Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Spanish Super Cup, 5 Talking Points
Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show as Real Madrid romped home to a 3-1 win over Barcelona in the first leg.
After a quiet first half, the season's first Clasico exploded to life in the second half in a thrill-a-minute ride that had everything - a Messi goal, a Ronaldo goal, a Ronaldo sending off, an Asensio screamer and a gem of a performance from that most beautiful player - Isco. Here are the 5 things we learned from the match.
1. Isco is a delight to watch
Watching Isco play is worth a hundred trips to the Louvre. Gliding across the glass as if on skates, rouletting past players with a panache that would have made his manager proud (Busquets was left clutching at thin air on more than one occasion), playing with his head up and passing the ball about immaculately (that pass for Ronaldo's goal was supreme), he's the perfect attacking midfielder - and he showed once again why Madrid were right to tie him down to a new contract that supposedly raises his release clause to an eye-watering €600 million.
2. No Neymar, no party
You can laugh all you want at Neymar not having to go play in the tiny village of Guingamp while his former team hosted Real Madrid, but the Brazilian showed on the Brittany coast just what Barca had let go off - with a sumptuous assist and a goal of his own on debut.
Meanwhile back at the "home of football" Barcelona struggled with Lionel Messi having one of his rare off days.
What Neymar used to provide is irreplaceable as poor Gerard Deulofeu found out soon enough - and for all his faults, the lad is a player and a half and is probably the only player on the planet who can confidently ask Messi to take a backseat if things aren't going for him. He used to take pressure off the Argentine, and draw defenders to him like a magnet would iron shavings while providing a completely different type of threat to the opposition defence.
3. Ronaldo shadows Messi at Camp Nou
What a goal he scored! After all those comments and wisecracks about him having lost his dribbling ability, his pace, his oomph he underlined what he did over the course of April-May-June with an absolutely stunning goal yesterday. Suffice to say, the man is a beast.
And of course, he celebrated the way he did - nothing defines Cristiano Ronaldo quite like the rivalry he has with Leo Messi, does it?
While his booking for removing his shirt reiterated the utter idiocy of that rule, his second underlined the importance of VAR. While Samuel Umtiti might not have fouled him, it was certainly not a dive as the Frenchman's massive shoulders did brush him on his way past.
4. Why is nobody talking about Barca’s defense?
Yes, Neymar needs replacement. Yes, Iniesta needs replacement. Yes, Busquets could use a back-up. The woes and shortcomings of Barcelona's midfield have been analysed to death this summer, but there's one important element the analysis always misses out on - their defence.
While the addition of Nelson Semedo was a much-needed one, there is simply no excuse for Barca to have utterly let go of their backline in such a manner - for a while now their defence has been held together by the colossal presence that is Gerard Pique, but if that man has an off day, the Catalans are there for the taking. While the own goal was not his fault, he simply had no answer to either Ronaldo or Asensio when they came at him full tilt and was turned a little too easily for both their goals.
5. Who can stop Real Madrid?
Real Madrid are a scary, scary, footballing outfit. When you have the strength in depth to leave Isco, Matteo Kovacic, and Marco Asensio on the bench without losing even an iota of penetration or attacking quality - there's very little that can stop you.
There are reports circulating that Zinedine Zidane has agreed a three-year extension/renewal and that is the least he deserves for turning Rafa Benitez's toothless kittens into the all conquering juggernaut they are today.
They have done this by pipping everyone to the best talent in Spain - Asensio, Theo Hernandez, and Dani Ceballos are a few of the most high-profile examples - and by trusting in their own squad. Think what you want of Florentino Perez, but the man has acted quickly and decisively when need be and has shown the strength of character to let Zidane rule the roost when it comes to the team selection.