A summer of inactivity could come back to bite Zinedine Zidane, with the cracks barely papered over as his Real Madrid lucked out against Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup.
Madrid have missed out on Paul Pogba and Andre Gomes to Manchester United and Barcelona respectively and a lack of grip on the midfield battle almost cost them most in Trondheim before Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal snatched a 3-2 extra-time victory.
Toni Kroos was absent on Tuesday and a half-paced Luka Modric came off the bench, leaving Isco and Mateo Kovacic to pull the strings for the most part.
Kovacic has done little over the past 12 months to display that he was worth an outlay of almost €30million and this was no different.
There was no spark from the Croatia international. Not once during both players’ time on the pitch did he pass to centre-forward Alvaro Morata.
Whose fault exactly that was may be unclear, Morata also looked well off the pace and failed to even touch the ball in Sevilla’s penalty area in his 62 minutes on the pitch.
22 – Álvaro Morata made 22 touches against Sevilla, none of them in the opposite box. Disconnection. pic.twitter.com/HltqHoCRaO
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 9, 2016
Similarly, Kovacic’s defensive contribution was next to nil – turning his back meekly to allow Franco Vazquez to hook home an equaliser after Marco Asensio had thundered Madrid ahead from 30 yards.
If Kovacic failed in his task to prove he is first-team ready, Asensio looks the real deal.
Signed from Mallorca 18 months ago, the attacking midfielder operated on the left side of Madrid’s front three – good luck keeping that when Ronaldo is back – and ran the show.
Accurate set-piece delivery – again, Ronaldo will see to this – set the tone before a wispy burst down the left and flash across goal ought to have been converted by Isco.
Sensing an opportunity was there to be grasped, Asensio lit up the contest in the 21st minute, allowing the ball to pass across him before somehow both lackadaisically and lethally finding the top-left corner.
Madrid faded badly, though.
Zidane’s side have played just three friendlies so far, half as many as Sevilla, and only one player – Lucas Vazquez – has played a full 90 minutes thus far, it was perhaps telling that he was still sharp enough to set up Ramos’ last-minute equaliser in extra time.
Timothee Kolodziejczak’s dismissal early in the additional period gave them time to breathe and eventually it was another piece of individual brilliance from Carvajal that won it.
There were hugely positive signs for Sevilla and new coach Jorge Sampaoli, however.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 9, 2016
A formation as confusing as it was captivating – Vitolo especially seemed to fit between at least three different positions – was classic Sampaoli, as was Sevilla’s tigerish high press, which stopped Casemiro from transferring play from Madrid’s defence to their playmakers.
Kevin Gameiro has left Sevilla – as their top scorers always do – but many onlookers had highlighted the departure of Grzegorz Krychowiak as possibly having a greater impact on Sevilla’s ability to control games.
On this evidence, Franco Vazquez appears to be – though not entirely directly – an able replacement.
Krychowiak was previously the fulcrum that Sevilla launched from, and Vazquez was in this game, although operating 30 yards further up the field.
Vicente Iborra and Steven N’Zonzi sat deep in destructive roles and the ball was put into Vazquez’s possession whenever possible.
The €15m recruit from Palermo lacks pace, but the ball stuck to him brilliantly, while his physical strength and six-foot-plus frame ensured Madrid’s defence found it tough to rob him.
It would appear on this evidence that Sevilla have once again regenerated when it looked like they would fade away.
How Madrid could learn from their opponents’ ability to balance a squad.