Different setting, similar cast of characters, same plot and another disastrous result for Barcelona. Just as they did in the first leg at the Nou Camp, Real Madrid completely shut down Barcelona, seeing off the tie and capturing the 2017 Spanish Super Copa crown with a 2-0 victory.
Barcelona came to the Bernabeu facing a difficult task, and whatever small hopes they had of another miraculous comeback this calendar year were dashed just four minutes in when Marco Asensio fired in another absolute masterpiece from way outside the box. Asensio’s goal punctured the spirit of a team that looked disjointed and disheartened in both legs of this competition, and Barcelona couldn’t muster any semblance of a comeback throughout the night.
After a very suspicious tactical plan in the first leg, Ernesto Valverde took even an even bigger risk at the Bernabeu, opting for a 5-3-2 formation with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as the only forwards. Valverde decided to go with three center backs despite playing with a back four during the entire preseason, so it wasn’t that surprising to see the team look completely out of sorts.
Or perhaps I am dismissing the absolute lack of direction or discipline within the team too easily, because it would be criminal to normalize performances like this. Valverde is now 0-for-2 in his first big games in charge of Barcelona, and in neither case did Valverde fail because he had too much faith or ambition in the team. He placed constraints on Barcelona’s desire and managed to keep a team that went to the Bernabeu overflowing with confidence last season with mostly the same cast of players from ever breaking out of its own shell in either leg.
Without Iniesta available, it was encouraging to see Carles Alena had been called up for the trip to Madrid. But in the end, he didn’t even make the squad, while Andre Gomes started in Iniesta’s place despite having only played 25 minutes in preseason and missing most of camp. Gomes wasn’t the only one of Barça’s midfielders that looked terrible in this match – Sergio Busquets played his worst game in Blaugrana and Ivan Rakitic’s compatriots Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modrid ran circles around him – but his performance was symbolic. Aimless in attack, sluggish in defense; no contribution going forward, no effort tracking back or closing down.
Valverde asked a lot of his star forwards to make due without much support from the midfield by replacing Gerard Deulofeu in the lineup with an additional defender, and Messi and Suarez as Barcelona’s frontline didn’t work on either side of the ball. Defensively there was not enough workrate at the top of the formation to give Madrid any trouble at the back, allowing the hosts to play the ball comfortably into their midfield and then around Barça’smidfield line when they came anywhere near the ball. Barcelona actually managed a couple of chances in the second half, but neither Suarez nor Messi had the finishing touch, for both hit the bar on two very good chances.
Barcelona’s defense wasn’t as exposed as it was in the first leg, but there were still plenty of nervy moments at the back for Barcelona, and Madrid could have had three or four with better finishing of their own. Although he isn’t suited for an outside role in a back three at his age, I thought Javier Mascherano did a fine job, and he made a few characteristic challenges that helped get Barcelona out of trouble. Gerard Pique had his second straight poor performance against Madrid, though he had to come in the 50th minute with an injury, and Samuel Umtiti was at fault for Madrid’s second goal of the contest.
The only two bright spots for Barcelona came at or near the right back spot. Sergi Roberto did a job in the first half as a wingback and really began to flourish once Nelson Semedo came on for Pique and pushed him a little further forward. Semedo looked great in his competitive debut, giving Barcelona width and solidity on the flanks defensively, which was a combination Aleix Vidal couldn’t nail down in the first leg. Roberto’s energy and desire to get forward with the ball was refreshing, and he combined well with both Messi and Semedo throughout the game. I would be surprised if Roberto and Semedo weren’t starters on opening day, based not only on their own performances this summer, but also the poor form of their competition.
Although most of the attention here has been paid to Barcelona’s flaws in this tie, credit must be given to Real Madrid. The back-to-back European Champions look even better than last season when they won a double, and they were able to walk over Barça in both legs despite Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco and Luka Modric missing at least one of the matches. Aside from Messi, Madrid look superior to Barcelona in every area of the pitch and as the Madristas picked up their second trophy of the season before La Liga play has begun, this competition made it clear that Barcelona has a lot of work to do to get back to the top of the European game.