Barcelona convincingly beat Real Madrid 3-1 in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to win the Spanish Super Cup, their first trophy since coach Xavi Hernandez took over.
Inspired by teenager Gavi, who scored himself and set up goals for Robert Lewandowski and Pedri Gonzalez, the Catalans produced one of their best performances in years against their bitter Clasico rivals.
Having enjoyed great success as a player at Barca, Xavi returned in November 2021 and after a summer of heavy spending this emphatic victory is a sign his project is moving in the right direction.
Karim Benzema netted a late consolation for Madrid, who have been far from their best since the World Cup break and also fell three points behind Barcelona in La Liga last weekend.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti suffered his first defeat in a final since 2014, with Los Blancos surrendering the trophy they earned last season to Barcelona, who have now won the Super Cup a record 14 times.
Xavi crucially deployed four central midfielders, with Gavi drifting inside off a nominal starting position on the left and frequently giving Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal the slip.
Toni Kroos played as Madrid’s deepest midfielder with Aurelien Tchouameni out injured, and he was overrun by the energetic Pedri, ably supported by Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets.
Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was outstanding in his team’s semi-final victory over Valencia on Wednesday, made a brilliant early save to deny Lewandowski, tipping his low drive against the post and out.
At the other end Benzema headed narrowly off-target after finding space in the box to meet Ferland Mendy’s inviting cross.
Barcelona broke the deadlock when Busquets won the ball high up the pitch after a loose Antonio Rudiger pass, leading to Lewandowski feeding Gavi, who slotted home confidently with his left foot.
Pedri and Ousmane Dembele were also involved in an exchange of slick passes before Lewandowski teed up the 18-year-old, whose clever run went untracked.
Gavi turned provider for the second, running on to De Jong’s pass and sliding the ball across the face of goal for Lewandowski to finish clinically.
The Catalans’ dominance brought back memories of their 4-0 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last season, which had been the highlight of Xavi’s time at Barcelona until now.
– Golden boys –
Gavi, who won the Golden Boy award in 2022, was the game’s outstanding performer and showed Barcelona are in good hands both now and for years to come.
Madrid’s own young star Vinicius Junior was shackled by Ronald Araujo, the Uruguayan playing at right-back to directly subdue the Brazilian’s threat.
Dembele should have extended Barcelona’s lead early in the second half when Alejandro Balde darted down the left, leaving Carvajal for dead, and found him with a raking pass, but Courtois denied the French winger.
The Belgian stopper was called into action again soon after, foiling Lewandowski from a tight angle at the near post.
By contrast, Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen went untested until the 70th minute, when he collected a long-distance Kroos effort, by when his side had netted their third.
Lewandowski released Gavi, who crossed for Pedri to tap home at the back post as Barcelona romped to a compelling victory.
Pedri, 20, also won the Golden Boy award in 2021 and is another emblem of the maturing young talent at Xavi’s disposal.
The only blot on Barcelona’s copybook was a late Benzema strike, finishing after his first effort was blocked.
Although Xavi will ultimately be judged on his performance in major competitions — and Barcelona have already been eliminated from this season’s Champions League — he will take heart from this victory.