Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dominance (Real Madrid 2 - Barcelona 0)


How can I be paying obscene amounts of money for 2 cable TV subscriptions (the only 2 available in Singapore) and still NOT be able to watch an El Clasico Supercup on TV? Oh yeah, now I remember, because I live in a country that thinks Paul Pogba is the best CM in the world after performing well against Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang, nevermind that he got abused by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos a couple of days before that.
.
By the time I managed to find an ‘online resource’ to watch the match, Real Madrid were up 1-0 last night. When I searched for a clip of Asensio’s goal: I began cursing Singtel and Starhub once again. How could I have missed that!?!? Yes I named you 2 shit cable TV companies whom I pay good money to… because you take my money but can’t be bothered to broadcast an incredibly important match between the best team in the world, and the best team at deluding themselves that they’re the best team in the world (yes, I’m talking about you this time, FC Barcelona).
.
.
Confidence or Contextual Tactics?

Luka, the man has a family, please stop violating his human rights

Last night, Zidane left Isco, Bale and Casemiro on the bench, abandoning the now-familiar 4-4-2 diamond and reverting to the 4-3-3. The midfield alignment was an interesting one too: instead of placing Toni Kroos as the team’s pivot (as we’ve seen post-Xabi Alonso, and many times without Casemiro), it was Kovacic who was assigned to the role. Was it to replicate his excellent tracking of Messi from the first leg? And up front, without Isco, Zidane opted for Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the wings.
.
My first impression for this re-alignment was straightforward. Zidane wanted to rotate the squad, confident in the wake of the first leg result, but decided to keep the team’s cornerstones in place (defensive line, Kroos + Modric and Benzema as the front line facilitator). Should something go wrong, all it took was 3 substitutions, and we’re right back to a CR-less first choice XI on the pitch.
.
Having several hours to mull over the match, I have another theory for Zidane’s team selection: He wanted us to be specifically geared to counter attack. This might explain the decision to place Kovacic in the midfield pivot position – since the Croatian’s first instinct is to weave his way out of trouble with a bursting midfield run (rather than the simple 5-10 yard pass Casemiro makes), which many times starts a counter-attack. This might also explain why the far more direct Asensio and Vazquez was chosen over Isco.
.
Last night’s lineup might not just be about confidence in the result of the tie, but about adopting the team’s tactics to the circumstances of the game (facing a Barca team that needed 3 at least 3 goals to turn the tie around). If this is the case, then there’s even more reason to admire Zidane’s coaching.
Where Casemiro makes a 5-10 yard pass once he recovers the ball, Kovacic does filthy things like this (to Busquets in this instance) and then pushes the ball up to start an attack much more directly.
.
.
What Happened, Barca?
The truth is that seeing Barca play 3 at the back isn’t a surprise. Deulofeu laid an egg in the Camp Nou over the weekend. Thus is was  logical for Valverde to opt for a lineup with more players he felt that he could rely on (e.g. Macherano) rather than guys who have let him down (Deulofeu). The lineup also acknowledges Barca’s  Neymar-less reality. It’s now a front 2, not a front 3.
.
What was troubling about Barca however was how truly awful they were. Last night, they played as if all their fighting spirit has been drained from them. The wing backs, whose work rate determine the success or failure of a 3-at-the-back system, were lackadaisical in their duties and often left the back 3 unprotected versus Madrid’s front 3 + 2 fullbacks, creating 5 vs. 3 situations. Benzema’s goal, despite being a brilliant piece of skill was a result of just bad defending by Umtiti (a total lack of awareness, and a lazy reaction upon realizing his compatriot’s presence behind him to receive the ball in a dangerous area).
.
Though it is true that last night’s Barca team played without Neymar and Iniesta, it is also true that the absence of those 2 should NOT mean that they should be as awful as they were last night. Forget being more than the sum of their parts. Last night Barca were less than the sum of their parts.
.
Some might say that tactics played a part (Barca played much better with 4 at the back when Semedo came on). I’d argue however that the tie was dead by then and Real Madrid were just going through the motions looking forward to lifting the trophy and celebrating title #2 for the season.
.
.
Goals
Like every Real Madrid fan, I love seeing how truly awesome and deep the squad is. This however does not change the fact that I worry deeply about the lack of final product and goals from the team’s front line. Cristiano turns 33 this season, Benzema is on the wrong side of 30 too, while reason tells us Gareth Bale will miss important stretches of the season to injury. Having lost Morata and James, the team is in need of players who can fill the goal-scoring void left by the 2. It is with this thought that I question myself if it is naïve to believe that perhaps Isco, on the cusp of superstardom and Asensio, whose current trajectory will demand a starting place, might put my fears at ease this season… that these 2 players, often capable of making go ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaah’ might also make us yell ‘goooooooaaaaaal!’ a lot too. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Football Gets in the Way (Barcelona 1 – Real Madrid 3)

Image result for cristiano ronaldo supercopa 2017
Bow down to the Master! All hail Cristiano Ronaldo!
It’s been way too long since I’ve blogged about Real Madrid. Heck, we’ve won a La Liga title and another Champions League title since I last posted here. But like I said, life gets in the way. Things get intense at work, while the kids get bigger and thus demand more attention. Every time I find myself saying ‘time to officially shut the blog down’ though, I hear the other voice saying ‘don’t do it just yet’ – and I guess that the source of this voice comes from the same part of me that’s feeling this way… where the things I feel and the thoughts in my mind seem to generate a sort of electricity in my fingers to just put them all into words. And if you’re out there reading this, then let’s just call it a window into my mind about this wonderful team. I stopped blogging and podcasting because ‘life got in the way.’
.

Well today, it’s the other way around: Football got in the way. I’ll have to put my life on hold for a couple of hours just to write about this so here goes:
,
,
Jerseys
Some viewers complained of a kit clash during the Super Cup
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO 'LOS BLANCOS' (The Whites)???: Barca's kit was predominantly blue.... and Real Madrid chose to wear Blue too. For my 38-year old eyes. It was a problem watching. 
.
It’s Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. The bloody Spanish Super Cup: Copa Del Rey Champions vs. La Liga Champions. The 2 best teams of the past God-knows-how-long. This was a match real stakes, real intensity. So why the FUCK was Real Madrid NOT playing in their all-white kit?
.

I understand that we want to sell shirts and make money, even if the jersey looks like it was designed NOT for Real Madrid’s football team and instead for the club’s Minecraft team. Do that then in the ‘friendly Clasico’ played with half-fit teams, unlimited substitutions in front of people willing to spend $15,000+ USD for people who have nothing better to do with their money. Rant Over.
.
.
The ‘10’ Question
This Real Madrid team today not only show Zidane’s true key principles as a manager, both from a personnel and tactical point of view but also his evolution and growth.
.
Yes he was there during La Decima as Ancelotti’s deputy: where we saw a Real Madrid team play a 4-3-3 in attack and a 4-4-2 on defense. But that was also the regime that struggled to deal with the ’10 Question’ what to do with among 2 of the world’s best ‘10s’ (Isco and James) sitting on the bench without a proper slot given to the very nature of their game. Ancelotti made it work for a few months with a Kroos-Modric-James midfield, but it ultimately didn’t last: fatigue, injury and circumstances ultimately did us in and cost Ancelotti his job.
.
And yes, it was clearly Zidane’s team that won La Undecima on penalities. It was a team built on the insistence of specialist defensive midfielder Casemiro being in the team. Kroos and Modric flourished. Yet the vaunted BBC front line ‘crawled’ across the finish line: with an injured CR7 and Bale barely able to make their presence felt in the final games and the 2 genius 10s still relegated to peripheral roles.
.
Last season, we saw Zidane implement the same tactical system but inject his own beliefs in personnel management on the way to a double. In doing so, he managed to not only secure key contributions from the entire squad, but more importantly, lay down a roadmap to accommodate the use of #10s into the team. James Rodriguez, deemed a peripheral player, finished last season with a not-too-bad 11 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. It was Isco however who captivated our imagination completely. 
.
.
The Birth of the Diamond
Partly out of necessity (Bale injured for most of the season), partly because Isco had developed to a point where he could no longer be ignored, Zidane began playing Isco as part of the front 3, but given the license to roam as he chooses. This not only allowed him to play within his comfort zone, but it has done the same for both of the team’s strikers, neither of whom are pure 9s. This allowed Ronaldo, to still attack the penalty box the way he likes, with darting runs from the wings. For Benzema, this also allowed more roaming freedom wide. And in theory (yet to materialize), the use of Bale’s pace also attacking from the wings could be used as part of a pair of forwards. It was under these circumstances, heading into the business end of last season where Zidane’s Diamond was born.
.
And while one could lament the loss of James, who could have greatly thrived having his turn at the tip of the diamond, we must also consider the fact that this too is the role that Gareth Bale aspired to play (as a ’10’ under Rafa’s doomed stint), and a more mature Marco Asensio could play one day (more on him next time).
.
.
Setting aside a ‘designated’ slot for a ‘10’, using the diamond also opens up opportunities for Zidane’s wealth of midfield talent with Ceballos, Kovacic and Llorente having better chances to playing opportunities to cover for the world’s current best midfield 3 (Kroos-Casemiro-Modric).
.
Last night, the diamond, without Modric (following a ridiculous 3-year old suspension) did to Barcelona what I’ve forgotten was ever possible: dominate it. Real Madrid’s midfield are no longer haplessly chasing Barca’s shadows or even tactically waiting for a chance to pounce. They are now a unit with the intelligence, skill and physicality not just with the ability to match Barcelona’s midfield, but to outplay them completely. Casemiro’s ball-winning has improved to match his boldness. Kroos can pass better than any Barcelona midfielder. And with Kovacic’s ability to push the ball forward with Isco’s magic wiggle in and out of every corner on the pitch, Barcelona were outmatched in midfield. I never imagined I’d say that one day.
.
.
Firepower
What Madrid disturbingly lacked however, particularly in the first half, was final product and firepower. While the diamond allowed us to beat down Barca’s midfield, the first half scoreline did not reflect it. Gareth Bale (who has pined for the opportunity to become more than a winger) was given the tactical freedom he sought: he had the choice of flanks to run as well as plenty of chances to drift to the middle, including the spaces normally reserved only for Cristiano Ronaldo. He didn’t produce.
.
Karim Benzema on the other hand, played as if he had forgotten that Cristiano Ronaldo was not on the pitch. When CR7 is on the pitch he is Robin (and he’s the best in the world in this role) to Ronaldo’s batman. Without the main man however, his mindset needs to change: HE needs to be THE alpha predator patrolling the opposition box.
.
It is for this reason that I worry deeply about this season’s front line having lost Alvaro Morata to Chelsea (who debuted with a goal and an assist) and looking like we’re going to lose the Kylian Mbappe sweepstakes to PSG. CR7 is 32 (turning 33 this season). If Benzema (19 goals / 6 assists) and Bale (9 goals / 3 assists) have a repeat of last season, I have deep concerns on an over-reliance on a 33-year old CR7, even if he’s the greatest goalscorer in the history of football.
.
These concerns were all validated last night, we had to rely on Pique to score our first goal for us (which I enjoyed tremendously). And to get our go-ahead goal, we had to call on an only-partially-fit CR7 to win it for us. His first strike (saved) was circa-CR7@age 32: taking on his man and striking the ball across his body with his (slightly) weaker left foot. For the go-ahead goal, he needed to turn back the clock to circa-CR7@age 28: baiting his man (Pique again) to commit to a tackle, before cutting to his favoured right foot to score a signature goal from 5 years ago.
.
As great as Cristiano Ronaldo is, I do not believe that it would be sustainable for us to expect him to carry the goalscoring burden of the team as big as it is now. Perhaps Isco, Asensio and hopefully less injury-prone Bale can compensate for Morata and James’ goals. Fingers crossed.
.
.
Officiating / Player Behavior
The Real Madrid striker could be facing a lengthy ban if the referee reports on the shove
BAD MOVE: The ref made the wrong call, but Cristiano Ronaldo has no business putting his hand/s on the ref. 
“Show him your jersey!” I yelled at the TV (it was 5am in the morning), when Cristiano scored Real Madrid’s winning goal (I didn’t realize he did it until after the match when I saw it on Twitter). This was my reaction as a fan in a cathartic moment. It proved to be stupid. The ref had already made the ridiculous error of awarding Barca a penalty for a blatant Suarez dive, we shouldn’t have to be surprised he’s capable of making an equally grave error in giving CR7 a second yellow for simulation despite the legitimate contact. That moment of emotional recklessness would return to haunt him as it meant a red card. Worst of all, CR lost his head, that slight shove of the referee, could reportedly cost CR7 as much as 4-12 matches in suspension.
.
Barring a PSG-like collapse at home, I have confidence in the team seeing out the Super Copa win on Wednesday without CR. The problem lies however beyond that. With the rest of the team in search of goals, a long suspension for CR7 can hurt us.
.
.
The Shoe in the Other Foot
Despite all that though, I am totally enjoying this moment. It feels great ‘wearing the shoe in the other foot’ (i.e. seeing the tide turn in our favour). For too long, Real Madrid have been the team that embodied being rich and clueless: buying senselessly glamorous players who couldn’t fit into the team, hiring buffoons to coach / run the team, etc. Then we became the villains (Mourinho era). Now, we’re the guys who buy superstars for 4m and sell backup ‘reject’ fullbacks for 30m. We’re no longer the team filled with overpaid, unmotivated, over-aged has-beens. We’re now the team with a CL+La Liga winning starting XI backed up by the best group of under-25 players in club football.
.

This season there are 6 titles up for grabs… and with plenty of reason to believe we can lift the 2nd this Wednesday, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I think about the season just about to begin. Let’s get it on. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

When the Solution to the Weakness becomes the Weakness too (Espanyol 0 - Real Madrid 2)

2 games. 2 victories. 2 UN-convincing victories. La Liga League Leaders nonetheless.
.
It is true though that some consideration must be placed on the fact that the BBC isn't fit. Ronaldo clearly isn't at his best yet. Despite missing Euro 2016, Benzema isn't 100% either and now, Bale has joined the party in the infirmary too. 
.
So which narrative would we like to pursue? That we should be alarmed  and filled with skepticism over the mostly-meh football (especially in the light of seeing Barca butcher Celtic 7-0)? Or should we trot out the age-old "Great teams can win without playing well" (especially in light of the fact that our BBC isn't fit)? I stand somewhere in the middle. 
.
.
The Benefits of Great Squad Depth
Last Wednesday's Champions League groups stage match vs. Sporting Lisbon was a great display of our squad depth. I really enjoy watching the impact that subs can make on a game. It was something which we lost for a while (for some years), but this season's team has enough strength and have enough hungry players sitting on the bench, whether they are of star  / semi-star quality (James, Isco, Morata) or just young players eager to make a splash (Vasquez, Kovacic, Asensio). Our current squad depth currently allows us to sleep the night before a match knowing a first choice player is injured, suspended or is being rested. 
.
Last night's match was no different. With no Ronaldo and Bale, we had seen enough of Asensio and Vasquez to believe that achieving victory was possible even in a match away from home. To top it all off, last night was also a game where Zidane decided to reward James' Sporting Lisbon performance with a starting berth at the expense of Toni Kroos.
.
.
When the Solution to the Weakness becomes the Weakness too.
Image result for casemiro
Casemiro: An Asset and a Liability at the same time.
After the mid-week Sporting Lisbon match, most of us celebrated Ronaldo's return from injury (a goal in his first La Liga appearance and his free kick goal after 2,345,450,934 tries) as well as Morata's late goal. We also found ourselves beating our chests with war cries about Real Madrid's 'remontada heritage' and 'noventi minuti en el Bernabeu es molto longo', etc. All this is true. But in many ways, it also masked (at least to many) certain 'inherent' issues with the team.
.
Too much has been written about how important Casemiro proved to me for us last season, on how Zidane's decision to shun big names like James and Isco in favor of Brazilian was what ultimately brought balance to the squad - hat it was Casemiro who proved to be the 'Solution to the Weakness.' Last Wednesday however, against the clever Jorge Jesus' Sporting Lisbon, we were mostly unspectacular, and bordering on the undeserving for 3 points. It was a match that I believe, we won 'by default', that we won simply because we had the more talented squad. I also believe however, that Jorge Jesus uncovered the team's new weakness: Casemiro. Yes, the same man who proved to be the 'Solution to the Weakness."
.
Last Wednesday, our current '14' was blitzed endlessly on possession. Now, if this was done to our old '14' (Xabi Alonso), this normally resulted in a long looping pass that would instantaneously become a scoring chance for our boys up front, but Casemiro is no Alonso. Thus, pressing him in possession normally resulted in a backpass or at best, a lateral pass. At worst, it resulted in the loss of possession and thus explains our midweek struggles against Sporting Lisbon.
.
Last night, Espanyol repeated the approach, and was quite effective: stunting Real Madrid's capability to create in midfield. Espanyol's pressing of Casemiro was actually so intense that it resulted in the Brazilian getting a knoc. And it was this that proved to be Espanyol's undoing: his injury ultimately forcing the Brazilian off and Kroos on - which finally gave Real Madrid the capacity to pass their way out of midfield and greatly improve on the team's capacity for ball retention and the construction of attacking play.
.
I am certain that every manager / coach worth his salt (including Borussia Dortmund's impressive Thomas Tuchel) would have noted this and will be forcing Zidane into a dilemma: stick to Casemiro and have a perpetual target for pressing, or utilize his ball players (e.g. Kroos) and ultimately be less defensively secure. This might be Zidane's current catch 22.
.
.
Quick Hits: Real Madrid Reunion 
It was great to see a Real Madrid re-union of sorts out there on the pitch, seeing all the players out there who have worn both the white of Real Madrid and the blue-and-white of Espanyol: Asensio (on loan to Espanyol last season), Vasquez and Casilla (bought back from Espanyol) for Real Madrid and Diego Lopez for Espanyol, also keeping Napoli's Jose Callejon who scored over the weekend vs. Milan and played for both clubs. The recent shared history between the 2 clubs is heart-warming. 
.
.
Quick Hit: Color Blind
Image result for espanyol vs real madrid
Purple vs. Blue and White - way to make my eyes hurt!
I like the purple jerseys. But why wear them against a team wearing Blue and White??? My eyes are extra tired today because of this.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Merengue Bites - The Undecima Edition.

Rahul was too drunk celebrating . But Kaushik, Ryan and I still managed to have a 'celebratory discussion' about that beautiful night in Milan.
.
The podcast can also be listened to / downloaded here:

Monday, May 30, 2016

Deserve (Real Madrid 1 - Atletico Madrid 1, Real Madrid win on Penalties)

Seriously: Does Any Club do Title Celebrations better than Real Madrid?
.
I'm still in shock. Did we really just win our 11th European Cup? Yes we did... and judging from the images of the team's celebrations, I'd say that no one celebrates titles like Real Madrid too.
.
The season started horribly. Firing Carlo Ancelotti was a mistake - I continue to believe that (and I say 'Congratulations' to Bayern Munich and their fans for hiring him). Hiring Rafa Benitez was an even bigger mistake. Despite having magnificent players in the team, as a Real Madrid fan, I cannot help but feel like we merely somehow 'stumbled' into the Champions League final: getting a series of lucky draws (beatable teams: Roma, Wolfsburg, Man City), and forgiven for our foibles (i.e. Wolfsburg). This Real Madrid team institutionally felt like Chelsea's Champions League-winning team under Roberto Di Mateo - born into crisis, grafting our way towards glory, rather than the all-conquering 2014 team (is there a better way to arrive in a Champions League final than beating Bayern Munich 5-0 on aggregate?).
.
But isn't that perhaps where we can find the beauty in this side? In this title? That it is just as capable of earning its silverware in a blaze of Hollywood glory (2014) just as it is capable of crawling beyond the finish line after a bloody trench war which ends with hardly a player able to walk (2016)? We are the club that has the most European Cups because we know more than one way to win it. We can win it with pure glamour just as we can with pure graft.  
.
.
The Tactical Tale
The comparison to Chelsea's Champions League-winning 2012 side is not just because of the way we won (by penalties after a 1-1 draw) but of how we played the final to win it: pure graft. One could perhaps say that the match might have unfolded in a completely different manner had events taken place differently as well.
.
Going into the match, I had one thought whilst considering Atleti: watch out for Griezmann. Atleti play a rock solid game of back-and-forth with any team they face, waiting for a mistake - a misplaced pass, a defensive lapse in managing the offside trap, a slip, a miscontrolled ball. If any such events happened, it normally meant that Antoine Griezmann would have his way with your defense and score, or create a scoring chance. It was, I thought, going to be a game of chicken: a waiting game for the first team to blink and concede. Whoever would do so, will have to spend the rest of the match chasing the game. It was for this reason that I believed in my mind that Atleti were favorites - it was only in my heart who refused to let go of a Real Madrid win.
.
Perhaps it was fate that immediately before the match, I stumbled into an article highlighting the one area where Real Madrid are clearly superior over Atleti - the air. It was as if fate was speaking to me then: as Casemiro (thanks to Bale's Free Kick) forced Oblak into a world-class save in the early exchanges. Later on, the ghost of Ramos would haunt Atleti again - their Champions League final boogie man come to life as he bundled in Bale's man-bun flick from Toni Kroos' delivery into the goal. A Griezmann counter-attack, my worst nightmare, would not come to pass, it was Atleti's worst nightmare come true instead - the onus was on them to attack. It would be our turn, via Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo to hit them on the counter.
.
It is for this reason why perhaps, there are many who believe that Atleti deserved it more. After all, if you spend +/-65 minutes on the attack (the time between Ramos' goal and Carrasco's), you will look like the hungrier side. This is most especially so given that it was also at this point where we discovered that Cristiano Ronaldo was not fit to play - with only Bale giving us glimpses of an opportunity to hit them back on the counter. It was rear guard action for us for most of the match, forcing Atleti to play a game they aren't comfortable with: possession.
.
Yannick Carrasco: the slick winger with the blonde bombshell Girlfriend waiting for him in the crowd with the kiss. This is certainly a far more interesting goal than Ramos barely touching the ball to score the opener.
.
Maybe it's luck for them that it didn't take long after Carrasco's introduction that Carvajal, the man who had Neymar in his pocket in the last Clasico, had to be subbed off - and Danilo, the greatest waste of 35m euros, came on for him. And when you take the fresh legs of Carrasco, his skill, his drive, his incisiveness, and you apply it against the hapless Danilo (who is seriously making me believe that he is Cicinho v2.0), it's not hard to see Atleti looking the better side. For almost 30 minutes, Carrasco skinned Danilo over and over again, giving Atleti the incisiveness they needed to carve out the openings in the Madrid defense to give Atleti hope (and for neutrals, the entertainment) to turn the match into a contest. It was only poetic justice that Carrasco would score, and given how the penalty shootout would later unfold, that Juanfran assist the goal.
.
Atleti's equalizer, scored moments after Madrid had a magnificent chance to make it 2-0, was a nightmare come true to me. "Are we about to see the a reversal of the 2014 final???" I asked myself. The patterns were eerily similar: an early goal from a setpiece scored by a CB (Godin in 2014, Ramos in 2016), followed by a spell of countless waves of attacks from the team behind, then a late goal (Ramos in 2014, Carrasco in 2016) - ceding the momentum to the team that had just scored. For 5 minutes, Real Madrid were reeling like a boxer stunned by a punch, ready to be stricken down by a knockout blow.
.
But who knew that unlike Real Madrid circa 2014, Atleti didn't have anything left in the tank after their equalizer. They were spent. I would argue in fact, that if there was a team that looked likelier to score after the equalizer, it was Real Madrid, injured Ronaldo, cramped up Bale and all.
.
Real Madrid scored the early goal and held them off for an hour with our one legged superstar pretending to be fit. And by the time they scored their much needed equalizer, they had nothing left. Tactically speaking, it sounds like we ripped a page right out of Jose Mourinho's playbook. I'm reminded of that ill-fated Semi-final vs. Heynckes' Bayern Munich which we lost on penalties. It was the same approach with a different outcome (we scored an early goal, chose to defend the lead, conceded in the second half but lost on penalties). Yes, yes, yes, it wasn't a glamorous tactical approach. It was a risky one too. But considering the fact that we played with only a mockup of Cristiano Ronaldo for 120 minutes, credit must be given for successfully pulling the ploy off.
.
"There is no such thing as justice in football. Whoever wins deserves to win. There are no excuses" - Diego Simeone
I disagree with the notion that Real Madrid didn't deserve to win. No less than Diego Simeone has the same opinion too - knowing full well that if Atleti were going to win last Saturday, they probably would have won in the manner we did. Did we win by defensive tactics? Absolutely. Would we have applied different tactics had we not scored to early. For sure. At the end of the day, we won because we adopted our tactics to the circumstances of the game and executed them just well enough to get across the line.
.
We DESERVED to win.
.
.
Tactical Tidbits
If there was criticism to be levelled towards Zidane for his tactics - and we are nitpicking here, I'd probably be critical towards his substitution of Kroos for Isco. I get the intent. CR and Bale's legs were gone, Kroos' long passing wouldn't have been as effective as Isco's fresh legs and disco moves pushing the ball forward. But losing Kroos' dead ball delivery might have allowed us to avoid penalties (Modric had some horrible corners late in the game). The choice to bring on Lucas Vazquez's fresh legs and work rate was an inspired choice though.
.
If what I read is true that Simeone won the penalty coin toss but chose to allow Madrid to kick first then I'd say that he committed a tactical error: given that 60% of penalty shootout winners kick first. Oblak's decision to 'wait' for a kick to be taken centrally also deserves criticism - especially with Simeone's assistant (Burgos) being a goalkeeper himself. Many clubs keep records of their opponents' penalty taking tendencies, which are supposedly relayed to their goalkeepers for moments like this. Oblak's decision to 'wait' for the centrally taken penalty is a sign that homework wasn't carried out.
.
On the opposite end, Zidane's 'order' of penalty takers was bizarre in my view. It is a well-known statistical fact that the most decisive penalties are the first and the fourth ones - especially to put young Lucas Vazquez first to take the penalties. Zidane's choices proved right though as young Lucas showed nerves of steel and ice in his veins to put his penalty away. His instinctive primal scream to celebrate, slapping his jersey, emphasizing the badge on his shirt might have dictated the mood of the proceedings as well - as 'penalty observers' noted how Madrid's players celebrated their successful penalties with joyous rage while Atleti's players' demeanors were far more subdued and nervous. In the end, 'Angry Ramos' taking and successfully scoring the 'decisive' fourth worked out - and the decision to leave our best taker, Cristiano Ronaldo to deliver the 'death blow' proved to be the right choice as well.
.
It's clear I've spent way too much time over-analyzing / over-thinking the match. What can I say, that's what you do when you realize that the club you love and support has just won it's 11th European Cup.
.
.
A Few Words for my Idol

.

.
Zinedine Zidane: The man who is the reason why I am a Real Madrid fan today. 
.
Those who have read enough of my writings and have heard enough of the podcasts I've participated in know that the reason I am a Real Madrid fan today is because of a man named Zinedine Zidane. I watched and marvelled at his accomplishments as a player and continue to struggle to think of a player who can make my heart stop in the manner he did as a player. Today, my heart swells with pride at seeing this man - who made me fall in love with this club - lift this trophy that my club is madly in love with. Today it is my love for this club that keeps the teenager in me alive.
.
Today we celebrate the 11th. What a beautiful Day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Merengue Bites: Happy Bridesmaids

It was only 2nd place in La Liga for us - but a great run nonetheless for Zidane and the boys as they recovered from the Rafa regime. Ryan, Rahul and I also talked about our chances vs. Atleti in the UCL Final


The Podcast can also be streamed / downloaded here:


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Merengue Bites: A May Day Comeback

Long Time, No Talk. I even forgot the name of the podcast before recording. But here we are after a long time.
.
We talked about the suddenly-available possibilities of end-of-season trophies and what we'd like to see happen beyond.
.
Enjoy!