trophy after their Copa final heroics against Barcelona in May have been eliminated by a side that, having won nothing in 2018/19, had no right even being in the competition.
3. Isco Disco
It’s not always that Isco gets to play for Real Madrid. For most of his now seven year spell at the Santiago Bernabeu (he joined in 2013 remember) he’s mostly been a sub or a back-up. There was the period starting in January 2017 and running up to Zidane’s departure in June 2018 where he was one of the starters, but otherwise he’s been on the outside looking in. Even now Zidane is back, it’s not always that Isco is.
Today, however, owing to their injury problems, Isco got the start. And Zidane will be glad he did because the Spaniard was sensational. This was vintage Isco, full of fantastic runs, darting away from anyone and everyone who tried to tackle him, threading the ball through for runners, and of course scoring goals. Isco bagged Madrid’s second with a rebound, and that sounds simple but if you watch the goal it was anything but – although Isco took it all in stride, controlling a ricochet and then half-volleying it home with ruthless precision.
Isco will start on Sunday in the final, but what will be really interesting is whether or not Zinedine Zidane will keep Isco involved in the first-team picture once his superstars are back. He may be tempted to bench Isco again, but this game showed what delirious heights the Spaniard can lift Madrid to. Come on Zizou, it’s disco time!
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4. Zidane’s Pep impression pays off
In the 2011 Club World Cup final, Pep Guardiola played a 3-1-6-0 formation. It was a melange of midfielders. Leo Messi played false nine so he was basically in midfield, and behind him were Cesc Fabregas, Thiago, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets. They demolished Neymar’s Santos 4-0 and were rightly crowned as the best side in the world. Perhaps the best side ever.
Of all the various sides to pay homage to that midfield madness of a line-up, including both Bayern Munich and Manchester City under Pep himself, no one would have ever expected Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid to be one. Zinedine “cross the ball” Zidane. The Sexy Moyes. But here against Valencia the Frenchman covered for his injured wingers by instead playing a team with five central midfielders in it.
The defenders were in defence, Luka Jovic was up-front, between them were Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Isco, Casemiro and Fede Valverde. What was the shape? Whatever it needed to be, really. Loosely it was a 4-3-2-1 with Modric and Isco as free-role attacking midfielders ahead of a more orthodox midfield three.
But in practice Casemiro would surge forward from the pivot slot, Toni Kroos would shift into the middle of the pitch, Isco would roam around the left-half-space and Valverde would rampage forward as he always does into the right-half-space. Modric meanwhile would go wherever the ball needed him to be. It was delirious to watch and Valencia could never get to grips with it.
The way Madrid constantly maintained possession kept Los Che on the back-foot, and then whenever they felt like they were keeping Modric in front of them the forward runs from Casemiro and Valverde would shatter their lines. One of those runs (from Valverde) is where the second goal came from and it felt fitting that the third goal was scored by Luka Modric, the best Real Madrid midfielder of this century (yes, that’s right, he’s been better than his coach for Los Blancos), to put the ultimate cap on Zinedine Zidane’s potent Pep Guardiola impression.
5. Advantage: Madrid
Obviously anything can happen right now, because cup football goes like that, but right now it’s very hard to look past Real Madrid as Supercopa winners this year. They’re playing well, which is obviously the first and most pertinent thing. Even without their talismanic forward they managed to find a way to function and overwhelm Valencia.
Then there’s the fact that until the last 20 minutes it really took them no effort to handle Valencia. They cruised through the first 70 minutes, looking like they were playing some B-team. It was comedic how superior they were, and even in that last 20 minutes there was a degree of calm because they were 3-0 ahead.
Finally, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid play each other tomorrow in the other semi-final. Meaning that what is sure to be a brutal, exhausting, closely-fought contest between two ferocious sides is going to leave the winner with 24 hours less recovery time than Madrid who have already barely exerted themselves.
Again, anything can happen in football but right now it’s very much advantage: Madrid.