Real Madrid were made to work for their Spanish Super Cup victory, beating Atletico on penalties after a goalless draw, but they had some beautiful sh*thousery from Fede Valverde to thank for even getting that far.
The last 18 months have been difficult for Los Blancos, with the ruthlessness which brought three straight Champions League titles giving way to a muddled outlook and results to match.
They might not return to the top of the tree this time out – at the time of writing they’re behind Barcelona on goal difference at the summit of La Liga and awaiting a tricky Champions League test against tournament favourites Manchester City – but they seem to be in a better place than they were for much of last season.
If you’re a Real Madrid fan, you’re unlikely to have always seen yourself as the ‘good guys’. Don’t be fooled by the kit – the term ‘whiter than white’ is not one you’d associate with the 33-time Spanish champions.
Their modus operandi is essentially ‘do what it takes to win’, rather than any suggestion of moral purity, and Valverde surely had this in mind when he took down Alvaro Morata with the striker bearing down on goal.
As with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s famous foul for Manchester United against Newcastle, or Luis Suarez’s handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup, the punishment and the crime don’t always feel in sync. With the clock winding down, and the alternative a near-certain goal, the red card almost seems more like a reward than a sanction. Indeed, as the Uruguayan is shown red by referee Jose Sanchez, you can almost sense Jose Mourinho, former Real Madrid boss and original king of the sh*thouses, giving him a pat on the back from afar.
📽 Federico Valverde'nin kırmızı kart gördüğü pozisyon ve sonrasında yaşananlar. pic.twitter.com/fUCU2jsfTd
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As Morata breaks through the middle, there’s no point at which Valverde’s eyes even enter the same timezone as the ball.
With just a couple of minutes left on the clock, a goal for Atleti would almost certainly mean a win – it’s surely easier to hold on for the remaining time with 10 men than to find an equaliser with 11 against a team that has conceded just 12 league goals all season.
As the opposition players rush to confront him, the midfielder seems unbothered. He knows his punishment before he makes contact, and he’s only made more powerful by the anger of those from Atleti. If anything, they of all people should have been ready for this, not just in a ‘what goes around comes around’ way but just in a sense that the bad guys aren’t going to avoid doing something just because it’s ‘against the rules’.
Don’t get me wrong, ‘the bad guys’ is not meant as a negative here, not in the slightest. For as long as football has been so heavily weighted towards winning at all costs, with so much on the line every single week, actively channeling evil becomes a cause for celebration when it’s so clearly a means to an end. This is real life, not a superhero movie, and there’s rarely a late miracle to stop evil in its tracks.
You can even see Valverde deliver a sly, knowing wink as he shrugs off the attention of Stefan Savic and the rest of the encroaching red and white striped sprawl. It might not have been aimed literally at team-mate Sergio Ramos, a man who has mastered stretching the rules in his favour and mentally poking his rivals in the eye, but in a spiritual sense you felt this was him looking up to the heavens and asking Ramos, “How am I doing, boss?”
Ramos to Valverde after his tackle on Morata pic.twitter.com/rfOWbHUhbw
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“I told him not to worry anyone would have done what he did in his place, he did what he had to do,” said Atleti boss Diego Simeone, who is hardly a stranger to doing everything you can both inside and outside the rules.
When a man of that pedigree is praising your contribution, you know you’ve got things spot on.
Fede Valverde wasn’t able to stick around to take a penalty in Real Madrid’s victorious shoot-out, while he’ll also sit out the league match against Sevilla due to suspension.
However, as he watched Ramos put away the decisive penalty, he knew he’d won.
By Tom Victor