Real Madrid 0-0 Atletico Madrid (aet, 4-1 pens): Ramos settles dour Supercopa final

By Sports Desk January 12, 2020

Real Madrid won their 11th Supercopa de Espana title as Sergio Ramos tucked home the winning spot-kick to see off city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 in a penalty shootout after a dismal goalless draw.

With Atleti having failed to convert their opening two penalties, Madrid captain Ramos proved their nemesis again when he sent Jan Oblak the wrong way.

Federico Valverde and Alvaro Morata - against his former club - spurned the best opportunities of a dour 90 minutes at King Abdullah Sports City stadium on Sunday, though the quality did improve in extra-time.

However, a string of excellent saves from both goalkeepers, either side of Valverde's late red card, forced penalties, with Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey missing from the spot.

Ramos thkept his composure to take the title back to Santiago Bernabeu after Dani Carvajal, Rodrygo and Luka Modric also hit the target from 12 yards.

 

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  • El Clasico: Messi's long goodbye to the world's greatest club match El Clasico: Messi's long goodbye to the world's greatest club match

    A Clasico showdown against Real Madrid, or West Ham away?

    Before Lionel Messi steps out onto the Camp Nou pitch on Saturday, remember this: he had made up his mind, and he had chosen West Ham away.

    Playing for Manchester City was Messi's plan for 2020-21, it is believed, and if that meant sacrificing leading Barcelona against their greatest rivals, shucks to it.

    Messi must have thought he had nothing left to prove in this fixture, being already the top scorer in Clasico history with 26 goals across all competitions, way ahead of names such as Alfredo di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Cesar Rodriguez.

    Eighteen of those goals have come in LaLiga, from 27 appearances, and he has averaged one goal involvement per game in the league thanks to nine assists.

    However, he has failed to score in his last five Clasico games - three in the league and two in the Copa del Rey.

    This weekend, with the world watching, Barcelona need the real Messi to stand up.


    Still the same player?

    Before the king of the Clasico faces Los Blancos one more time, team-mate Ansu Fati was moved to comment this week that "Messi is still Messi".

    The 17-year-old spoke after Messi's early penalty helped Barcelona to a 5-1 Champions League win over Ferencvaros.

    Yet heading into that game, Barcelona's new head coach Ronald Koeman said Messi's form "could be better", cosseting that in sufficient pleasantries to avoid any blowback.

    As for who is right - Fati or Koeman - it is hard to dispute the experienced Dutchman's verdict.

    Doubtless Fati loves playing with 33-year-old Messi, because what teenager wouldn't relish every minute playing with an all-time great?

    But Messi's numbers are down in the early weeks of this LaLiga season, with his average attempted dribbles per game down from 8.58 in 2019-20 to just 4.75, and his shots on target per game at a relatively meagre 1.75 when he has averaged 2.15 or higher in each campaign over the past decade.

    One goal in four LaLiga matches in 2020-21 equates to his slowest start to a season since 2005-06, when the teenage Messi failed to score in his first four games.

    The Clasico drought

    Those five goalless games in Spain's biggest match have consisted of four starts and one appearance off the bench, amounting to 425 minutes of football without a goal, his second longest run without netting in the Clasico - behind a six-game sequence from April 2014 to December 2016.

    He has failed to score with his last 16 shots in the fixture and has not been on the winning side in a LaLiga Clasico at Camp Nou since Barcelona's 2-1 victory in March 2015, having missed the 5-1 success in October 2018 because of a fractured arm.

    He has not had a goal involvement - scoring or assisting - in the last three Clasico league games, putting him one away from what from that statistical perspective would be the worst run of his career.

    And the goal return from Messi in Barcelona's biggest home league match of the season has been modest - albeit only by his extraordinary standards - for some time.

    He scored twice in a 2-2 draw in October 2012 and netted once when the team played out the same result in May 2018, but those are the only goals he has scored in this LaLiga game since a late strike sealed a 2-0 win in 2008.

    Nobody has scored more Clasico league goals at Camp Nou than Messi's haul of seven, which he launched with a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw back in March 2007.

    But the big-game returns are diminishing with time, or at least that is how it seems.

    Has Messi become a flat-track bully?

    The instinctive response is to challenge the use of such a reductive term to describe a footballer so eminent.

    The transition happens time and again though, from sport to sport. The ageing superstars who once routinely tormented elite rivals serve up reminders of their most glorious days in flashes, often against more limited opposition than before. Case in point: Messi looked sublime at times against Ferencvaros.

    In tennis, Roger Federer can still toy with low-ranked tennis players to the point of doling out early-round humiliations, but will he win another grand slam title, having recently turned 39? No, probably not. Will Messi win another Champions League? No, probably not. It is hard to see it happening at a crisis-hit Barcelona, anyway.

    Messi's haul of 25 LaLiga goals last season was his lowest since he scored 23 in the 2008-09 treble-winning campaign, when Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry were also scavenging for chances.

    But if he is not scoring consistently against Real Madrid, and if he was powerless to prevent Bayern Munich's rout of Barcelona in the Champions League back in August, then where is Messi making his big difference heading into his mid-thirties?

    Since the start of August 2018, in LaLiga he has scored eight goals against Eibar, five each against Real Betis, Levante, Alaves and Sevilla, and four apiece against Real Mallorca, Celta Vigo and Espanyol.

    Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are the two teams who have defied him throughout that time.

    A leaving present

    If this is to be Messi's sign-off stretch with Barcelona - and given his recent state of vexation that seems highly possible - then it is to be assumed he wants to depart with a swagger rather than a shrug of a season.

    Had Barcelona's board acquiesced to Messi's departure at the end of last term, this weekend's kick-off in El Clasico would have coincided with the Argentinian winding down at the London Stadium after a lunchtime outing for Pep Guardiola's City against David Moyes' Hammers.

    Perhaps Messi would have tuned in for El Clasico on the team coach; perhaps not.

    Messi was prepared to sacrifice the Clasico - the hysteria and the history that surrounds it - and that summed up the schism that had developed between him and the club's leadership.

    He has since lost good friends Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, offloaded to Atletico Madrid and Inter, and lost some of his sparkle at the same time.

    Suarez and Vidal won't be coming back, but the sparkle still might. There were flashes against Ferencvaros - again, take the opposition into account - but a Clasico against a wobbling Madrid side seems as good an occasion as any for Messi to serve up a reminder of his greatness.

    If he can lift himself for any game, it must be this one.

  • Rumour Has It: Real Madrid's Zidane facing sack, Barca lead Juve in Traore chase Rumour Has It: Real Madrid's Zidane facing sack, Barca lead Juve in Traore chase

    Zinedine Zidane led Real Madrid to LaLiga glory last season as Los Blancos dethroned bitter rivals Barcelona.

    But, Zidane's position is far from certain amid a run of consecutive defeats in 2020-21.

    Madrid are reportedly willing to part with their head coach if he cannot arrest the club's slump.

     

    TOP STORY – ZIDANE FACING SACK

    Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane could be sacked if results do not improve in the team's next two games, according to L'Equipe.

    Zidane is under mounting pressure following back-to-back defeats after Madrid were stunned by newly promoted Cadiz in LaLiga and shocked by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

    The Frenchman – in his second spell in charge of the Spanish capital club – is facing a crucial period ahead of Saturday's Clasico against Barcelona and a Champions League date with Borussia Monchengladbach.

    Madrid great Zidane has guided Los Blancos to two LaLiga titles and three Champions League trophies during his time in charge.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Calciomercato says Barcelona are ahead of Serie A titleholders Juventus in the race to sign Wolves star Adama Traore. The Spanish speedster has also been linked to Premier League champions Liverpool and Manchester City.

    Manchester United and Chelsea are set to rival Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for Gladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria, reports Bild.

    - Calciomercato reports Milan are looking to sign Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Lovro Majer. The 22-year-old has already been linked with Borussia Dortmund, Fiorentina, Leeds United, Valencia and Sevilla.

  • El Clasico: Reliant on Ramos, Benzema off the boil – can Real Madrid really dominate Barca? El Clasico: Reliant on Ramos, Benzema off the boil – can Real Madrid really dominate Barca?

    The pressure is firmly on Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid heading into Saturday's Clasico at Barcelona.

    Madrid were crowned LaLiga champions just three months ago, but recent results have altered the narrative considerably prior to the clash at Camp Nou.

    Los Blancos lost to Cadiz in the league last week and then on Wednesday suffered a remarkable Champions League reverse at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk, who were missing 10 first-team players due to coronavirus.

    These defeats followed the closing of a transfer window in which Madrid did not make a single signing, leaving Zidane short on options.

    The prospect of this campaign quickly crumbling is especially painful for those in the Spanish capital after they appeared set to finally dominate rivals Barca once more...
     

    MADRID'S BIG OPPORTUNITY

    Madrid won the most recent Clasico in March, but they have not beaten Barca in consecutive LaLiga matches since May 2008.

    On that occasion, the Blaugrana promptly appointed Pep Guardiola and became Spain's premier domestic side. Madrid's 2019-20 title was just their third since then, despite their Champions League supremacy.

    But this season seemed to represent a chance for Madrid to secure a hold over Barca and stage a successful defence of their championship for the first time since that 2007-08 campaign.

    Barca were embarrassed in the Champions League by Bayern Munich late last season, leading to the sacking of Quique Setien, the appointment of Ronald Koeman and subsequent departures of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, and of course Lionel Messi's transfer request.

    While Messi stayed in the end, the current campaign is widely expected to be his last, meaning Madrid would need only to master the magnificent number 10 and his crisis club one final time.

    There was modest investment at Barca, at least topping Madrid's outlay of zero, but the arrivals of Miralem Pjanic and Sergino Dest looked unlikely to turn the tide after the champions ended last season in stunning style.
     

    WHERE HAS IT GONE WRONG?

    Madrid won 10 straight matches after the 2019-20 season – paused amid COVID-19 – resumed in June, dropping points only in a draw against Leganes on the final day when the title was wrapped up.

    A goalless stalemate at Real Sociedad then represented an opening-day setback this term, yet Madrid's form was still relatively steady until the Cadiz match, a 1-0 loss.

    Reassessing their start after that defeat, however, shows a clear regression from the end of the previous campaign in one key area: their finishing.

    In the final 11 matches of last season, Madrid's shooting accuracy (excluding blocks) only once dipped below 50 per cent – in a 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao – but is yet to reach that mark at all in five games this term.

    Against Cadiz, Zidane's side had 74.8 per cent of the ball – more than in any other fixture since June – yet hit the target just twice from 14 attempts.

    Crucially, Karim Benzema has gone off the boil. Only he and Federico Valverde have played in all 16 league games since June, the Frenchman scoring seven times from 28 shots at the end of last season, as well as creating six big chances.

    In 2020-21, Benzema has netted only once in the league at a conversion rate of 5.3 per cent, while his shot accuracy is down from 72 per cent to 50 per cent and he has already missed as many big chances (three) in five games as he did in 11.
     

    IS THERE A SIMPLE FIX?

    Given their lack of transfer activity, leaving the squad a little stale, Madrid have no choice but to wait for Benzema to rediscover the form that saw him net 21 times in consecutive seasons following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

    There remains no obvious alternative, with Luka Jovic handed another opportunity but so far failing to score and missing his only big chance across three matches. Vinicius Junior has also passed up a trio of clear openings.

    The defensive concerns evident against Shakhtar should at least be eased by the return of Sergio Ramos, the captain substituted at half-time at home to Cadiz and then rested in Europe.

    Raphael Varane endured another Champions League night to forget in his absence, adding an own goal to his two errors leading to goals in August's 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.

    In fact, Madrid have now lost seven of their past eight Champions League games without their skipper – also including the trip to City.

    This dependence on a 32-year-old Benzema and 34-year-old Ramos must be a cause for concern given Barca were supposed to be the ageing side.

    It certainly suggests Madrid might not find life as straightforward as expected as they attempt to step into the void to be left by Messi.

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