The 2014 UEFA Super Cup paled in comparison to the 2013 edition. Guess not every Super Cup can be a two-hour thriller that determines a young Belgian star’s future. Real Madrid established itself early on as the dominant side and cruised to an at-times jejune 2-0 victory over an uninspired Sevilla in Cardiff. A fit (for now) Cristiano Ronaldo won Man of the Match for being himself, new addition Toni Kroos could potentially be more than people thought, and Sevilla proved that losing your two best players is as devastating as it’s cracked up to be.
Ronaldo begins in his own end, firing a right-footed laser over to James Rodríguez. James moves up the left side until he reaches the Welshman Gareth Bale, who takes three steps and delivers a sick cross into the six-yard box. Ronaldo slides and pokes his first goal past fellow Portuguese Beto. Real jump in front after 30 minutes.
This is one Sevilla could have avoided. Daniel Carriço (#6) attempts to slide and gain possession, but instead finds Toni Kroos. Kroos, as you know, does not play for Sevilla. The German delivers a short pass to Karim Benzema, who then finds Ronaldo on a terrific right-footed pass. Ronaldo’s first touch is perfect, allowing him to jet past Nicolás Pareja and beat Beto again, this time with the left foot. Beto even gets a piece of this one, but the shot is simply too powerful. Game over.
Sevilla began in a 4-4-2 formation, with the flexibility to switch to a 4-3-3. Colombian banger Carlos Bacca and Ivan Rakitić replacement Denis Suárez were paired up top. Coach Unai Emery’s goal was to begin swift counters at or near midfield and have the Bacca/Suárez combo go right at Pepe and Sergio Ramos and unload on Iker Casillas, who, as we know, is nowhere near his old self. With Real’s distinct possession advantage, Sevilla would not go without chances, but that was the thing: Real were so dominant in possession and Sevilla could not find that spark, whether it was a single player or a collective effort, needed to generate good chances.
Real Madrid also formed into a 4-4-2, with Benzema and Ronaldo at the front. Not bad. Those two combined for five of Real’s seven shots-on-target, and Benzema recorded two key passes and an assist despite 30 fewer touches than Ronaldo. In fact, only Casillas touched the ball less than Bitches Love Benzy during the Super Cup. However, it was the 4-3-3 in which Ronaldo notched his second tally, with Benzema stationed to his left and Bale to his right.
Real went through Kroos and Luka Modric on the attack; both played deep near the halfway line and pinged balls to James on the left, Ronaldo and Benzema in the middle, and Bale on the right. The Kroos/Modric pairing was generally excellent, as it carved up Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno-less backline with surgical precision. Kroos completed 82 of 85 passes, including 13 long balls, while Modric went 65-for-69 on passes. Both players contributed two key passes. Carlo Ancelotti is going to have fun with this.
As for Sevilla, it was pretty clear who the attack went through: Suárez and Bacca. The duo were frustrated several times by a stout Real back line; Daniel Carvajal recorded five tackles and four interceptions, Pepe made six clearances, and Sergio Ramos blocked three shots. Bacca found himself unable to break free most of the night; he managed just two shots on 27 touches. Meanwhile, Suárez recorded a poor 64% pass-success rate, but he did flash some of his tantalizing potential, as he fired off one key pass, completed three dribbles, and was fouled thrice.
Toni Kroos Should Have Been Man of the Match
The key player for Real in this match was not its talisman/best player on earth, nor was it the Copa del Rey/Champions League hero making a return to his native country. Real’s key player in its Super Cup win was new addition Kroos. The €25 million Real paid to pry him loose from Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich the year before his contract expired could turn out to be a bargain, as not only can he (and Modric) slice up many midfields with sharp, varied passing, but he can also contribute defensively (fast-forward to 3:59):
Kroos made four tackles on the day in addition to his passing exploits; only Carvajal recorded more tackles. Furthermore, this performance came on the heels of Kroos averaging better than two takeouts per game at the World Cup. It may just be one match, but in a situation where no one is going to track back this season, Kroos could boost his value to a club that barely plays Asier Illarramendi and has completely alienated Sami Khedira.
What About James?
Ah, yes, Real’s big big signing. The World Cup star was a completely unnecessary purchase by Florentino Perez, but then, why are we surprised? The man lives for that. Anyway, James played to Ronaldo’s left and at times seemed disconnected from play–predictably, as he doesn’t exactly have a set role. He managed 62 touches and completed 86% of his passes, but took only one shot. He recorded two interceptions and two tackles, but was also credited with two key passes. Who really knows what James is going to be at the Bernabéu? And what if Isco, who replaced James after 72 minutes, is better?
A Word on Sevilla
Patience. That’s got to be the message. With Moreno’s sale to Liverpool very close to completion (he was held out for that reason), Sevilla have lost its two best players in the same window. So the back-line needs some seasoning. Suárez has some big shoes to fill, but he’s only 20 and was playing for Barcelona’s B team last term; the midfield needs to play more together before becoming consistently productive. One positive, however, is new arrival Grzegorz Krychowiak. The Polish midfielder arrived from Reims last month and put in a good day at the office on his competitive debut, which surely has to be encouraging. This match also proves that it is absolutely essential for Sevilla to hold onto Bacca, who bagged 21 goals in all comps last year. This is a disappointing start to the new season for the Europa League winners, but Sevilla need time to mesh. Another fifth-place finish and European triumph is a reach, but with proper time to develop, Emery could have another solid club on his hands. But, in the interim, there likely will be more games like this one, where Sevilla slog through 90 minutes and have trouble concocting a focused attack.
What We Learned and What’s Next
One game, one trophy. Real are not quite polished yet, but as ever, there’s so much talent at the club that convincing victory on average or bad days is possible. This Sevilla iteration aren’t close to ready for the big time, but the Super Cup loss should add some fuel to the fire. Real are back at it next Tuesday, when Atlético Madrid pay a visit to the Bernabéu to kick off the two-legged Supercopa. Sevilla host Valencia to open the Liga BBVA season on 23 August.
One last thing: this cool moment from the post-match celebration. I wonder which one was happier to see the other.