Manchester United lost 2-1 to Real Madrid last night in the UEFA Super Cup: A statement that should not necessarily come off as a major cause for alarm, except that it has in the main stream media and indeed social media.
One of the trials of the modern game is an immediacy of verdict that is attached to any prevailing state of affairs so much so that context is often by-passed to increase dramatic effect. As such, a balance of reason and logic are lost in translation of an existing state of affairs.
Real Madrid are currently and outrightly the best team in Europe. Indeed, they’ve held that title for the past 24 months. The results against their rivals to that throne attest to that conclusion. En route to that success over the past few seasons, they’ve seen off FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Athletico Madrid and Juventus. It would be incredulous to suggest that in the above stated big games they’ve not been value for their money. Indeed, all their recent Champions League final successes smack of dominance by a side that currently boasts more depth in quality than any other side in world football. It is a level that every European side in the Champions League this season will have to better in order to displace Zinedine Zidane and his troops from the summit of the league.
If the above truth was supposed to provide context ahead of the Super Cup in Macedonia last night, then it has quickly been thrown out the window. There is no truth that was revealed about Manchester United last night in defeat that was not already known beforehand. United had but a boxer’s chance to come away with victory on the night and even if the Reds had leveled the game late-on to force extra time and then win on penalties (as they did in pre-season), it wouldn’t have negated the fact that Real Madrid, for long periods of the game were superior.
Jose Mourinho probably has this current Manchester United side at a level where they can realistically challenge for the premier league title. What United were measuring themselves against last night was the distance between where they are and the summit of European, nay, World football. We can’t have imagined that gap to be close before kick-off, can we?
Yes, the club, like many others in England have spent a lot of money in a bid to bridge that gap, but there is only so much that money can buy you. At least 7 of Real Madrid’s starting XI last night consisted of players whose talent and ability cannot be duplicated in the market. If it could, they’d not have lasted this long at the top. Some players are simply a cut above the rest. The way around it that competitive sport provides is utilising the sum of your parts to out-smart the opposition. But that is a discussion for another day.
Manchester United’s target next season realistically stops at striving to reclaim the club’s status as the best in England. Unlike Cup football, the league season doesn’t mask any deficiencies and such the best team in the country almost always wins it. United were 24 points behind that standard last season. The aim this term is to close that gap and perhaps win it. United’s ambition next season is not to match Real Madrid. That challenge is further down the road of restoring the club to its lofty status on the pitch.
Little wonder then that the manager was not all too downbeat about the spectacle last night. His team drove the best side in Europe to a close bargain by finding the spirit and resolve to fight for a result right until the end of the game. The manager’s prize asset signing Romelu Lakaku also managed to recover from a missed sitter to scoring his first official goal for the club. Whilst there is room for improvement, the squad altogether looked good for the challenges of a domestic season albeit not quite a European one.
However, the manager has opted to keep chopping and changing formations in-game and it could potentially harm the progress of his side. The understanding is that the three at the back system will be used to match sides that play it and in games against technically superior opposition. Last night, the formation was changed three times in 90 minutes! The defence in particular seemed to suffer for it, but then again, it’s hard to set up a defence to keep a front three as competent as the one Real had last night quiet.
In the end, United will only merit serious questions if they do not win their opening league game at the weekend. Whilst they’re not as good as Real Madrid, they are definitely better than West Ham. Indeed, United’s opening fixtures afford the club a chance to start the season strongly. It is only in domestic failure that the progress of the club will have to be questioned. Until then, it is only logical to stay the execution that others have already handed out on the sole premise that was last night.