Real Madrid 2-0 Eintracht Frankfurt (Alaba 37′, Benzema 65′) Olympic Stadium, Helsinki
Ansgar Knauff won’t remember Karim Benzema’s first goal in Europe. He hadn’t yet turned three. But he’ll remember his most recent for a while, watching up close as the prolific French striker’s second-half strike sealed a fifth Super Cup for Real Madrid.
As the final whistle blew, Knauff approached Benzema before anyone else, the 34-year-old striker turning to acknowledge a player he can expect to see more of in the coming years. Though Knauff’s disappointment was clear, his head was held high. He and his team had given their all.
“I’m proud of the team this evening,” said head coach Oliver Glasner at full-time. “There are lots of positives to take from this. We kept playing, kept pushing forward. These experiences will help us learn to compete at this level.”
Ansgar Knauff takes center stage
Eintracht Frankfurt know how to recover from disappointment. They bounced back from losing the German Cup final in 2017 to win it the next year. They bounced back from losing the Europa League semifinal on penalties in 2019 to win it three years later. And they bounced back from a relegation playoff in 2016 to take their place in the Champions League this year.
Knauff, on loan from Borussia Dortmund, was a bright spot in a game that offered signs of encouragement and valuable experience for the Germans but ultimately showed the gulf between them and Europe’s elite. Just like Friday’s 6-1 defeat to Bayern Munich.
To rub salt in the wounds, it was a former Bayern man who broke the deadlock in an even first half, David Alaba side-footing home after Frankfurt failed to clear a corner.
Benzema settled things in the second half after some brilliant work from Vinicius Junior. But before that Frankfurt had posed a genuine threat, with much of that due to Knauff’s smart work on the right.
Now in his second season on loan, Knauff was a key figure in the Europa League run that brought the Eagles to Helsinki. The 20-year-old played every minute of the knockout stages and was named as the best young player in the competition. He was Eintracht’s standout on Wednesday too.
Part of his remit now is to replace the man named as best player in the competition overall; not in positional, but in creative terms. Filip Kostic did not board the plane from Frankfurt to Helsinki on Tuesday morning, instead choosing to finalize terms on a move to Juventus. He was missed.
“With his pace and penetration down the left, Kostic might have been able to cause Real some problems,” commented former German international Lothar Matthäus on broadcaster RTL. “But he wasn’t there. He’ll be a sporting loss for Eintracht.”
Christopher Lenz, Kostic’s replacement at left wingback, doesn’t look a long-term solution. The 27-year-old has completed 90 minutes just once for Frankfurt in 2022 and, though a diligent enough defender, offers nothing like the Serbian’s threat going forward. He’s registered just 11 assists in his whole professional career, Kostic got 15 last season alone.
“I was a little bit confused,” Lenz told DW. “Yesterday we found out he was staying in Frankfurt, so I knew maybe I’d play. His style is completely different to me, but I hope I can help the team with my strengths.”
Frankfurt rue missed chances
Given the short notice departure, Frankfurt coach Glasner admitted he had little choice but to keep the same patterns of play and shape that were so successful in his side’s European run last term. That mean Frankfurt often looked left for an attacking outlet when the center was congested. But as they so often do, they adapted quickly, realizing that Knauff was a greater threat with the ball at feet.
The loanee looked comfortable from the off, just as he had in Seville in May. He was the catalyst for the Eagles’ best chance of the game on 14 minutes; pestering, muscling and dispossessing Ferland Mendy on the halfway line before quickly feeding Rafael Santos Borre, whose measured through ball allowed Daichi Kamada a chance around the penalty spot.
Much like Liverpool in the Champions League final, the silky Japanese midfielder found Thibault Courtois impossible to beat.
But, confidence up after a tidy start, Knauff fancied his chances against the Belgian. As Frankfurt roared forward down the opposite flank ten minutes later, he raised his arm in space. The ball didn’t come. So another run did. When it eventually arrived Knauff stood up Mendy, found a yard and tested Courtois with a stinging drive from a tight angle before a tame effort following a mazy run ended up in the keeper’s gloves.
By the end of the match he’d had half his team’s shots and two of their three on target. All were good efforts, but none were good enough. The same was true for his team.
Glasner threw on Mario Götze early in the second half, the new signing an experienced player capable of picking defensive locks. A global star by the time he scored the winner for Germany in the 2014 World Cup at 22, his experience of the highs and lows of football should prove invaluable to Knauff and Frankfurt’s other young hopefuls. Time to bounce back again.
To an extent, Frankfurt already have. This was a much more encouraging display than Friday night and as Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain found out last season, Real are a tough nut to crack.
“Real’s individual quality and their class up front made the difference,” summed up Matthäus. “With the technical advantages they have, with their cleverness and experience, it was a well-deserved victory. Frankfurt tried to match them man for man, but they met their match today.
But this is now the company Frankfurt, and Knauff, keep. They look like they could get used to it.
Edited by Matt Ford
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