Manchester United shortcomings exposed in Super Cup defeat against Real Madrid

Manchester United shortcomings exposed in Super Cup defeat against Real Madrid

A narrow 2-1 win that gives Real Madrid the 2017 Super Cup, but a general gulf in quality between them and Manchester United that explains why the Spanish side won it and why they are European champions.

Jose Mourinho’s side still look very far off this level, and look even more like they could do with a forward of, oh, maybe Gareth Bale’s level. The winger had set up the brilliant Isco’s clinching goal and was supremely effective, but Real’s whole attack just looked so effervescent in contrast to Manchester United ’s.

Three positives for Manchester United at least were a first official club goal for Romelu Lukaku, the performance of Nemanja Matic as Real really made him work, and the knowledge they won’t face a side anywhere near this good in the Premier League.

That Real were not at full pelt, or putting out a full team was even more galling, even if Manchester United were missing some names themselves.

It was also selection, mind, that added one of the game’s main points of intrigue.

The Super Cup still may not mean all that much in the grander context of the season, but Mourinho mischievously imbued it with a bit more significance by suggesting that Real would be showing they did not need Bale if he started on the bench.

Zinedine Zidane promptly started Bale on the pitch, and the Welsh winger promptly became one of the European champions’ attackers who so regularly ripped into United’s backline. That they were doing it without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo made it all the more impressive, and further layered Zidane’s decision.

Manchester United had started with Matic finally filling the defensive midfield role that Mourinho had been so insistent on addressing in this transfer window, and that initially seemed to release his attackers – especially Paul Pogba. He twice roared forward on the break, in moves that suggested a greater zip to their forward play this season.

It didn’t take too long for Real to show them that would also involve much greater risk, too, and it’s not usually the type of risk that Mourinho stands for too long either.

Bale had already nudged over from a fine chance on two minutes, before Real again exposed some slack marking from Manchester United with Casemiro heading against the bar.

The Brazilian has somewhat quietly become one of Real’s key players amid the noise all their stars make, scoring in the Champions League final win over Juventus, and eventually got his goal here – with that the eventual consequence of Zidane’s side finding so much space.

Isco celebrating his goal against Manchester United

Isco celebrating his goal against Manchester United
Image: getty images

Matic and the defence behind him were suddenly overwhelmed. On 24 minutes, right-back Dani Carvajal was allowed so much time to deftly loft over the kind of ball that Isco would have been proud of, with Casemiro sliding in to finish.

It might have been offside, but was not out of keeping with the pattern of the game. Real more than deserved their lead, and might have added to it when Karim Benzema forced a strong hand from David De Gea.

Mourinho responded by bringing on Marcus Rashford for Jesse Lingard but, as exciting as the precocious young forward is, Manchester United were soon reminded of the glaring gap between their attacking options and Real’s and why they really need someone like Bale.

Doubts about the Welsh forward’s Bernabeu future actually precede the pursuit of Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe and stem from how Isco stepped into the team when he was injured, but they combined divinely here for Real’s second. Isco started a quicksilver one-two on the edge of the box, before finishing so sleekly.

The contrast between the attacks wasn’t helped by the contrasts in execution. Manchester United went straight up the other end to fashion a chance with a good old-fashioned cross, only for Pogba to head directly at Keylor Navas and then Lukaku to somehow put the parried ball yards over the bar.

The Belgian impressively showed that didn’t get to him, as he emphatically took the next chance he got, powering the ball past Navas when the goalkeeper parried a Matic drive.

Lukaku pulled a goal back for Manchester United

Lukaku pulled a goal back for Manchester United
Image: Getty images

At the other end, De Gea had just watched Bale batter his crossbar amid a general pummelling he was doing well to keep out, and it’s difficult not to wonder whether those kind of heroics, contrasted to Navas’ plunders, will revive thoughts of transfer.

Mourinho had looked to threaten Navas in another way by bringing on the aerial presence of Marouane Fellaini. The fact the Portuguese so often resorts to this tactic is just another reminder of why he still needs an elevation of quality in this attack, rather such an elevation in height.

It did pin Real back, and led to United’s best worked move of the game, as Mkhitaryan fed Rashford for the young forward to just shoot wide.

It was then that Zidane brought on Ronaldo, just further re-emphasising the gap, before Sergio Ramos lifting this exhibition trophy made it even clearer

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