Manchester United were unable to kick off the competitive season with a trophy, suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
On a humid night in Skopje, a second-half strike from Romelu Lukaku proved only to be a consolation for United, as goals from Casemiro and Isco were enough to seal a 2-1 victory for the European champions.
Real Madrid enjoyed the majority of possession and chances in the first half, with Welsh forward Gareth Bale firing wide from close range and Casemiro rattling the crossbar with a header early on.
The Champions League holders took the lead after 24 minutes when Casemiro found the net, latching onto a Dani Carvajal through ball. Despite looking marginally offside, the flag stayed down and the Brazilian was able to finish past David De Gea.
Real continued to press, with both Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos forcing good saves from De Gea either side of the half-time break, before Isco doubled the lead for Zinedine Zidane’s side, coolly finishing off a well-worked one-two with Bale.
Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic were all making their official debuts for United, and the Reds went close to pulling one back when Paul Pogba’s header was parried by Madrid keeper Keylor Navas, but Lukaku was unable to convert the rebound from close range.
Bale almost made it 3-0 when his effort thundered against De Gea’s crossbar, but it was game on less than a minute later when Lukaku pulled one back for United. A low effort from Matic was parried by Navas, with the Belgian striker showing a killer instinct to pounce on the loose ball and halve the deficit.
United continued to push for an equaliser, with substitute Marcus Rashford looking lively. The England international came close to sending the tie into extra-time when he went through one-on-one against Navas, only to have his effort tipped around the post by the Real keeper.
Fellow substitute Marouane Fellaini also nearly found a way through late on with a header, but was again denied by the impressive Navas as Real Madrid held on to claim victory in the first ever Super Cup meeting between the two sides.
United: De Gea; Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Darmian; Matic, Herrera (Fellaini 56), Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Lingard (Rashford 46); Lukaku. Substitutes not used: Romero, Blind, Carrick, Mata, Martial.
Booked: Lingard, Rashford.
Real Madrid: Navas, Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Isco (Lucas Vazquez 74), Benzema (Ronaldo 82), Bale (Asensio 74). Substitutes not used: Casilla, Nacho, Theo, Kovacic.
Booked: Carvajal, Ramos.
NINETY MINUTES FOR UNITED NEW BOYS
Although the result in Skopje was disappointing, Jose Mourinho will be happy that all three of his new signings got 90 minutes under their belts in tough conditions. After missing a good chance earlier in the game, Lukaku will take confidence from a well-taken goal on his competitive debut, while Lindelof and Matic – making only his second appearance since May – will be one step closer to full fitness ahead of this weekend’s Premier League kick-off.
PLENTY OF POSITIVES
United emerged from the the showpiece event with no fresh injury concerns, with plenty of players looking like they’re ready to hit the ground running for the new season. David De Gea was in fine form once again, making a string of top-drawer saves to prevent Real from further extending their lead, while Marcus Rashford proved to be a real handful for the Madrid defence when he came off the bench. The Reds showed tremendous determination to get back into the game from being 2-0 down, creating good chances and fighting valiantly against the Champions League holders, which will give Jose – who praised the team for their spirit after the match – plenty of encouragement for the season ahead.
WHAT NEXT FOR UNITED?
Our attention now turns to the return of the domestic season, with United starting the campaign with a home game against West Ham United on Sunday 13 August. We’ll be welcoming a familiar face back to Old Trafford, with former Reds striker Javier Hernandez set to make his debut for the Hammers.