By Oscar Maya Belchi
Riyadh, Jan 15 (EFE).- Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez won his first title as the team’s manager on Sunday, prevailing 3-1 over Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final at King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before 57,340 paying spectators and many more crammed onto the stairways in the stands, having managed to get into the venue without seat tickets.
It was a match that began to pour over onto the team benches, with Hernandez winning the duel against the capital squad’s Carlo Ancelotti, both managers putting four men in the midfield to start but Real somehow finding itself unable to compete against the hard-driving Catalans, allowing them to secure their record 14th Super Cup win and remain Spain’s most successful team in the competition, which began in 1982.
Real Madrid were the defending champions but were rather easily knocked off their perch.
The current version of the competition, with this format launched in 2019-2020, features four teams: the winners and runners-up of the Copa del Rey and Spain’s regular La Liga season.
Hernandez crafted a surprise by starting Gavi on the far left, and not Pedri Gonzalez, who normally plays there, and foregoing his regular 4-3-3 lineup for a 4-2-3-1 that the team executed with perfection with De Jong and Busquets well-positioned and with Pedri and Lewandowski working off each other, while Gavi and Dembele swept along the wings.
With Aurelien Tchouameni out of the lineup for Real and the midfield responsibility falling to Eduardo Camavinga, the team couldn’t seem to get things going properly. Ancelotti removed Camavinga at the break, inserting Rodrygo in his place, but the move appears to have come too late, with Barca already up 2-0.
First, Gavi beat Thibaut Courtois in the Real net in minute 34, although the goaltender had previously knocked away a shot by Lewandowski from outside the area. Busquets moved the ball well after a Rudiger pass, sending it to Lewandowski, who dealt it to Gavi for the neat tally.
Then, 11 minutes later, just before first half stoppage time, Gavi caught up with De Jong’s pass and sent the ball to Lewandowski for the 2-0 hit.
Courtois was able to fend off a shot by Dembele after a fabulous drive by Alejandro Balde, but it often seemed that the netminder was the only man keeping Real in the match.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Barca net, on the other hand, didn’t have much to worry about until minute 70, when Toni Kroos, who found himself consistently outmatched by Barca, fired a futile shot from long range.
Barca’s last tally came in the 69th minute when Gavi sent a crossing pass to the young phenom Pedri, who easily and deftly popped it into the net.
Finally, Karim Benzema managed to find the twine – after his first attempt a moment before was stopped – for yet another of his recent stoppage time tallies for Madrid, but the team has simply been off its regular pace since the World Cup break.
Barcelona had gotten to the final in a penalty shootout win over Real Betis after a 2-2 draw last Thursday, while Real Madrid, who last year had won their 12th Super Cup title by defeating Athletic Bilbao, also notched a penalty shootout win after a 1-1 draw with Valencia the previous day.
Last October, in this season’s previous El Clasico match, Real got the better of Barca 3-1 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.
The win was a sweet one for Barca, and although the team is now positioned at the top of the La Liga table, three points ahead of the reigning champs, Real Madrid, they’ve been eliminated from this season’s Champions League play.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal (Nacho, m.72), Militao, Rüdiger, Mendy; Kroos (Asensio, m.72), Modric (Ceballos, m.65), Valverde, Camavinga (Rodrygo, m.46); Benzema and Vinicius.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo (Eric Garcia, m.86), Kounde, Christensen; Balde; Busquets, De Jong (Kessie, m.86), Gavi (Ansu Fati, m.89), Pedri (Sergi Roberto, m.89); Dembele (Raphinha, m.78) and Lewandowski.