Jose Mourinho insisted that Manchester United had emerged from their trip to Skopje for the UEFA Super Cup reinforced despite the scoreline flattering them in a 2-1 defeat to Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid.
The Portuguese manager had expected his side to struggle against the reigning European champions and they could have conceded more than just the goals scored by Casemiro and Isco, one in each half.
Casemiro hit the bar with Tuesday’s game at the Philip II Arena still goalless, and Gareth Bale struck the frame of the goal in the second half.
But on a sweltering night in the Macedonian capital last season’s Europa League winners improved in the final stages after Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit, and substitute Marcus Rashford almost equalised late on.
“I always say the Champions League is one thing and the Europa League is another, and the Champions League winner obviously has a different potential,” said ex-Real coach Mourinho, whose current team are back in Europe’s elite club competition this season.
“So for us to come here and do the positive things we did, I think we have to keep that positive feeling into the new season, and into the Champions League in September.
“I think this Super Cup was a great experience for us.”
Mourinho, who gave away his runners-up medal to a young fan, sought solace in the fact that the Old Trafford club will not need to come up against Madrid in the Premier League.
“We have top teams with different qualities. There are no replicas of (Luka) Modric, (Toni) Kroos, Isco or Casemiro,” he said.
United won the League Cup as well as the Europa League last season but are under pressure to improve after labouring to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League.
They begin their campaign at home to West Ham United on Sunday and summer signings Victor Lindelof, Lukaku and Nemanja Matic will all hope to have done enough in Skopje to keep their places.
Mourinho was especially pleased with ex-Chelsea midfielder Matic, saying the Serb “moved the ball well and gave balance to the team to start building from the back”.
– No move for Bale? –
Lukaku also earned praise from his manager after the £75 million ($97 million) recruit from Everton scored on his competitive debut, but United’s attack looked like it could still do with the extra quality a player like Bale would bring.
Mourinho had mischievously suggested he would interpret Bale as being for sale and would therefore make a move for the Welshman if he did not start for Real.
But Bale did start, setting up Isco’s goal as well as hitting the bar before being replaced on 74 minutes. Mourinho later told BT Sport that it was “game over” as far as that move was concerned.
For all his success in the game, Mourinho has still never won the Super Cup, while Zidane has now won the trophy two years running.
Real have now lifted the Super Cup on four separate occasions but what is really striking is the success enjoyed by Zidane in his time as coach.
This was his sixth trophy since being appointed in January last year, just 19 months ago.
“There were big celebrations in the dressing room, we don’t get tired of winning,” said the Frenchman, whose side will defend the Champions League crown and La Liga this season.
He described his side’s performance as “almost perfect” and added: “I don’t know if we can play any better, but we will try. We know that we have difficult opponents, with another one coming on Sunday. But our ambition is to keep getting better.”
Real face Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup this Sunday and Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to play a key role in that game after making a brief appearance from the bench against United.