Super Cup win puts Zidane in a fix

2017-08-10 05:32:24 GMT2017-08-10 13:32:24(Beijing Time) Agencies
Real Madrid players celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Super Cup match against Manchester United at the Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, on Tuesday. Real won 2-1. — AFP Real Madrid players celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Super Cup match against Manchester United at the Philip II Arena in Skopje, Macedonia, on Tuesday. Real won 2-1. — AFP

REAL Madrid dominated Manchester United for large periods of the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday before winning 2-1, confirming its position as the best team in Europe. Now Real’s Zinedine Zidane faces a dilemma.

Real has won consecutive UEFA Champions League trophies, retaining the cup in June with a victory over Juventus. It took the Spanish league title, too, powering over the line as Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 from a 4-3-3 after Gareth Bale’s injury.

Zidane’s problem is whether to stick with the 4-4-2 for the new season, or revert to the 4-3-3.

In the 4-4-2, Isco was picked at the tip of the midfield diamond. He linked perfectly with Cristiano Ronaldo, who slipped into a No. 9 role with ease after years on the left wing.

The formation suited Real’s strengths, and Zidane used it again against United, even though Ronaldo was benched, since he had only recently returned to training after an extended summer break.

Bale played up front, alongside Karim Benzema, and he linked nicely with Isco, too. The Welsh winger crashed a shot against the crossbar and then created the winning Real goal, playing a one-two with Isco, which put the playmaker through to curl a strike past David de Gea.

Ronaldo appeared from the bench in the second half, and Zidane acknowledged that the striker was finding his fitness and may be in contention to start against Barcelona on Sunday in the Spanish Super Cup.

“He’s only been training with us for three days, but he’s well and thinking about Sunday’s game,” Zidane said.

But with the rise of Isco, the vaunted strike-line of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano no longer appears to be Real’s best option. Isco’s quality is undeniable, and he is a fan favorite, too.

“His game and goal were very good,” Zidane said after the Super Cup. “I’m very happy with him because he grows more and more. He’s got art.”

However, Isco has the lowest profile, making him the easiest for Zidane to bench. Bale and Ronaldo are two of the most expensive signings of all time, and both Zidane and club president Florentino Perez are particularly fond of Benzema.

Reverting to 4-3-3 might keep his stars happy, but it could have negative consequences for the team, giving Zidane a problem to solve. It is a problem other coaches would love to have, but a problem nonetheless.

Zidane’s United counterpart Jose Mourinho insisted that his team had emerged from its trip to Skopje, Macedonia, reinforced despite the scoreline flattering it in the defeat.

The Portuguese manager had expected his side to struggle against the reigning European champion and it could have conceded more than just the goals scored by Casemiro and Isco.

Casemiro hit the bar with Tuesday’s game at the Philip II Arena still goalless, ahead of Bale’s second-half shot.

But on a sweltering night in the Macedonian capital last season’s Europa League winner improved in the final stages after Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit, and substitute Marcus Rashford almost equalized late on.

“I always say the Champions League is one thing and the Europa League is another, and the Champions League winner obviously has a different potential,” said ex-Real coach Mourinho, whose current team is back in Europe’s elite club competition this season.

“So for us to come here and do the positive things we did, I think we have to keep that positive feeling into the new season, and into the Champions League in September. I think this Super Cup was a great experience.”

United won the League Cup as well as the Europa League last season but is under pressure to improve after laboring to a sixth-place finish in the EPL.

It begins its campaign at home to West Ham United on Sunday and summer signings Victor Lindelof, Lukaku and Nemanja Matic will all hope to have done enough in Skopje to keep their places.

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