Through some mist or smoke, the 36th edition of the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco kicked off. And as predicted, Pep selected as many of the players that won the Champions League back in May and started with Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano; Xavi, Keita, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa. The only unexpected face was that of Seydou Keita who started instead of Busquets for what reason I’m not quite sure.
We dominated the very early portion of the match but it was Porto with the first highlight in the 7th minute with a Moutinho strike being tipped wide by Valdés, despite the fact it looked as if it wouldn’t have gone in. However, in these early exchanges it was evident the pitch was not going to be helpful tonight. Balls were bobbling as it ran over the grass which was evident in a few early exchanges between players. Both teams obviously share the pitch but as we keep the ball more and keep it on the floor more often than not, it was clearly playing a role in some moves breaking down.
Pedro should have given us the lead in the 10th minute when a through ball from Iniesta was intercepted by the Porto defense but rebounded into the air and fell right at our number 17. Look, he could have definitely taken it down as he had space and time, but his attempt to chip the onrushing Helton wasn’t that bad and only was barely over the bar. In hindsight it was not the correct play but in that moment in a way it’s nice to see a player having the confidence to try that and his attempt was far from poor.
Not much happened for a while besides a bit of indecision from our man in the goal on a cross, which the ultra-reliable Masch cleared. Messi put in some sparkling runs and in the 29th minute took on 3 players before trying to slip it into Villa but right-back Sāpunaru made a perfect last-ditch tackle to block it. In the 37th minute Adriano did a neat 1-2 with Villa, burst down that left wing and put in a very clever early cross to the edge of the box to find our captain on the night Xavi. Xavi had a dip and pulled a decent save out of his counter captain Helton. I thought Adriano had a very good game all night and can only think a slight calf pull was the reason he was taken off. I was delighted when we signed him and I think this year we will see quite some dividend off this clever bit of business.
The breakthrough came in the 39th minute and it was none other than our wonderful number 10 who scored his 5th goal of the season (though 2 won’t count as in the Gamper). The very impressive Colombian Guarín, despite this mistake and a silly red, poked the ball back towards his goalie and it found Messi alone in the box. He shimmied right, took a tiny touch left, beat Helton and finished. 1-0.
We ran the half out without too much issue until Keita took way to long on the ball just before the half time whistle and needed our monster at the back Mascherano to sprint and launch into a perfect tackle. Those are the kind of tackles Puyol would be proud of.
Porto however started the second half well and in the 52nd minute Alves had the ball nicked off him thanks to great persistence from Porto, but eventually the Moutinho shot was deflected wide.
Just after that Masch got tackled after he made a super pass forward, we had a clear breakaway, but the ref blew his whistle and we had to end the play. But fair play to referee Kuipers who acknowledged the mistake. Refs will never be perfect but it’s good to see them admit it and I think that goes a long way with players.
Up till now we can’t say our performance was by any means vintage. As is normal, we need a month or so to get those pistols firing, and it was evident with a lack of the normal movement, taking a bit too long to make the final pass, etc… But at the same time, Porto in the second half didn’t look able to create a chance aside from corners and free kicks.
Nevertheless, in the 54th minute Guarín absolutely nailed a shot towards goal but VV was up to the challenge and pushed it wide, and that shot was going in. I’ve been a huge Victor since his first season and I read a piece of him recently which pointed out as I’ve always told people he’s the perfect keeper for us. He has worked incredibly hard on concentration, which is so vital for him as he doesn’t see the ball or make saves for long stretches of time. Again he was alert here to the danger from a 40 meter shot and made the save when we needed him.
Villa had a pretty super chance 2 minutes later after Messi and Iniesta combined well before our number 8 maestro slipped it left to Villa who touched it slightly too much and then with some on rushing defenders didn’t strike the ball cleanly allowing Helton to make the block.
That was pretty much the last bit of action for Villa as he was substituted out in the 61st minute for new man Alexis. A quick word on Villa. I’m a big fan, was extremely happy to sign him, but I’ll admit he needs to watch out with Alexis on his back. Villa is a model professional, works very hard, is an intelligent player, and has a very underrated assisting ability, but his finishing has not been at the standard expected. He will need to watch out because his place is under threat.
In the 59th minute, prior to the substitution, Keita saved Alves who again lost the ball in defense. And then just a minute later, a deflected pass from Messi found Pedro totally alone in the box. But, he must not have seen Helton had rushed out, because his touch was heavy and lacked impetus, allowing the keeper to come out and poke the ball to safety.
A Messi goal in the 67th minute was disallowed correctly as he just strayed offside. But Porto really played with fire defending so high up despite it working this time.
We nearly made life hard for ourselves in the 73rd minute when Valdés rushed out to clear a Porto long ball, he must not have shouted or Masch didn’t’t hear because the Argentine headered it backward into nowhere and thankfully Abidal had tracked back to clear it. Shortly after this Porto may feel harddone by not getting a penalty when Abidal took a very sloppy touch in the box which allowed Guarín to get to the ball and despite Abidal not extremely clearly taking him down he did touch him and not the ball. In real time I thought it wasn’t a penalty but in the replay I’ll admit I wouldn’t have blamed the ref for giving it. So some luck was on our side there.
In the 82nd minute Alves found himself in mountains of space on the right but put in a terrible cross, which Pep was not pleased with. Porto was reduced to 10 men in the 86th minute when Rolando took Messi down quite clearly and deservedly got a second yellow. You thought then we would get another soon.
And that did happen just 2 minutes later thanks to new boy (but not really) Cesc Fàbregas’ wonderful finish. He had come on in the 80th minute for Pedro and looked super every minute he was on. He is going to thrive in this advanced role with us. Messi had the ball outside the box, looked up to see Cesc steaming in from deep, number 10 put a perfect lobbed pass, but his pass was then matched by number 4 killing the ball dead with his chest and banging the volley into the roof of the net. You won’t see many better two touches than that. I will be perfectly honest in the fact I am adoring Cesc being back and the delight on his face after the goal gave me more joy the most goals. It was clear as can be the pure happiness he felt being able to jump into one of his best friend’s arms, the best player on the planet to boot, and know he is in for a really special ride with us. (Can’t find a photo of the goal or celebration just yet sadly)
In the 92nd minute we nearly made it 3 after Cesc played a perfect 50 meter one touch pass down the right, which Alves ran for like a demon (despite the fact it’s the 93rd minute!!!), touched it past Otamendi before smartly laying it back to Iniesta, who did brilliant to get past a defender but saw his goal bound shot saved very well indeed by Helton.
So it ended 2-0 and Pep Guardiola lifted his 12th trophy making him the most successful coach in our history as he surpassed Cruyff’s 11. Well actually, Pep didn’t lift the trophy; he went to the pitch to watch his team lift it in a perfect vision of his humility and lack of interest in the plaudits. The spirit in the team looks just fantastic and the hunger is evident.
Everyone was hugging everyone after the game, and the sincerity in the actions was obvious. These were the kind of scenes that make us special, the kind of images that make you just want to be part of this team as it is so glarying the genuine friendship and unity they have for one another. In the interest of full disclosure, there were some negative points. Abidal had a pretty bad game next to the very high standard he set last year and Alves was a bit slack at the back with possession. But for today, so early in the year, I don’t see a point to dwell.
It was also super refreshing to watch such a well-spirited match, despite the red cards. I think both players took them in their stride knowing they were fair. No one complained, no one protested. But throughout the game players were respectful to one another and after the mess of last Wednesday I seriously enjoyed it. Porto proved to me they were better than I expected and I rate the best Porto team I’ve ever seen including Mourinho defensive special of 2004. They have some really good players and as a team are hardworking and organized; they should do well enough in the Champions League.
There won’t be too much champagne tonight as we play Monday at 9 pm against Villarreal in the season opener after the strike was called off. Each and every game in La Liga will be important as despite the vileness that Mourinho and Madrid can be, they’re a pretty damn good football team and won’t drop many points in the league. See you guys then.
Goals: Messi – 39th, Fàbregas – 88th
Valdés – 7; Alves – 7, Mascherano – 8, Abidal – 5.5 , Adriano – 7 (Busquets – 7); Xavi – 7.5, Keita – 6.5, Iniesta – 7.5; Pedro – 6.5 (Fàbregas – 7.5), Messi – 8.5, Villa – 6 (Alexis – 6).