Atlético Madrid could not conjure up that extra ounce of quality over a grueling two hours at King Abdullah Sports City and lost the Supercopa de España final to Real Madrid in a painful penalty shootout.
The capital clubs were raring to go from kickoff and each saw chances in the opening 15 minutes. Álvaro Morata flung a dangerous cross into the penalty area inside three minutes, but the ball was cleared away. The following minutes saw Luka Modrić and Casemiro take long-range shots at Jan Oblak — the captain, of course, was up to the task.
Atlético’s first real opportunity came on 14 minutes, when Sergio Ramos gave away the ball in the box. A waiting João Félix intercepted and went for goal, but fizzed the shot well wide. The 20-year-old had to do a whole lot better.
The first half settled into a dull rhythm soon after. Real Madrid maintained steady possession, turning to Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy on the flanks to attack Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi respectively. Atlético pressed effectively in midfield and dropped deeper as a unit when necessary. Casemiro had the only great chance in this stretch — a header from a corner, but it shot over the bar.
Minutes into the second half, Luka Jović sprung free on a long solo run, which forced José Giménez to make a key tackle in his own box. Jović was at the heart of another Madrid move shortly thereafter, when Luka Modrić delivered a good ball that the Serbian couldn’t quite guide on goal.
Atlético continued to defend and held Real Madrid to 11 shots over the first 90 minutes. But a 67th minute screwup saw los Blancos notch arguably their best chance of the long, long night. Jović crossed to Fede Valverde, split the center backs and had a free header, but his attempt took a deflection and rolled away harmlessly.
Trippier crafted the next big chance, for Álvaro Morata. The former Real Madrid forward ran in behind Sergio Ramos, but Thibaut Courtois made the save 10 minutes from time.
Oblak stood tall in second half injury time, with a good stop on substitute Rodrygo Goes to send the match to extra time — the fifth straight final which required the two Madrid teams to play an extra 30 minutes.
As can happen in extra time, the match opened up as both teams dealt with fatigue. Chances became clearer as the battle wore on. Morata created a good chance for Vitolo, but the winger — so effective against Barcelona — fluffed his lines this time.
Both coaches shuffled their respective decks once more before the final 15 minutes commenced, as Zinedine Zidane threw on Vinicíus Júnior and Simeone made two more changes. An angry (and possibly still injured) José Giménez exited for Stefan Savić on 98 minutes, while João Félix — who spent most of his night getting fouled — came off for Santiago Arias in an interesting move. Ostensibly, Simeone’s intention was to have Arias and Trippier push up on either side, move Saúl back into midfield, and flank Morata with Correa and Vitolo on either side.
The second half of extra time saw the first serious fireworks of the evening. Oblak made a double save on Modrić and Mariano Díaz before Morata raced up the pitch to set up a one-on-one with Courtois — only to be taken down cynically outside the box. Fede Valverde was the guilty party, and he was deservedly sent off for intentionally taking out Morata (who got a nice boil on his forehead for his efforts). Correa and Savić acted as the enforcers in the ensuing dispute between Blancos and Rojiblancos — the Montenegrin was booked in the row, as was Dani Carvajal.
Courtois then made a double save on Correa before stepping up in the shootout. Saúl mirrored Juanfran’s 2016 spot kick in Milan by ringing the opening penalty off the post. The Belgian stopped Thomas Partey’s effort, which was hit hard but too low. Trippier scored his penalty, a bullet into the top left corner. But by the time the right back walked up to the spot, the result had virtually been sealed — Carvajal, Rodrygo and Modrić all sent Oblak the wrong way before Ramos iced it, as he always seems to do in these situations.
The mattress makers performed pretty well considering the exorbitant circumstances, and the match unfolded at the pace they wanted. The low block was effective and Oblak made three great stops before his shootout struggles returned. In the end, Atlético’s Saudi Arabian journey saw a high high on Thursday and a low low on Sunday. One may wonder whether it was all worth it as the team expended a ton of energy, lost its captain and were eliminated in awful fashion (with a questionable lineup of shooters). But one way or another, Atleti were intent on bringing spirit to the Supercopa and making memories in this newly-formatted competition.
And we won’t have to wait very long for these two to meet again — Simeone’s men head to the Santiago Bernabéu on Feb. 1. Atlético will return home now and get set to face Eibar next Saturday.
ATM XI Oblak; Trippier, Felipe, Giménez (Savić 98’), Lodi (Llorente 89’); Thomas, Herrera (Vitolo 55’), Correa, Saúl; Félix (Arias 101’), Morata.
RM XI Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; Kroos (Vinicíus 103’), Casemiro, Valverde (red card 115’); Modrić, Isco (Rodrygo 60’), Jović (Mariano 83’).