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Barça overwhelm Madrid to lift first title of Xavi era

Ancelotti's side lacked physicality, while Gavi shone for Barça
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AP/HUSEIN MALLA  -   Barcelona players celebrate with a trophy after winning the Spanish Super Cup final between Barcelona and Real Madrid in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2023

The Super Cup final was not going to be just another game for Real Madrid or Barcelona. A minor title, to the greater glory of an RFEF that will give more money to Piqué's company for organising the event (4 million euros) than to Barça (2.8) or Betis (750,000 euros).  

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REUTERS/AHMEDYOSRI - FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta, Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez and Real Federación Española de Fútbol President Luis Rubiales on the podium before the medal ceremony

The problem was that the team that lost the title would need to recover physically and mentally for the rest of the season. Barça and their Europa League against Manchester or Real Madrid and their Champions League against a Liverpool side, albeit in a slump.  

Ancelotti is starting to discover leaks in defence and cannot find a midfield other than Modric and Kroos in good form. The Croatian has a significant physical downturn and the German had some uncharacteristic mistakes with turnovers that he is not remembered for. Holding the midfield with Camavinga was insufficient because Valverde did not accompany him in this dance of moving the ball quickly and with sense.  

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AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE - Barcelona players celebrate their team's third goal during the Spanish Super Cup final football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 15, 2023

Xavi survives at Barça thanks to Busquets and De Jong. Two players pressured to the extreme by Laporta to leave who are making the team work well above the coach's instructions. Pedri and Gavi have more miles on the clock than they should, but at that age only a coach with pedigree and experience can make them even better.

Barça's first goal came after a Real Madrid turnover. The Catalan club read well the weakness of the white midfield and attacked the spaces. A ball from Lewandowski to Gavi who beat Courtois, who could not do any more miracles.

The calamitous white defence led to the second goal after another lost ball by Rudiger, Carvajal wanted to recover it in midfield and left a highway behind him that Gavi took advantage of to set up an easy ball for Lewandowski to score the second goal before the break.  

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REUTERS/AHMED YOSRI - Robert Lewandowski scores his second goal

Rodrygo was not the change that has given Ancelotti so much. Another player who notices the physical downturn and isn't able to drag the ball up for Vinicius or Benzema to work magic. That went out in December and it's in Ancelotti's hands to either repeat the role of his last season in white or lift this team.  

His glances at the bench were reminiscent of Mourinho's years ago when he complained that quality was lacking. The missing Mariano, the resigned Hazard, two goalkeepers, a home-grown player and the sacked Odriozola. Injuries and a lack of goals showed the squad's problems when the going gets tough.  

Barça continued to hurt Real Madrid. It had not happened for a long time, but the blaugranas have not lost their ability to kill off their great rivals when they can, something Los Blancos struggle to do. Dembele had a good chance that Courtois saved and in the 77th minute, Pedri put the third after another defensive error and an excellent pass from Gavi.  

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AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE - Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Gavi celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish Super Cup final football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 15, 2023

Even Araújo was a good full-back in a defence occupied by Koundé and Christensen. The Uruguayan is one of those resourceful trunks who was given a chance by Koeman, even if he has publicly disowned the Dutchman.   

Asensio and Ceballos were Real Madrid's most goalscoring changes, although the only goal was scored by an insistent Benzema who needs more from Vinicius if he is to raise the level of the squad before he goes back to Infantino's business in Morocco with the Club World Cup in a fortnight's time.  

Xavi's first title is well received among Barça fans. The argument that justifies levers and opens the purse strings to keep on earning while Tebas has no choice but to turn a blind eye.