It would have been great for Ernesto Valverde and his squad to start the campaign with a trophy, but it’s Real Madrid who have earned the early bragging rights of the Spanish football season.
Following the 3-1 victory at the Camp Nou, they added two more goals to their account in tonight’s second leg of the Spanish Super Cup, the annual fixture between the reigning champions of La Liga and the Copa del Rey.
Barça, without the injured Andrés Iniesta and with Valverde opting for a 3-5-2 system, were against the ropes from the start. The Catalans received all the early pressure and the game was only four minutes old when the already difficult task ahead became harder still.
Marco Arsensio’s left-footer from outside the area was finely struck into the top left corner and Madrid were now 4-1 up on aggregate.
Barça still needed three goals, albeit now just to force extra time, and clearly intended to do all they could to get them. As the game progressed, more and more of the action was where they wanted it to be, but without finding the deadly connections that they needed over the final third.
The pendulum started swinging back to Madrid, and Lucas Vazquez had only just hit the post when Karim Benzema spun to convert Marcelo’s assist from short range on 39 minutes. Things were looking bleaker than ever for Barça.
Nelson Semedo replaced Gerard Piqué early in the second half, and the debutant managed to get involved in plenty of ball up the right.
And although the destiny of the trophy may have looked already decided by this stage, the intensity of the game didn’t drop. Madrid wanted more, while Barça were desperate to get the score looking a little more respectable.
They almost did that when Leo Messi sent a fine strike onto the bar, when Sergi Roberto narrowly missed the chance to connect for a tap-in, when Luis Suárez headed low onto the bar, when Samuel Umtiti rose solo to meet the ball – but this was a night when absolutely nothing wanted to go right…
It was a much-improved performance from Barça in the second half, with enough flashes of brilliance to reassure the doubters that the magic is still there.
However, and at least for the time being, it’s congratulations to Real Madrid. But as the players have been insisting all week, things are only just starting - La Liga begins at home to Betis on Sunday...