Life without Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane was already looking like a struggle for Real Madrid after the triple Champions League holders lost the UEFA Super Cup to local rivals Atletico Madrid 4-2 after extra time on Wednesday.
After falling behind to an early strike from Diego Costa, goals from Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos put Real back into a familiar winning position against Atletico in European games but they uncharacteristically surrendered the lead.
Real, now led by former Spain coach Julen Lopetegui, looked stronger and slicker than Atletico for large parts of the game but failed to see it out, a marked contrast to many big matches under Zidane, when they would often snatch victory without playing particularly well.
Real lost stability in midfield when Casemiro was forced off due to injury and four minutes later Costa grabbed his second goal of the game to make it 2-2.
Saul Niguez and Koke struck in the first half of extra-time as Atletico finally get revenge on Real in Europe after losing the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals and being knocked out of the competition by their neighbours in 2015 and 2017.
Above all, Real were lacking a talismanic figure like Ronaldo, their all-time top scorer who last month ended a trophy-filled nine-year stay at the Santiago Bernabeu to join Italian champions Juventus.
Real’s only signings have been defender Alvaro Odriozola, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Brazilian teenager Vinicius Jr.
Real forwards Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema are all highly talented footballers but they lack the inspirational qualities the prolific Portuguese oozes.
Lopetegui insisted his side played well while declaring that Atletico were worthy winners.
“A final is typically won by the team who capitalises on circumstances and Atletico are experts in doing that and they deserved to win,” the Real coach told reporters.
“We aren’t happy with the result, it’s not normal for us to concede four goals and we need to improve. I insist that we played well, but they punished us with their goals.”
Lopetegui endured a tumultuous summer after being sacked as Spain coach on the eve of the World Cup and faces an unenviable task in following Zidane, who lifted a remarkable nine trophies in less than three years in charge of Real, including three consecutive Champions League titles.
But the coach said he was certain the team were still full of hunger to win silverware.
“It’s true they have won a lot but we have to focus on the season without thinking about what has happened in the last few years,” added Lopetegui, whose side host Getafe on Sunday in their first game of the new La Liga season.
“We have to get the most out of the team and start to lift ourselves up now and start thinking about a league season which we are very excited about.”
News and photo courtesy: Reuters