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- With no Cristiano Ronaldo and no Zinedine Zidane, there was no Super Cup title for Real Madrid.
- Instead, the club surrendered the trophy to bitter rival Atlético Madrid, who slaughtered Real in extra-time, winning 4-2 in Estonia.
- Real looked disorganised, and a far-cry from the team that swashbuckled its way through Europe in previous seasons.
- Atlético, on the other hand, looked like an improved outfit – and may well have wrested the balance of power away from Real.
- Read all of Business Insider’s coverage for the 2018-2019 European soccer season here.
The new Real Madrid era has begun with the worst possible start.
Julen Lopetegui succeeded Zinedine Zidane, the former boss who led Real to three successive UEFA Champions League titles, a few months ago. But in his first proper game in charge at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn, Estonia on Wednesday, Lopetegui surrendered the 2018 Super Cup to the club’s local, bitter rivals, Atlético Madrid.
Real’s night began poorly, as it took penalty-box predator Diego Costa just 49 seconds to score Atleti’s first goal – a crash-bang effort that saw the Spaniard receive a long ball at the 30-yard mark, control the ball with two headers, and then send a short-range shot into the goal from an acute angle. That made it 1-0 within a minute… the fastest goal ever struck in Super Cup history.
Karim Benzema equalised for Real in the 27th minute and a penalty converted by Sergio Ramos gave Real a 2-1 lead after an hour, but the team failed to protect its advantage. Real’s defence was unstable, woeful, and porous, as Atlético was able to restore parity in the 79th minute via Costa – and send the tie into extra-time. From there, it was all Atlético, a slaughter, really, as Saúl Ñíguez and Koke made it 4-2 – a lead big enough to crush Real for good.
The result showed one clear thing… with no Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been sold to Juventus, and no Zidane, who had stepped down at the end of last season, Real looked a shadow of itself. Atlético not only taken advantage of that, it grabbed a balance of power that had long resided at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Atlético is the new king of Madrid
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As Real manager, Zidane was never known for his defensive masterclasses but he rarely had his team playing as disorganised as it did on Wednesday. In 149 games in all competitions, Zidane overlooked 160 goals conceded. But what marked him out as one of the best in the modern era was his ability to load-up in attack, witnessing 393 Real goals from his dugout – many of them scored by Ronaldo himself.
To lose both Ronaldo and Zidane in the space of a summer is a shocker, and the club failed to adequately replace the striker, as the main signing of the summer remains former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Across the city, Atlético has been busy. So busy, that Atlético now – for the first time in its history – has a squad that is more valuable than Real’s, as pointed out by Spanish sports publication MARCA. Real’s current squad is worth $881.9 million, compared to Atletico’s seemingly superior squad which has a market value of $975.5 million.
While Real lost Ronaldo, Atlético retained Antoine Griezmann – convincing the 2018 FIFA World Cup winner to sign a contract extension that keeps him committed to the club until 2023. And it even fortified the first team with the club-record signing of Thomas Lemar, the $80 million transfer from AS Monaco who excelled on Wednesday with dazzling dribbling, with an eye for a pass, and with a work-rate that will have made Atleti boss Diego Simeone drool with excitement.
“Real Madrid hasn’t lost an international final since 2000,” Simeone said in the post-match press conference, obviously pleased with what his team had accomplished. “In previous finals against them little things went against us, so that’s why we could not win the finals. We had already beaten them in the Spanish Cup final and the Spanish Super Cup and now today we beat them also in Europe.”
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While Real has been weakened, Simeone said that the result makes his team even “stronger.”
Indeed, even former Real striker Michael Owen believes his old club “might struggle” to win the Champions League – club soccer’s greatest prize – this season. “It may be a new winner,” he said on BT Sport.
His fellow analyst Owen Hargreaves, a former Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, tipped FC Barcelona to win the Champions League this season. However, he also said: “Atletico will be right there [with Barça].”
Meanwhile, those at Real may be loathe to admit it, but the club has noticeably gone backwards. “We need to be honest talking about Cristiano,” Real midfielder Casemiro said after Wednesday’s loss.
“Every single team would miss him,” Casemiro added. “He’s a great player, becoming the best in the world at Real. But he’s already in the past, we cannot keep talking about him.”
Unfortunately for Casemiro, until Real finds a way to fill the void left by Ronaldo, he will always be the talking point. The club lost its biggest star – and now, more than ever, it is clear what a loss that is.