In what was an encounter that could have gone either way, with Real dominating for large periods, Atleti showed more staying power and capitalised on poor Los Blancos defending to score two goals in extra-time and win the title.
It might be early days in the Julen Lopetegui era – which has yielded many bright signs during pre-season – however, the manner of the loss has not gone down well in the Spanish capital. After all, Real aren’t used to losing European finals, even against such strong opposition and in this case their local rivals.
Here, we look at three things the Whites need to work on quickly before Sunday’s La Liga opener at home to Getafe.
There is work to do physically
Footballers aren’t machines. Yes, today’s players, with the prominent role of sports science, have everything at their disposal to be in the best condition year-round but it is only natural the likes of Raphael Varane and Luka Modric, along with Toni Kroos, will take a while to get up to full speed.
Varane, in particular, endured a torrid night in Tallinn and was muscled out of the equation by Diego Costa for Atleti’s opener and his sloppiness led to Saul’s crucial third. It was not a performance we have come to expect from the France World Cup winner since the turn of 2018, but it was a rare off night, and the 25-year-old can be forgiven for a sluggish outing.
Likewise, Kroos sat deep and struggled to dictate play, appearing to still be searching for peak physical condition after a poor World Cup campaign with Germany. Match sharpness will come in the coming weeks but Kroos needs to figure out how he can be penetrative as a creative force playing deep in Lopetegui’s 4-2-3-1 system.
Modric, who came off the bench in the second period, showed his class on the ball but looks a little rusty. It is vital the 32-year-old reaches his optimum level soon.
In the coming days, expect there to be plenty of hard work ahead on the Valdebebas training ground. It is not a case of players lacking fitness but more match intensity, mentally and physically. Nevertheless, Lopetegui needs his cohort of senior stars to all be at their best soon to ensure a smooth transition into the new campaign.
Mental approach – Lopetegui has to get charges prepared for a title scrap
On the evidence of what we saw in Estonia and throughout pre-season, Diego Simeone’s Atleti appear potentially stronger than last term and will be a force on all fronts again.
The stellar addition of Thomas Lemar has given an experienced central midfield more legs and even though Antoine Griezmann will take some time, like a clutch of Real’s players, to hit his straps following the World Cup, his partnership with Costa is deadly and on paper has more goals in it than Real’s forward line of Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. And then there’s Barcelona, but that’s another piece altogether.
Overcoming wholesale change after the departures of Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo was always going to be a big challenge and Real will certainly be under no illusions of the task facing them to vie for the league title and retain their Champions League crown.
Lopetegui has obviously realised this – saying his team need “to improve in all facets” – off the back of the Atleti loss. He needs to build a no excuse environment which will allow his players to reach and maintain the highest possible standards of responsibility throughout this season – and as such – not give his squad any early opportunities to blame the boss if it all doesn’t go to plan.
The likes of Casemiro spoke highly of Lopetegui post-match and it is critical that he keeps all of his players on-side. After all, we have seen in the past how Real aren’t afraid to sack their manager.
Keep the focus on his current squad, not the transfer window
Lopetegui hinted to as much post-match, rebuffing speculation Madrid will panic-buy and bolster with big-money reinforcements before the August 31 deadline.
Club president Florentino Perez is the boss when it comes to incomings but the man in the Bernabeu dugout should expect no new acquisitions and stick to his pre-season plans.
The issue of finding someone to fill Ronaldo’s boots was always going to lag somewhat, and is an impossible puzzle to solve, but with Asensio, Benzema and Bale he has three special players who seem to be relishing their new-found freedom of not being restricted by Ronaldo’s movement and legacy on the pitch.
Ultimately, the world’s best will always be linked with Los Blancos but they have more than enough world-class talent already. It is down to Lopetegui to ensure his tactical approach can get the best out of them consistently.
Following his two-goal haul for Atletico Madrid in his side’s 4-2 UEFA Super Cup victory over Real Madrid, Diego Costa showed his respect for Los Blancos captain Sergio Ramos – the man he got the better of during the Tallinn contest.
The former Chelsea striker was in potent form to give Atleti early season bragging rights over their city rivals, helping to inflict Real’s first continental final defeat in 18 years.
But the 29-year-old was modest post-match.
Watch what Costa had to say about Ramos in the video below:
The Welshman assisted Karim Benzema’s equaliser with a pinpoint cross from the channel and also laid on another for Marco Asensio, before fading as the match went on.
Regardless, Lopetegui was happy with his key man – though he does expect the 29-year-old to improve his level ahead of this coming weekend’s home match with Getafe.
Watch the Madrid manager speak below: