Diego Costa, Atletico Madrid deliver statement of intent in Super Cup vs. Ronaldo-less Real Madrid
TALLINN, Estonia -- Three thoughts on Europa League winners Atletico Madrid's 4-2 win over Champions League holders Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
1. Atletico finally get one over their local rivals
Atletico Madrid finally won a European "derbi," with extra-time goals from homegrown midfielders Saul Niguez and Koke sealing a 4-2 UEFA Super Cup win over Real Madrid.
Wednesday night's thriller at Tallinn's A. Le Coq Arena swung back and forth and into extra time, with Diego Costa netting twice for Atletico before Europa League holders Atletico finally got on top of triple-Champions League winners Madrid to take an extra sweet victory given all the history and local rivalry involved.
It took just 49 seconds for Costa to rampage his way through the entire Madrid defence and hammer Atletico in front, with the equaliser near the half-hour mark coming when Gareth Bale's superb curling right-footed cross was deftly headed home by Karim Benzema.
The game continued to ebb and flow after the break, with the energy and skill levels surprisingly high given how the World Cup had affected both sides' preseason preparation. Although Atletico's new midfielders Rodri and Thomas Lemar were impressing, veteran defender Juanfran's handball from a corner led to a penalty that Blancos skipper Sergio Ramos coolly converted for 2-1.
That should really have been that, especially given Atletico's history of five losses from five previous competitive European "derbis." But Simeone's side continued to battle on. With just over 10 minutes remaining Costa equalised, finishing from close range after excellent work from Juanfran and substitute Angel Correa.
Early in extra time, Ramos was at fault as Atletico won the ball at the edge of the Madrid box, and substitute Thomas Partey crossed for Saul to flash home a superb volley. Another replacement, Vitolo, then swept a pass to Koke who arrowed a low shot past Navas for 4-2.
In the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals, Atletico came up just short, with Madrid's greater strength in depth and experience being key. That the last three Rojiblanco goals Wednesday night were all laid on by substitutes was a sign that, even though this was "just" the Super Cup, Diego Simeone's side can now claim to be top dogs in the Spanish capital.
2. Bale and Benzema stand up, but need help
Losing the first big game of the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era is a big problem for Madrid's new coach Julen Lopegetui, even if both Benzema and Bale showed they can deliver more now that they are out of the Portuguese's shadow.
The understanding between the two remaining members of the "BBC" trio was clear for Madrid's equaliser, with a fully primed Bale sprinting away from Atletico's World Cup-winning left-back Lucas Hernandez, and Benzema peeling away intelligently from marker Stefan Savic to find the space he needed to nod cleverly home. That was far from the only time the pair combined well.
Benzema was also on the scene in forcing Juanfran into the spot kick early in the second period (although skipper Ramos showed he now tops the Bernabeu's pecking order by grabbing the ball to convert). At 2-1 up, Bale worried Atletico with a driving run past five defenders before his shot was blocked, while in the very last move of normal time the Welshman almost set up a dramatic winner only for Marcelo to miskick his attempted volley.
Emerging star Marco Asensio did not do badly in Ronaldo's spot in attack, but Lopetegui sending on unproven youngster Borja Mayoral in extra time showed that Madrid have not yet fully covered the loss of the reigning Ballon d'Or winner. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez may still be persuaded to get his chequebook out before La Liga's transfer window closes on Aug 31.
3. Real can't stop Costa
The game began with a bang with Costa bouncing away from both Ramos and the equally sluggish Raphael Varane before lashing a shot high past Keylor Navas, who had left a glimmer of a gap at his near post. It was the quickest goal ever scored in a UEFA competition final, and set the tone for the night.
Costa also soon got involved in a running battle with regular sparring partner Ramos, who with his arm caught his international teammate in the face. Actual strike partner Antoine Griezmann was less influential, and withdrawn early, clearly not match fit after only recently returning from a holiday after winning the World Cup.
Atletico continued to press at 2-1 down, and Griezmann's replacement Correa laid on an equaliser for Costa, who again showed hunger and aggression to be on the spot to fire home. The Brazilian-born forward also won the ball back for Atletico's clinching fourth goal, in what was a man-of-the-match performance.
Last season's return from Chelsea did not go exactly to plan for Costa, not helped by six months on the sidelines due to Atletico's FIFA transfer ban. Wednesday night's display showed he is ready to roar in 2018-19 -- and after Atleti's summer he has plenty of teammates around him to help out too.