Julen Lopetegui stressed Real Madrid “have to improve in all facets” after their first competitive match under his management saw them suffer a 4-2 extra-time defeat to bitter rivals Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
Atleti’s Saul Niguez and Koke struck in quick succession in the additional period at Tallinn’s A. Le Coq Arena following a 2-2 draw in normal time.
Real had been 2-1 up, with Karim Benzema cancelling out Diego Costa’s first-minute opener and Sergio Ramos then converting a 63rd-minute penalty, before Costa netted his second of the contest to draw things level.
Lopetegui told AS in his post-match press conference: “We had good game phases but it was not enough.
“We have to congratulate Atletico, I believe that they have won deservedly.
“We are not happy and the negative is that we have conceded four goals and this is not normal. This will have to be improved, without a doubt.
“We have to improve in all facets, we do not like when we make mistakes and we have to improve in everything, not only in individual errors.
“(It is a) feeling of frustration and sadness. But knowing that responsibility forces us to get up and try to improve and start the league as we want to start.”
Real, having not only seen Lopetegui’s predecessor Zinedine Zidane but also club record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo depart the club over the summer, begin their 2018-19 La Liga campaign on Sunday when they host Getafe.
While they have won the Champions League in each of the last three years and four of the last five, they have claimed the La Liga title only once in that time, and finished third last term.
Lopetegui said when asked about Real’s hunger having won the Champions League so many times: “We want to focus on the season without thinking about the last years and get the best out of the team.
“We want to get up now and think about the league, which makes us excited. The team has won few La Ligas in recent seasons and we want to start well.
“They are not less hungry for having won the Champions League. They were hungry, eager, excited to win this title.”
In truth it would be foolish to read too much into what was essentially an overblown pre-season fixture which finished level after 90 minutes, but the final outcome underlines the impression that Atletico should be taken very seriously this season – and perhaps that Real have lost some of their lustre.
Here are three big storylines to emerge from a compelling night in Tallinn.
Atletico flex their attacking muscles
Even though it was a pre-season game and many players on both teams were visibly exhausted by the end, scoring four goals against Real Madrid in any circumstances is no small achievement and Atletico can draw great confidence from their exploits in Estonia.
Victorious coach Diego Simeone can be even happier with the knowledge that Antoine Griezmann, who has often single-handedly carried his team’s attacking endeavours in the last couple of years, played little part as he made a low-key first start since the World Cup Final.
Instead of Griezmann, Atletico’s hero was Diego Costa, who scored a brilliant goal after just 50 seconds and then forced extra time with a late leveller – in addition to giving Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane a torrid time all night with his trademark battering ram approach.
But Costa wasn’t alone, with Thomas Lemar – of whom more shortly – and substitutes Angel Correa and Vitolo also playing significant roles. And that’s without even considering summer arrivals Gelson Martins and Nikola Kalinic, who did not taste action on this occasion but surely will over the next few months, further adding to a range of attacking options which is starting to look formidable.
Lemar the x-factor for Atletico
Although Simeone is chiefly known for his ability to instil brilliant defensive discipline, the Argentine coach is by no means oblivious of the need for a cutting edge, and he has always tried to find room for a maverick creative talent within his otherwise rock-solid structure.
During the early days of his reign that man was Arda Turan, whose ability to conjure something out of nothing played a major role in the 2013/14 title-winning season. When the Turkish talent headed to Barcelona he was replaced by Yannick Carrasco, but the Belgian international had more bad games than good and was offloaded last season.
Now, the task of giving Atletico’s attack that crucial something different has fallen to summer signing Thomas Lemar, and the former Monaco man passed his initial audition with flying colours in Tallinn.
Particularly notable was the way he repeatedly dropped into pockets of space in midfield to receive short passes to his feet, allowing him to spark attacks by turning and running at the Real defence with his excellent and creative dribbling ability. The Frenchman could prove to be a masterstroke signing.
Fluidity and flexibility in Real’s forward line
Before the fatigue-induced collapse in the latter stages, the unveiling of Real’s post-Cristiano Ronaldo strike force demonstrated that new boss Julen Lopetegui is wasting no time in making his mark on the team and showing plenty of confidence in his players by employing a free-flowing and versatile 4-3-3 formation.
Nominally, the strategy saw Gareth Bale line up on the right wing with Marco Asensio on the left and Karim Benzema in the middle, and that was how the team’s first goal arrived as Bale charged down the wing and delivered a pinpoint cross to the far post for Benzema to convert.
However, the front three only spent a relatively small amount of time in that specific alignment with all three of them being given the freedom to roam and switch positions seemingly at will, illustrated when Asensio arrived at the near post to meet a Marcelo cross and nearly scored with a deft back-heel.
Allowing the forwards to take the initiative and interchange positions is not a million miles from the player-led coaching style of ex-boss Zinedine Zidane, with the notable difference, of course, that Ronaldo is no longer there to dominate the penalty area. So far it looks like his absence will give more freedom to everybody else…but his goals must be compensated for.
Diego Costa opened the scoring early on before Bale’s sumptuous cross saw Karim Benzema equalise. Sergio Ramos put Los Blancos ahead from the spot but Costa’s second restored parity.
Saul Niguez and Koke then secured the win for Diego Simeone’s side in extra-time.
Here’s a closer look at Bale’s performance.
Goals – 0
Assists – 1
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 77
Passes – 53
Key passes – 3
Pass success – 79.3%
Dribbles – 3
Dispossessed – 3
Bale started on the right side of a 4-2-3-1 system and despite having the freedom to cut inside from the flank, he did manage to generate genuine width for his side in attack. His work rate and powerful running saw Lucas Hernandez struggling to cope as the Welshman regularly made inroads into Atletico’s defence. He looked threatening through the middle as well when he went more central in the second half.
Acceleration – He’s pushing 30 but those afterburners seem to be working just fine. His burst of pace to storm past Hernandez before setting up Benzema was sensational and a couple more surges followed.
Creating chances – ‘Main man’ he may be but Bale is hardly selfish. His delivery for Benzema was sublime and crossed well for Marcelo too only for the Brazilian to misjudge his acrobatic effort.
Movement – Bale was deadly when he found space in wide areas but he may have missed a trick by not making more diagonal runs in behind to take the defence by surprise.
Shooting – The former Tottenham star has a stinging shot on him, Loris Karius will certainly attest to that. He only had one shot over 120 minutes and should be testing the keeper more.
There was little he could do once his side seemed to run out of steam. Another good performance from Bale as he continued his form from pre-season. If he is to be recognised as Cristiano Ronaldo’s successor though, ‘good’ won’t cut it. We know he’s capable of the extraordinary but how often can he produce it?
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com