A galvanising performance from the young Gavi powered Barcelona to a dominant victory over erstwhile rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup on Monday. Los Blancos seemed in disarray throughout the night, with weak performances from their midfield and back line. Barca, meanwhile, will breathe a sigh of relief at the decisive performance, which gives them hope for greater glory at the tail end of the season.
Xavi made three changes to the lineup that won against Real Betis in the semi-final. Busquets came in for Raphinha, which allowed Gavi to push to the frontline, with Kounde and Balde replacing the full-backs Alba and Sergi Roberto. Kounde was deployed as a centre-back, putting Araujo at right-back. Balde played as left-back, which meant Fati was benched as Xavi has not yet started a game with both in the lineup.
Ancelotti also made three changes to the team that faced Valencia in the earlier round. Regular full-backs Mendy and Carvajal replaced Nacho and Vazquez, and Modric returned to the midfield to replace Rodrygo, pushing Valverde to an advanced position on the right flank.
Barcelona deployed in their usual 4-3-3 formation on paper, but that’s not how they looked in possession. Balde was high up the pitch on the left flank, hugging the touchline to facilitate switch plays from the right or to run in behind for through balls. Pedri’s primary position was as left-centre midfielder, Busquets was the central defensive midfielder and acted as the pivot, Dembele played as the right midfielder, while Gavi was higher up in the right central channel joining Lewandowski and Balde to make the forward line. De Jong played a versatile role as a free midfielder, roaming the midfield and getting in positions behind the forward line as their support when in attack. De Jong frequently kept swapping places with Gavi and Pedri to create confusion and disrupt any man-marking Madrid could throw at them.
Real Madrid also played in a 4-3-3 formation but they were far less dynamic than Barcelona. Valverde was on the right wing, Kroos played as the deep-lying playmaker just above the centre-backs, Modric was in central midfield, and Camavinga acted as box-to-box midfielder.
Madrid continued their poor run of form from the start. Pedri’s freekick in the 6th minute nearly became a goal by Araujo, who ran in behind Rudiger but missed the ball due to a slightly late charge into the box.
The disarray in Madrid’s defence was clear again in the 13th minute. Lewandowski dropped towards Pedri to invite a pass. Carvajal follows Lewandowski as the centre-backs are busy marking the free-roaming De Jong. This leaves space for Gavi to run into the space left by Carvajal and receive the ball from Pedri. He charges into the box before setting it up for Lewandowski. Los Blancos were lucky that Courtois got a touch to the shot and deflected the ball into the post.
But Barca were knocking and they finally broke through in the 33rd minute. Busquets won the ball and Pedri sprang it forward to Lewandowski. Neither Kroos nor Rudiger was fast enough to close him down and the Polish striker laid it to Gavi, who blasted it past Courtois and snatched the record for the youngest player to score in the Super Cup.
Madrid’s lack of communication in defence allowed Barca to double their lead just before the break. De Jong received the ball and both Militao and Carvajal left their positions and charged him. De Jong pivoted and played a through ball to the vacant space created by the defenders. Gavi charged into the box with the ball, forcing Rudiger to leave Lewandowski to close him down. From there it was simple for Gavi to tee up Lewandowski for a tap-in.
Ancelotti tried a few changes in the second half, but they didn’t put Barca off their game. The Madrid players didn’t position themselves correctly for transitions and kept losing most of the aerial duels, one of which led to the third goal. Gavi won the duel against Militao and provided a curved diagonal assist in the box for an unmarked Pedri to wrap up the game in the 69th minute.
Real Madrid’s midfield was a shadow of its mighty self during the game. Kroos did not make interceptions, Modric could not pick out Vinicius’ runs behind the defence, and Camavinga gave up possession cheaply. To say that their defensive line was shaky would be an understatement, and without Courtois, the scoreline would have been even more embarrassing.
Benzema pulled back a consolation goal in the last minute of stoppage time, but could not stop the Catalans from taking revenge for the last Clasico in October.
Gavi, with his goal, assist, and gutsy performance, was named man of the match.
For Barca and Xavi, it was a huge win. The club spent heavily in the summer and pulled several levers recently due to their financial straits. Their early Champions League exit has also darkened moods. But a convincing victory to grab the first silverware of the season and the manager’s tenure will bolster the faith of fans and give them hope for a strong end to the season.
Madrid, meanwhile, must lick their wounds and figure out their tactics, while making bids in the transfer window to strengthen the squad.
This article is a part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication with a focus on culture and society from a youth perspective.