Super Madrid expose Real gulf in class
Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester Utd
A narrow victory that gives Real Madrid the 2017 Super Cup, but a general gulf in quality between them and Manchester United that explains why the Spanish side won it and why they are European champions.
Jose Mourinho's side still look very far off this level, and look even more like they could do with a forward of, oh, maybe Gareth Bale's level. The winger had set up the brilliant Isco's clinching goal and generally been so effective, but Real's whole attack just looked so effervescent in contrast to United's.
Three positives for United at least were a first official club goal for Romelu Lukaku, the performance of Nemanja Matic as Real really made him work, and the knowledge they won't face a side anywhere near this good in the Premier League.
That Real were not at full pelt, or putting out a full team was even more galling, even if United were missing some names themselves.
It was also selection, mind, that added one of the game's main points of intrigue.
The Super Cup still may not mean all that much in the grander context of the season, but Mourinho mischievously imbued it with a bit more significance by suggesting that Real would be showing they did not need Bale if he started on the bench.
Zinedine Zidane promptly started Bale on the pitch, and the Welsh winger promptly became one of the European champions' attackers who so regularly ripped into United's backline.
That they were doing it without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo made it all the more impressive, and further layered Zidane's decision.
United had started with Matic finally filling the defensive midfield role that Mourinho had been so insistent on addressing in this transfer window, and that initially seemed to release his attackers - especially Paul Pogba.
He twice roared forward on the break, in moves that suggested a greater zip to their forward play this season.
It didn't take too long for Real to show them that would also involve much greater risk, too, and it's not usually the type of risk that Mourinho stands for too long either.
Bale had already headed over from a fine chance on two minutes, before Real again exposed some slack marking from United with Casemiro heading against the bar.
The Brazilian has somewhat quietly become one of Real's key players amid the noise all their stars make, scoring in the Champions League final win over Juventus, and eventually got his goal here - with that the eventual consequence of Zidane side's finding so much space.
Matic and the defence behind him were suddenly getting overwhelmed. On 24 minutes, right-back Dani Carvajal was allowed so much time to deftly loft over the kind of ball that Isco would have been proud of, with Casemiro sliding in to finish.
It might have been offside, but was not out of keeping with the pattern of the game. Real more than deserved their lead, and might have added to it when Karim Benzema forced a strong hand from David De Gea.
Mourinho responded by bringing on Marcus Rashford for Jesse Lingard but, as exciting as the precocious young forward is, United were soon reminded of the glaring gap between their attacking options and Real's and why they really need someone like Bale.
Doubts about the Welsh forward's Bernabeu future actually precede the pursuit of Monaco's Kylian Mbappe and stem from how Isco stepped into the team when he was injured and stepped over him for the Champions League final, but they combined divinely here for Real's second. Isco started a quicksilver one-two on the edge of the box, before finishing so sleekly.
The contrast between the attacks wasn't helped by the contrasts in execution. United went straight up the other to fashion a chance with a good old-fashioned cross, only for Pogba to head directly at Keylor Navas and then Romelu Lukaku to somehow put the parried ball yards over the bar.
The Belgian impressively showed that didn't get to him, as he emphatically took the next chance he got, absolutely powering the ball past Navas when the goalkeeper parried a Matic drive.
At the other end, De Gea had just watched Bale batter his crossbar amid a general pummelling he was doing well to keep out, and it's difficult not to wonder whether the necessity those kind of heroics against Navas twice gifting Lukaku chances - not to mention at one point chipping the ball out of play and in another almost taking the ball over his own line - will revive thoughts of a transfer.
Mourinho had looked to threaten Navas in another way bringing on the aerial presence of Marouane Fellaini. The fact the Portuguese so often resorts to this tactic is just another reminder of why he still needs an elevation of quality in this attack, rather than such an elevation in their deliveries.
It did pin Real back, and led to United's best worked move of the game, as substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan fed Rashford for the young forward to just shoot wide.
It was then that Zidane brought on Ronaldo, just further re-emphasising the gap, before Sergio Ramos lifting this exhibition trophy made it even clearer.
Independent News Service