Cristiano Ronaldo sent off but Real Madrid easily beat Barcelona
Three quick things as Sunday evening's Spanish Supercopa first leg at the Camp Nou finishes Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid.
1. Madrid in full control in dramatic night for Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo only needed 24 minutes to steal the show in Sunday's Spanish Supercopa first leg at the Camp Nou, scoring a dramatic lead goal for his team before being sent off.
After Gerard Pique's own goal was followed by Lionel Messi's controversial penalty, Ronaldo struck a superb goal to put his team in control of the tie, cutting inside Pique and finding the top corner from 20 yards. The Portugal international's night soon turned extra dramatic, as he went down claiming a penalty under minimal contact from Samuel Umtiti before being shown a second yellow card for simulation. His angry response, including a push on referee Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea, could lead to extra punishment.
Yet there was still time for Madrid substitute Marco Asensio to score the goal of the night, slamming the ball to the net on the run from 25 yards, and the 3-1 advantage means Zinedine Zidane's side are huge favourites to lift the trophy after Wednesday's second leg at the Bernabeu.
Such drama was far away during a scoreless first 45 minutes, which brought half-chances for Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, but both teams mostly cancelled each other out in a physical opening period. Spain's emerging star referee, De Burgos Bengoetxea, had shown five yellow cards by the break in his first Clasico.
Four minutes into the second half came Pique's unfortunate intervention. The Barca defender himself cleared a corner, but the ball fell to Isco, who cleverly played Marcelo in down the left wing. When the cross came in, the Barca centre-back swung at the ball at the near post but only succeeded in directing the ball away from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who was waiting behind him to easily collect.
The first Clasico own goal in 15 years was bad luck for the outspoken Pique, but his misfortune would have been especially enjoyed by Blancos fans and pundits who do not often enjoy his off-pitch interventions.
The game opened up from there, with chances at either end. Sergio Busquets fired over when unmarked eight yards out and then Suarez went to ground dramatically after Keylor Navas came off his line to challenge. The reaction looked exaggerated but De Burgos pointed to the spot, and Messi calmly rolled in the spot-kick to stretch his Clasico record to 24 goals in 35 games.
Ronaldo quickly gave his response, as the 32-year-old rolled back the years by screeching away on the break, easily cutting inside Pique and curling a right-footed shot into the far top corner from edge of box. It was a scene-stealing moment, but the shirt-off celebration brought a yellow card, which soon proved extra expensive.
2. Deulofeu doesn't take chance to replace Neymar
Nine months ago, Gerard Deulofeu was struggling to get on the bench for Everton, but circumstances have since intervened, and the winger was starting tonight in you-know-who's previous spot on Barca's left wing.
Deulofeu didn't have a bad first half, but he also didn't really impact the game. The 23-year-old was caught offside a couple of times and also dispossessed in his own half in what was his nervous first real game at the Camp Nou in four years. The La Masia graduate did show his class and understanding with one clever flick around the corner to set up a flowing move forward. but in general, he struggled to show his worth.
At 1-0 came his chance to make his point, when a cross came his way in space in the box. The winger's cross/shot was well-struck, but just missed both Messi's diving foot and the far post. Soon afterward, he made way for Denis Suarez in Valverde's first substitution and Suarez also mixed good and bad, really annoying Luis Suarez with one decision to shoot when the Uruguay international was free in front of goal.
It did not help that, as Deulofeu was trying to show what he could do, Neymar was scoring on his debut for Paris Saint-Germain in their 3-0 Ligue 1 win at Guingamp. An extra irony was added by Asensio's late superb goal: The boyhood blaugrana fan would have moved to the Camp Nou in the summer of 2014, but Barca's board could not find €3.5 million to sign a player who now looks the most natural Neymar replacement anywhere.
3. Bale struggling in this Madrid system
With Ronaldo on the bench because of his late start in preseason, Zidane again used a 4-4-2 shape with Isco at the tip of a midfield diamond, and Bale alongside Karim Benzema up front. This system really does not suit the Wales international, who could well drop to the bench for the second leg if an appeal frees the Portugal captain to start at the Bernabeu.
Bale cut a frustrated figure in the first 45 minutes as he toiled in a centre-forward role and was well-marshalled by Umtiti and Pique. As he looked to get more involved, he was lucky not to see yellow for a clumsy challenge on Messi and then did go into the book for arriving late on Busquets. The €101 million galactico did show his quality when flashing a first time shot toward the goal from Isco's clever pull-back, but Ter Stegen was able to deal with a shot that was powerful but struck close to his body.
With the second half substitutions, Madrid were back to a 4-3-3 formation and Bale spent more time wide. Two excellent crosses deserved better finishes from Isco and Ronaldo, although he was soon sacrificed as Zidane looked to seal things up with 10 men.
Bale was on the bench in the final moments when Asensio once more showed his quality. The Mallorcan has now scored on debut in Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey, European Supercup and Spanish Supercopa. His performances could now be an extra barrier to Bale starting regularly for Madrid this season.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan