Real Madrid hold off late Man United charge to win the UEFA Super Cup
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Three quick thoughts as Real Madrid win the European Super Cup with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United at the Philip II Arena...
1. Real Madrid win their fourth Super Cup
Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane answered the first question of the night with his team selection. United manager Jose Mourinho said, mischievously, at his prematch news conference that he "would be waiting" for Gareth Bale if the Welshman is not in Zidane's plans at Real Madrid next season. But Bale started, with Cristiano Ronaldo left on the bench after returning to training only at the weekend, to seemingly remove any doubt.
Meanwhile, the answer to whether Mourinho would use a back four or a back three was not revealed until kickoff. It was a surprise when a team that looked like 4-3-3 on paper lined up with Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian as three centre-backs and Jesse Lingard and Antonio Valencia at wing-back. Yet the nuance didn't stop Real Madrid from taking the lead after 23 minutes.
Casemiro had already hit the crossbar with a header when Dani Carvajal lofted the ball over United's defence in his direction. The Brazil international snuck in between Lindelof and Valencia to plant his finish past United keeper David De Gea. There was a hint of offside, but referee Gianluca Rocchi wasn't interested in Lindelof's halfhearted appeals.
That Real Madrid ended the first half having had 63 percent possession was a fair reflection of how the first 45 minutes had gone. Mourinho's response was to swap Marcus Rashford for Lingard at half-time, but it didn't have the desired effect as Toni Kroos forced De Gea into a good save and Marcelo went close after an error by Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Yet there was no mistake from Isco when the Spaniard was played in by Bale to put Madrid up 2-0 after 52 minutes.
Romelu Lukaku, United's new £75 million star, should have got one back immediately afterward, but blazed his shot over the crossbar (when it seemed easier to score) after Paul Pogba's header came back off Madrid keeper Keylor Navas. Luckily for Lukaku, Navas presented a similar chance moments later, and this time the Belgium striker found the net to make it 2-1. It came moments after Bale hit the bar to almost make it 3-0.
Defeat might cause Mourinho some disappointment, but a strong final 20 minutes in which United chased an equaliser is something on which to build. Meanwhile, Real's victory continues their stunning run of accomplishments under Zidane.
2. Real Madrid turn it on when it matters
The Spanish champions haven't had a great preseason, losing to United, Manchester City and Barcelona on their tour of the United States. They were expected to be undercooked and lacking fitness, but with a third Super Cup in four years on offer, they turned it on when it mattered.
Zidane picked a strong team, even if he did leave Ronaldo on the bench. There is still a chance they could add Kylian Mbappe, Monaco's teenage forward, before the end of the transfer window, which would make an already frightening forward line even more fearsome.
While La Liga rivals Barcelona have lost one of their stars in Neymar, Real Madrid have kept everyone they wanted to keep so far. James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, peripheral figures from last season, are gone. But the team responsible for the Champions League and Spanish league double have remained.
After a summer of turmoil at the Camp Nou, they should start the Spanish Super Cup with Barcelona as favourites when the first leg gets underway on Sunday.
Yet Zidane must feel his team could have done more to prevent the chances United did get. Navas' role in Lukaku's goal will get a lot of attention, particularly because De Gea was stood at the other end. But other than that, Real looked slick on the ball and dangerous going forward.
And they did much of it without Ronaldo, who came on in the 80th minute.
3. It's very early, but United still look short
Mourinho wanted to win the Super Cup and insisted in his prematch interview that his team would indeed "go for it." But after a bright start, United didn't look truly dangerous until Marouane Fellaini came on for Ander Herrera at 2-0 down and they started playing more direct football.
Lukaku's goal against the Champions League winners will do him no harm ahead of a season when he will try to prove he can do it against the big teams, especially after his glaring miss minutes earlier. Nemanja Matic's competitive debut was also a positive, and he should only get better after training alone at Chelsea for most of the summer.
Mourinho says he is still looking for new players, and this seemed to prove him right. Another attacking player -- whether or not it's Bale -- would add more of a spark. Goals were a problem last season, and it could be the same story this term as Lukaku missed a sitter and substitute Marcus Rashford flashed a good chance wide late on that would have made it 2-2.
Still, it is very early to draw real conclusions. After the Premier League starts with West Ham's visit to Old Trafford on Sunday, the first proper test of United's title credentials won't arrive until they face Liverpool at Anfield in mid-October.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.