After last season's incredible string of four El Clasico games in 16 days, Real Madrid and Barcelona returned to warfare in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup last night at the Santiago Bernabeu in the traditional two-legged tie between the La Liga Champions and Copa del Rey winners.
In what should be a pre-season warm up and run out for players returning from international duty, the game last night took on a session of bragging rights and holding ground before the season starts properly.
What transpired was a game befitting the term El Clasico, the greatest pre-season friendly ever seen, a match played at such a pace, with such cut and thrust, it left that which the Premier League could offer over its first weekend proper trailing in its wake.
The sheer physicality deployed by Real Madrid was brutal, and typical of Jose Mourinho's side. The midfield cannot match the gracefulness of Xavi and Iniesta, so instead intend to disrupt their flow by fouling and leaving a mark in the tackle, as Barca attempt to ghost away from challenges. Pepe and Xabi Alonso were generals of this army, with new baby-faced assassin Callejon joining the fray with a half hour remaining targeting Xavi especially.
Madrid started off much the livelier and gaining the lead after a dozen minutes when Benzema laid on a square pass to Mezut Ozil to convert pass Victor Valdes who was the busier of the two goalkeepers. And yet it was his opposite number, Iker Casillas who had to pick the ball out of the net twice. Firstly, due to a wonderful curler by David Villa and then by another slalom run by Messi who capitalised on some tentative defending by Madrid and then outmuscled any tacklers to give Barca a narrow (yet undeserving) half-time lead.
In the second half, the physicality to disrupt the Barcelona tempo was more apparent and eventually it came to fruition when after a scramble at a corner, Alonso placed a shot in the corner past a flat-footed Valdes, although the lack of attempted block and defenders turning their back will leave much for Guardiola to ponder - even though they hold the upper hand before the 2nd leg on Wednesday night at the Nou Camp.
When Madrid looked lively, I wondered if that was what we were going to see. A hungry and tenacious Madrid side who want to usurp Barcelona from the throne of Spain and Europe, a squad fully fit with new faces, whilst in Catalunya a team who may have reached their zenith and pinnacle. Messi and Alves looked tired after their Copa America exertions, yet Alexis Sanchez looked a great buy - a strong, versatile frontman who made good runs and defending from the front.
However, once the game got longer the thirst of competition and the rivalry came to the surface, Barcelona did not want to give their long-term rivals an inch of victory over them or anything to shout about. The Madrid onslaught in the last ten minutes could not muster a winner, and yet this pulsating tie has a second chapter in two days time. If it is anything like this game, it may leave you breathless but expectant for the forthcoming Spanish domestic campaign.