ALVES AGAINST VINISIUS
The year 2022 started off great for football fans. First the Premier League and the series A presented us with several outstanding top matches, and on Wednesday we had three great games at once – the English League Cup semi-final, the Italian Super Cup final and El Clásico in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final. Beauty!
This meeting with Real Madrid was Xavi’s first as a head coach. Before the match, he seemed to compete with Carlo Ancelotti in the distribution of compliments to the opponent, but both recognized that anything could happen in this confrontation. Let Real Madrid be the favorite.
The composition of the “creamy” ones is practically unchanged. Perhaps David Alaba, who was replaced by Nacho, could not play, and Marco Asensio came out on the right flank of the attack. Xavi was in much more trouble. His line of attack looked experimental and sub-optimal – Ferran Torres, who made his debut for Barça, Luc de Jong (they are trying to fuse him in vain in the winter) and Usmane Dembele on the left instead of the right. Also noteworthy is the choice of 38-year-old Dani Alves as an opponent to the reactive Vinicius Junior.
In the semifinals of the tournament, the two teams that won it most often met. On account of the blue garnet 13 wins in the Super Cup, and “Real” – 11. This game took place at the 68,000th King Fahd in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
VINICIUS PUNISHED BUSCETS, LUC DE JONG TERRORIZED COURT
Whoever has the advantage and no matter how the game develops, the picture of the last El Clásico remains unchanged – Barcelona are in possession of the ball, Real is catching the opponent on counterattacks. Madrid, with small forces, quickly crossed the center of the field and looked ahead of the fast and technical Vinicius, Karim Benzema or Asensio. Fortunately, with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, there is no shortage of playmakers.
The Catalans do not move away from their game, but in the last two or three years they simply lack the class to implement this complex style. They habitually rested against the wall away from someone else’s penalty area, lost the ball and rushed back at full range. Gavi and Frenkie de Jong cannot play the game like Xavi and Andres Iniesta once did.
They also open poorly, which led to the first goal in the middle of the first half. Sergio Busquets, being with the ball in his own half, did not find options to continue and allowed Benzema to rob himself. There was a quick pass on the move to Vinicius, and he easily sent the ball into the net from the corner. It is simply incredible how the Brazilian has realized the chances this season.
Only after that the Catalans started up and carried out several attacks, three of which turned out to be dangerous. And in all three cases, after passing from the left flank, Luc de Jong completed them. Only by simplifying the game in this way, Xavi’s charges manage to create something. Simple, but effective. From here, at the end of the half, the return goal came – Luc de Jong, after the diagonal, threw the ball to the left and then he himself took advantage of Dembele’s cross, sending the ball into the near corner from the bar.
BENZEMA STEALS, FATI SAVES HAVI
Thanks to the activity in the last 15 minutes, the Catalans can argue that the score of the first half was fair, nevertheless, Xavi drew conclusions from what he saw and removed two of the least useful players during the break – Frenkie de Jong and Ferran Torres replaced Pedri and Abdessamad Ezzalzuli. The Spaniard entered the game very well and from the first minutes began to take risks and aggravate. With his appearance, Dembele found himself even more often in the shock position.
Barca, after leaving the locker room, cut in total pressure and literally crushed the blankos. Madrid could not get the ball out of their half of the field, hoping only for the acceleration of Vinicius, who easily put Dani Alves on the card. The speed of the game increased dramatically, but except for the Brazilian in Real Madrid, no one could cope with it.
Still, Xavi has a lot of age and slow players. By the middle of the half, they got tired and unclenched their jaws. The creamy ones again leveled the game, reduced the severity at their goal to a minimum and due to the individual skill of the attacking leaders created a couple of killer moments – the first aimed blow into the far corner of Benzema hit the post, and the second was pulled by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Alas, his partners did not support his feat, allowing Dani Carvajal to catch the ball and shoot – the ball from the goalkeeper hit exactly the French striker.
Unlike the first half, Real did not roll back, but still could not keep the winning score. In the 83rd minute, the Catalans played a corner, and substitute Ansu Fati cut the ball into the far corner, leaving the defenders of Madrid looking at each other in bewilderment and asking again, and who, in fact, was supposed to hold him? Moments earlier, Ancelotti hastened to replace, as always, the magnificent Luka Modric with Federico Valverde, and without the Croat, it is much easier to break the ridge of Real Madrid. Creamy miraculously survived until extra time – Courtois, for example, interrupted Dembele’s one-on-one exit.
It’s time to admit that Xavi is already managing the game very well. Twice, losing in the score to Barcelona, they started up, made great use of the transfer of the ball from flank to flank and, due to the advantage in the air, recouped, scoring from the goalkeeper’s line. Moreover, in the second case, the ball was scored by the substitute Fati.
In extra time, the Catalans had excellent ball control, pace and play. It was more and more evident that Barça played at the expense of team play, while Real hoped for insights from the attacking trio (Asensio replaced Rodrigo in the 68th minute).
It is all the more incredible that these insights happen so often. Breaking free from pressure, Madrid made another quick counterattack. Casemiro dragged the ball through the center and passed it to the right to Rodrigo, who rolled at a second pace – an area that the Catalans could not hold throughout the game. Vinicius conceded the ball further on the backswing, and Benzema conceded the right to score a goal kick to Valverde.
Blaugrana did not give up until the last minutes, which was facilitated by the replacement of Xavi. Unlike his opponent, in the main time he made five substitutions (Ancelotti – three), and on the 110th the last, sixth. His players were fresher, while Madrid had more and more difficulties. Vinicius could not even finish the game due to muscle problems.
And yet, on the third try, “Real” held out and reached the final, extending the winning streak in El Clásico to five matches. Atletico and Athletic will meet in another semifinal on Thursday night.
Spanish Super Cup
Barcelona – Real Madrid – 2: 3 (0: 1)
Goals: Vinicius, 25 – 0: 1. L. De Jong, 41 – 1: 1. Benzema, 72 – 1: 2. Fati, 83 – 2: 2. Valverde, 98 – 2: 3.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves (Depay, 78), Araujo, Pique, Alba, Busquets, F. de Jong (Pedri, 46), Gavi (Nico Gonzalez, 78), Torres (Ezzalzuli, 46; Jutgla, 110), U. Dembele, L. De Jong (Fati, 66).
Real Madrid: Courtois, Carvajal (Vasquez, 90), Militao, Nacho, F. Mendy, Casemiro, Modric (Valverde, 83), Kroos, Asensio (Rodrigo, 68), Vinicius (Camavinga, 110), Benzema.
Warnings: Torres, 23. Alves, 51. Cazemiro, 75. Valverde, 99.
Referee: Montera (Spain).