SPANISH SUPER CUP
Winners and losers from the Spanish Super Cup
The first of its kind, the new Spanish Super Cup had four teams and each of them come away with different feelings from their trip to Saudi Arabia.
The first Spanish Super Cup in its new format is over. Barcelona and Valencia are already back on home soil and have put the escapade behind them. Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will be back in Spain soon too after a long but ultimately exciting final in Jeddah. A lot has happened in the last week though and here are a number of people involved who won, and lost, in the desert.
How high can Fede Valverde's star rise? There are important players at Real Madrid when it comes to influence in the dressing room, experience at the club and talent but there is arguably nobody more important to Zinedine Zidane right now than Fede Valverde. He was immense against Atlético not in his end product, necessarily, but given the amount of work he does and how easier he makes life for all of his teammates. And the opposite for his opponents. Morally speaking, he shouldn't have kicked Alvaro Morata at the end of the game. But the fact that he was there after a night of running up and down the field is a testament to his instinct and willingness to cover ground. In a boring game, his nutmeg and run down the right late on was another highlight. He has ended talk of Paul Pogba as he continues to improve and his emergence has, literally, forced Pogba's name out of Florentino Perez' head.
With galactico-level attacking talent in short supply in the Spanish Super Cup final, it was Jan Oblak versus Thibaut Courtois where attention turned. The game was tense, as expected, and it was never going to be decided by two or three goals. Oblak has been the gold standard of goalkeeping in LaLiga for the last few years but the big Belgian is eyeing the Slovenian's throne as LaLiga's premier keeper. In the shoot-out, it was literally a chance for the two men to show their worth in a tangible way. Courtois stopped Thomas Partey's penalty and a lot more stops before that in normal time, as he came out on top in the battle of Spain's best numbers 1s. This follows a pattern as Courtois continues to impress at the Bernabéu after a tumultuous start to his career in white.
Luis Suarez' injury is not good news for anyone with a shred of empathy or for fans who enjoy watching the Uruguayan barrel his was towards goal with the endless possibilities that such a situation includes. But Antoine Griezmann could end up winning given the amount of time Suarez is set to miss. The French attacker has been banished to the left of Barcelona's attack and looked about as comfortable as Josep Maria Bartomeu would look at right-back on the field. Now, though, he almost has to play as the striker and even if he doesn't and Messi does, Griezmann will be let play on the right; even better again!
Pure electric. The Argentine is finally coming good under Diego Simeone and used the Spanish Super Cup to showcase his creativity and what he means to Atlético Madrid. He played every minute of both games with a goal and an assist against Barcelona. Space was harder to come by in the final but he did have some of Atlético's most dangerous chances.
This goes without saying. Valverde's job hangs by a thread and Xavi has a scissors in his hands or Bartomeu more accurately. They want the former player back to manage the club but he has reportedly said no. And so they chanced a couple more candidates all while Valverde tries to plan for the upcoming game Granada. Barcelona, in general, look like losers coming back from Saudi Arabia but it's par for the course with the current directors in charge. Valverde could walk away with his head held high but they seem unwilling to permit him an honorable sacking. He has clearly lost the confidence of the board and will not continue at the club beyond this summer. In the meantime, he has to put on a brave face and try to salvage something (a timely reminder that they are top of the league and in the last 16 of the Champions League); 'salvage something' has different meanings at different clubs) from his last few months on the bench at the Camp Nou.
The Serbian has not adjusted to life at Real Madrid. Karim Benzema is in the form of his life, is as healthy as he has ever been and doesn't need rest. Jovic has played sparingly because of this but also because he hasn't full convinced. With Benzema out of the Super Cup (he didn't even travel to Saudi Arabia), Jovic had two games to impress without looking over his shoulder. He tried, at times, and really came to life in the second half of the final on Sunday night but he faded soon after. The 22-year-old missed a chance to let Zidane know he was worthy of more minutes. There will be more chances but the pressure is mounting.
They might have as easily been included in the winners category had they been more precise during their penalty shoot-out. They did beat Barcelona in the semi-final in a rather un-Atleti performance. And they had the measure of Real Madrid too for long spells but the loss on penalties just entrenches the idea that they are doomed to never win a final. Or maybe they could win one if only their opponents weren't Real Madrid. they exhausted themselves and came away with nothing other than another moral victory of which their trophy cabinet is full of.
The fall-out from the Ernesto Valverde affair has been descibed as 'ugly' by Andres Iniesta. There are plenty more adjectives that could be applied as a decent man's job hangs in the balance. But there are consequences that reach further than Valverde's employ. Lionel Messi is turning 33 in the summer and the hopes of a title are grim. They might win LaLiga but when don't they win that. The Holy Grail remains the Champions League and the remain as far away from that as ever, if not more. Messi has lost one of his best friends and his right-hand man for the season with news of Luis Suarez' knee injury and is left fighting against the tide as it approaches the shores of Barcelona. And as usual, it looks like the tide is going to get its way.
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