Sunday, December 2, 2007

Back to Winning Ways

Raul
What a game from El Kapitan... 2 goals including one from a shock free kick. I've never seen Raul take a Free Kick in my life. It still baffles me what made him say 'I wanna take this one'. I'm glad he did though coz it turned out to be a goal.
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Is Raul turning into the player he was in the pre-galactico era? 14 matches into the La Liga Season, and he's already got 8 goals, 1 more than his total from last season's campaign. That's a huge jump. There are a few obvious factors of course:
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1.) That he's not injured. I remember him tearing his ACL in that embarrassing El Classico where Ronaldinho torched us on a way to a 3-0 romp for Barca... and he was clearly out of it in the months that followed.
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2.) That he's playing in his favored position: 2nd Striker.
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3.) That he's playing this position behind a player that complements him almost perfectly: Ruud Van Nistelrooy. It has been said that Raul is best playing behind a Targetman-type '9', which is the type of player that RVN is... similar to Fernando Morientes, with whom he struck up a great strking partnership with. RVN is lethal in the box but is unselfish and willing to pass.... a different player from Ronaldo, who thrived at being given the ball for him to run at the defense and create a scoring chance for himself.
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4.) or is it simply just the oxygen room? Which I think more or less just tells us of Raul's professionalism and his dedication to keep himself fit.
The man ran his socks off and scored 2 great goals (the first one was a nice example of clinical finishing). Kudos to the Captain.
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The Midfield
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The Midfield was still unconvincing. After the Sneijder + Guti + Diarra midfield trio tailed off into poor performances, Schuster has reverted to a Capello-esque 'Double Pivot' with Diarra + Gago sitting behind Guti: a combination that saw RM thrash Valencia. The combination has tialed off too... Last night, we saw Schuster try Baptista out in a role similar to his position form his Sao Paolo days (so I read), paired with Diarra. Baptista had a pretty good game. His physical presence was felt, but we still got owned at the midfield: which means that we haven't figured out the right combination just yet.
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I would've liked to see Sneijder score... It'd be good for his sagging confidence. But Baptista did himself a favor with his performance last night. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing the player who convinced RM to acquire him from Sevilla.
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Defense
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Someone should teach Marcelo to defend! Because while his offensive game can thrill, his defense is just absolutely hapless... and for a team that has a chronic problem of leaking goals, perhaps Heinze should be the first choice. That is if he gets healthy, otherwise why not give Torres a shot? He was pretty decent last season.
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In the meantime, Pepe continues to impress! We might have found one for keeps!

2007-12-01: Real Madrid 3 - Racing Santander 1

2007-11-28: Werder Bremen 3 - Real Madrid 2

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Bad Week

A Draw in Murcia and a loss to Werder Bremen.
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We're having a BAD week.... that's very clear now. Shit. Shit. Shit. What a pisser. Some thoughts / observations on the matches:
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1.) Raul and RVN BOTH looked lost in both matches. Are they getting fed the right balls from midfield? or are they just not playing with the necessary energy to fight for the incoming passes for them to pounce? RVN missed a sitter that would have made is 2-2 vs. Bremen (it became 3-1 seocnds after that chance). What's up? Tired?
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2.) Guti needs to have his head checked and get his act together (what the fuck was that red card all aobut!?!??!). RM better work the phones fast and secure Diego (better Cesc, though looking more and more impossible) so we don't have to waste our hopes and time on waiting for the moment Guti will start acting like a mature player whom the team can regard as a Vice Captain. His talent is unquestionable... but bloody hell, his temper, attitude and inconsistency is really a massive liability for the team considering the importance of his role.
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3.) What happened to the Double Pivot that destroyed Valencia? We were like pussies vs. Murcia and the Gago-Diarra tandem was overrun by Bremen's midfield. Was their performance at the Mestalla an aberration? We got owned at midfield which brings us to...
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4.) Terrible Defense again. Where the hell is the Christoph Metzelder who was once hailed as Beckenbauer's 2nd coming? What happened to the Fabio Cannavaro who captained Italy to lift the World Cup?
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5.) Sergio Ramos looks tired.
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6.) Marcelo is slowly being exposed as the amateur he might really still be. Would it be better if we just keep him in RM Castilla for the moment? Torres and play Left Back and though he's no Roberto Carlos, he's not really comical with his defending. Coz right now it seems pretty clear that everyone knows that the way into RM's defense is through Marcelo's wing... and that's a problem.
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7.) I'm happy at least that Robinho's run of form has continued.... 2 goals in the last 2 matches. Schuster: If you wanna give Robben minutes to work him back to regain match fitness: pls. don't do it at the expense of Robinho while the game's still on the line.
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8.) I've finally seen Pepe play... and he hasn't been bad at all. Does this mean that RM will need to pay 30m Euros everytime they need a decent defender? (Ramos was around that price too).
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We're Playing Racing Santander tonight. Hope we don't shoot our foot again coz Villareal's now just a point away, and Barca 2. How do we beat them? For Sneijder to get over his 'I'm shy and I'm having trouble coping with the pressure of being an RM player' mode. Make an assist, score a bloody goal. Act like a man. Win us a match!
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We're all hoping...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Suddenly Robinho looks like the New Pele ... Again

Having been given a final chance to fulfill his potential at Madrid, Robinho has sent scribes scrambling for the same old superlative

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By: Sid Lowe (for the Guardian)
November 12, 2007 4:32 PM

See Original Article From Guardian Website Here
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Someone get that man a colossal caipirinha, a bevy of Brazilian beauties and a bumper box of johnnies! When Robson da Souza arrived at Barajas airport bound for Brazil this morning, he did so as a hero. As he set off on the long, hard trek round the gleaming yet useless terminal four, a familiar face grinned back at him from the newspaper stands. El País, El Mundo, Marca, AS, even El Mundo Deportivo and Catalan comic Sport - everywhere you looked, there was Robinho, thumb in mouth, hands cupped over his ears, or fingers pointing skywards, beaming. "Every day he looks more like Pele", ran the headlines, as others roared: "Robinho gives Madrid wings" or "Robinho is the real star".
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What a difference a month makes. The last time Robinho arrived at Barajas he did so as a villain, chased through the terminal by a furious bunch of fuzzy mic-wielding Benny Hills having missed training after arriving back from international duty a day late. Robinho insisted that he didn't realise when Madrid were playing, which wasn't unreasonable: after all, his first game back had been scheduled for Saturday at 10 - until the Thursday night, when Madrid and evil overlords Audiovisual Sport decided to shift it to Sunday at five. But if it wasn't unreasonable, nor was it true: Robinho had actually missed his flight because he'd been out with the Brazil squad and a busload of babes at the Catwalk Club until five the previous morning, only venturing outside to ask one of the minders to bring him 40 condoms, and as the press pursued him his Real Madrid career seemed to be hanging from a thread.
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Robinho first arrived in Spain back in August 2005, hailed as the "New Pele", the only player ever to get booked for performing too many step-overs, the cheeky kid who had the most ludicrously brilliant debut in living memory. On the opening day of the 2005-06 season, he came on against Cádiz with 21 minutes remaining and single-handedly changed the game with a frightening array of skills and tricks, Canal Plus commentator Michael Robinson declaring him "pure poetry", and El Mundo announcing: "a star is born". AS, meanwhile, was having a religious experience, its headline preaching: "And God created Robinho!"
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Trouble is, God also created Djimi Traoré. And since that sticky evening in Cádiz, Robinho has been more like the new Denílson than the new Pele: the occasional flash of brilliance, countless step-overs - or bicycles, as they're called here - but with precious little end product. As the Spanish joke went, playing on "nothing" and "swim" being the same word, Robinho was like a tri-athlete because corre, bici, y ... nada - he ran, he got on his bike and then ... nothing. In his first two seasons, he wasn't even rated amongst the top 50 players in Spain, while on the match-by-match ratings in Marca he was below the La Liga average. He scored 14 goals in 69 league games and just one in 14 Champions League matches, providing just three assists.
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Despite playing an important part in last season's late charge to the league title, it was impossible to shake off the feeling that Robinho just wasn't going to make it. Suggestions that he could be the best player in the world looked laughable. Even the excuse that he was young, like
Chris Coleman's washing machine, simply didn't hold water: he was already 23. Unhappy under Fabio Capello, Robinho had thought about leaving; more importantly, Madrid had thought about letting him. When sporting director Predrag Mijatovic publicly denounced the fact that some players were turning up for training smelling of booze, it was Robinho he was talking about, but he grudgingly gave the Brazilian one last chance. He didn't take it: Robinho completed just one of the opening eight games of this season, scoring none and providing no assists. Patience was running horribly thin, the Bernabéu began to whistle and that infamous night out, coming just days after Madrid had pompously presented the players with a new code of conduct, was the last straw.
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Or at least it should have been. Instead, when Robinho left the Catwalk Club he was, quite literally, greeted by a new dawn. Just when everyone was talking about fines and bans, about Robinho being ditched and Bernd Schuster doing his nut, the opposite happened. Schuster defended him and put him straight into the side.
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It was a masterstroke. Robinho, suddenly aware that he had to perform, did just that, playing with commitment and pace - and also the freedom denied to him by Capello. Against Olympiakos, he scored twice and "provoked" a penalty,
rolling round with a big grin on his face; against Deportivo he scored again, with a cool finish from Guti's wonderful pass; and another goal followed against Valencia, as well as the assist for Raúl's opener. Against Sevilla, meanwhile, he was the only Madrid player to get a shot on target all match.
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But if that was good, last night was even better. Last night, at last, Robinho was simply too good for the rest - the same ridiculously brilliant footballer who destroyed Cádiz. "I play football like I dance," he declared, diving over a circle of handbags and appealing for a penalty, "football is all about having fun."
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And, boy, was watching Robinho fun last night. He left poor Hector with his knees pointing out the back, skating past him with a lovely touch and putting the ball just over for what would have been one of the goals of the season, starting and finishing a clever move to make it 1-0, scoring the second and providing the third on the way to a 4-3 victory that puts Madrid four points ahead of Barcelona and maintains their one-point lead over Villarreal at the top. It was, declared Marca, "Robinho's magical night", while this morning's AS declared Robinho the new Madrid's "star signing". It might be two years late but maybe, just maybe, Robinho has finally arrived.

2007-11-11 Real Madrid 4 - Mallorca 3

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Recent Thoughts

2007-11-06 Olympiakos 0 – Real Madrid 0
I suppose there’s not much of a point to post the highlights of last Tuesday’s Champions League highlights given that the match between Real Madrid and Olympiakos ended in a goalless draw. There are however a few points about that match:

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Wesley Sneijder seems to be finding his confidence and his form back. He played pretty well last Tuesday, connecting the midfiled and attack well. He had a few great shots at goal that were stopped by the brilliant game of Nikopolidis (the Greek Side’s ‘keeper) as well as a few good potential assist passes, including the one tha led to RVN’s clever ship shot that unluckily bounced off the crossbar. (It would’ve been such a brilliantly ruthless play had that sequence ended up in a goal). We should all remember however, that Sneijder isn't Guti... and as well as he played that night, RM still lacked that player who could deliver the final ball to the hungry lions in the box: Raul and RVN (the CL's all time leading goal scorers). Thus Schuster was found looking 'for the blonde lad with the great left foot.' (Guti has a team-leading 6 assists so far this season).

That said, it is important to note that Guti and Sneijder are 2 different players. Guti, being more a pass-oriented player while Sneijder is one to fire on sight the moment he feels he's got a snuff at the goal.

A worth point that comes out of this however is that this situation shows that RM are in need of a consistent, world-class playmaker, who is adept at setting his team mates up as well as taking shots and banging in his fair share of goals.

Now I find myself pondering on a RM's recurring problem: that of split roles. We find a similar situation with the holding midfield role: where the responsibility of babysitting the back 4 and the playmaker as well as a secondary distribution point for balls is split between Diarra and Gago. Is this the way it will be forever? Or will Gago eventually evolve into 'The Prince's' true heir by learning to take on both roles. The Attacking Midfield role seems to have Real in the same conundrum: the goal scoring, rocket-launching Wesley Sneijder and Guti, the assist man. Will Sneijder eventually take the reins once he settles in long enough for Real Madrid? Or will we have to dip into our deep pockets again? (say, for our wet dream players such as Kaka and Cesc who has found his scoring boots this year... or Diego perhaps?)

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Gabriel Heinze played a great game: In a situation where Schuster has been trying to figure out which Centerback would form the ideal pair with Cannavaro at the back, Heinze has come out as the pretty surprisingly answer considering the fact that he was originally earmarked to hold down the left back spot with Pepe and Metzelder competing to be Cannavaro’s partner at the center. Pepe’s injury however, along with Metzelder’s mediocre performances, coupled with Marcelo’s surprising reliability has given Heinze time in the center of defense where he has played very well. Last Tuesday, he was very clever, solid, reliable and hard. Kudos to the former Man-U man.
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Calderon: You’re like Schuster, Shut the Fuck up!
Calderon has for the Nth time, opened his mouth with some regretfully arrogant remarks: claiming that Europe is shaking in their boots at the thought offacing Real Madrid, that Real Madrid is sowing fear into the hearts of all their foes: bollocks you jackass! It’s exactly that type of mentality and talking that’s responsible for all the ‘anti-madridisimo’ that’s been spreading around the world like a wildfire. Calderon should shut his mouth and let the team do the talking on the pitch.
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Wanted: Sergio Ramos
News broke out of Marca today that AC Milan is targeting our wonderkid Sergio Ramos! Fuck off AC Milan! Someone ought to shoot the RM official who would actually be willing to sign off on such a deal. We have in Sergio Ramos, a potential future icon of the club, I would even dare say that Ramos has the makings of the club’s future talisman or captain. I do fear however that Calderon might be dumb enough to get suckered into a deal with AC Milan in an effort to rescue his ruptured pride by using Ramos as a bargaining chip for Kaka. As much as I adore the idea of having Kaka in RM, I will find it impossible to swallow the idea of Ramos in another club’s colors instead of RM’s white.

Monday, November 5, 2007

2007-11-03 Sevilla 2 - Real Madrid 0

Just Shut Up and Play!

Seems like Bernd Schuster was caught talking out of his ass after Real Madrid got hammered 2-0 last Saturday at the Sanchez Pijuan in Sevilla… “The referee’s was catalan, nothing left to say…” or something like that was quoted from Schuster after the game.
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Another Madrid player (un-named) was also quoted as saying: “First they beat us, then they play.” Guti even had an 8 sec. soundbyte for Marca Radio claiming they were robbed.
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What the fuck is that???? What a bunch of sore losers! I am a Real Madrid fan, a die-hard, and will be sporting enough to say: we lost to the night’s better team. They were better. They were faster, played at a higher rate, scored a helluva goal and caught our defenders sitting on their asses when they scored their second goal.
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We got owned. Let me, the Real Madrid fan admit that.
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Yes it’s true, the referee was a dumb-ass. Poulsen’s late tackle on Guti smacked of dirty play that seemed to display more of an intent to ‘send a message’/do some damage on Real’s ‘offensive engine.’ That clearly deserved AT LEAST a yellow. Elbows were flying, hard tackles and over-physical play was rife: but not only on Seville’s part: Diarra tackled Sevilla’s Crespo so hard that he poor kid supposedly ended up in a hospital.
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Ramos didn’t deserve the 2nd yellow AT ALL. Paul Breen Turner, the announcer in the English-language broadcast I was watching was even saying that it seemed like the referee didn’t even remember that Ramos was booked a first time which was why the yellow came out, forcing Ramos off the game. Stupid Call.
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Raul didn’t look like he took a dive either, which meant that we deserved a penalty that RVN would’ve likely dispatched to bring us back into the game with a chance for a draw.
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But then again, Diarra (again) floored Navas on what was also a legitimiate penalty claim, in which, had been called, meant ‘Good Night’ for Madrid so early in the game at that point.
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But guys, come on: watch the game again, Sevilla was the better team. Casillas had a busy day, while Palop might as well have slept on the job (having been bothered by a few weak shots and the occasional back pass from a team mate). Everytime Real had the ball and made a through-pass, either a Sevilla player got to the ball first or a Madrid player hounded by a Sevilla player who would either disrupt the momentum or win the ball back. They cranked it up one notch higher and we couldn’t. Simple as that.
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Wanna blame fitness? Sevilla had a midweek match too. Wanna blame morale? Real just did a ‘manita’ on Valencia while Sevilla lost on a goal fest mid week. We were beaten by the night’s better team, simple as that. No excuses…. And please! For God’s sake, enough with the bitterness, finger pointing and unsportsmanlike sore-loser attitude.
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Schuster has got to stick his head into his ass until he can manage to say something that will actually HELP his team and figure out how to beat such top teams. For the rest of Real Madrid, just shut up and play the damn game!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Down 2-0 (At halftime)

And here we are again… down 2-0 to Sevilla: the team we never seem to be capable of beating, at least not at their stadium. Real Madrid seemed to be up for it in the initial exchanges of the match, seemingly capable of matching Sevilla’s speed and intensity: passing, pressing, and even containing the ball in Sevilla’s side during certain spurts.
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Sevilla however, eventually cranked right into another gear that Real Madrid hasn’t been able to match so far. They pressed harder, harassed whichever RM player had the ball, moved the ball around faster and moved their entire game at a more rapid rate than Real. Soon enough, Real’s passes can’t get to their desired destinations and recipients, intercepted by Sevilla’s harassing players, or even if a Real player was able to latch onto the end of a pass, he’d be pressured by a Sevilla player in a split second, forcing a turnover most times.
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The first goal by Keita was a cracker / belter / whaterver they call it. Fuck…. It was unbelievable. BUT preventable: Real’s defenders were happy to let him take a shot, giving him time and space as long as it wasn’t within the Madrid penalty box: so there went his thunderbolt, right into the heart of Madrid. The 2nd goal was more a result of Sevilla cranking into another gear that Real was unable to match: a fast counterattack resulting in what would actually have been a brilliant Kanoute goal (saved by Saint Iker) only for Fabiano to react faster than Ramos and Metzelder to clear the ball: clearly, they’re at a higher momentum that us at that point: and THAT was the reason we haven’t been able to get a goal back.
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The referee has just been really lousy too, too many things have gone on without the necessary fouls, bookings: resulting in an unnecessarily physical match: with a few scuffles having broken out already
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There’s still a 2nd half to go…. Let’s see how it turns out… A Change of Fortunes I hope. (but it doesn't look promosing :( )

Friday, November 2, 2007

The German Pivot

It’s 5am now here in Singapore, halftime of Real Madrid’s match against Valencia at the Mestalla and I am amazed and stunned by how brilliantly Real Madrid have been playing. 4 goals in the first half! So here I am reflecting on how the game has gone on so far:


The Guti-Centric 'Diamond' System used before








Bernd Schuster has decided to surprisingly employ the Capello-esque double pivot system. Without the much-hated Emerson however, it has been the supposed-heir of ‘The Prince’ (Fernando Redondo), Fernando Gago, who has stepped beside Diarra to take up the other pivot-spot. The result this time however, has been different. It seems to have cured Real Madrid’s main problems this year thus far as we have seen their form drastically take a dip from an early season explosion to beat Athletico Madrid and destroy Villarreal 0-5.
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In a game tipped as a supposed midfield duel between Guti and Abelda, Schuster has decided to evade this scenario with his Double-Pivot featuring Gago. Instead of seeing Guti get his legs hacked off by Valencia’s Midfield stoppers and defenders as he tries to weave one pass after another forward (sometimes hopelessly) in the hopes of reaching Raul or RVN, now we find that the passing game of Real has been put off-center, diffusing the playmaking epicenter as the game now also runs through Gago.

Schuster's Version of the 'Double-Pivot'

The Double-Pivot seems to also be a solution to the problem that RM have faced thus far this season: Finding a transition point between Defense and Midfield to generate the play-making momentum. While Diarra plays the role of a defensive midfielder well, he doesn’t have the ability to provide the creative outlet passes that can kick-start the team’s offensive game. The opposite is true with Gago however, who is not as defensively-astute as the Malian but can provide a more slick defense-to-offense passing game: it was this exact element that has been missing from Real Madrid’s game.
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A Gago in his element that is able to provide this smooth defense-to-offense passing game, frees Guti of having to play a combination of roles: that of a playmaker from both a deep-lying and an advanced position. I find this similar to the AC Milan system with Gattuso (like Diarra) playing the role of ‘midfield bodyguard’ with Pirlo as the Deep-lying playmaker while Kaka is the playmaker in an advanced position (of course Kaka’s quality is easily more superior to Guti’s). This also means that aside from Guti, RM now also have an alternative means of ball distribution with balls for their rushing full backs (Ramos and Marcelo) as well as to the forwards from deep positions. The multiplication of this role also will allow RM to be competitive in games without Guti (given his bad temper's tendency to accumulate cards or an injury) or when he’s having an off-night.
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Schuster’s touch however seems to be his incorporation of BOTH Raul and Guti into this system (Capello’s system usually meant that either Raul or Guti had to go to the bench). Raul still plays behind RVN (same as the latter stretch of last season), where he can be close to the goal and be more effective while Guti and Robinho would interchange flanks. This then results in perhaps a more offensive ‘flavor’ as we are able to see multiple striking options (Raul and RVN, with Soldado, Saviola and Baptista) with 2 platforms for playmaking (Guti + Gago with an option for Sneijder too), supported by wingers like Robinho, Robben and perhaps even Drenthe.
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The game has now resulted with RM doing a ‘Manita’ on Valencia (1-5).
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With such an emphatic score-line: we all shouldn’t be surprised to see a return of the double-pivot, this time however, it won’t be Italian, it’ll be German.
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I certainly won’t complain if we consistently make it rain goals like this!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pissers!

Pisser, pisser, pisser!

Here we go again… symptoms of the OLD Real Madrid. Slacking bums! We had Lazio with their back against the walls! We had gone a goal up and had control of the match, but in typical Real Madrid style (we, Madridistas should be ashamed of), we took our foot off the gas pedal and allowed them right back into the match… on TWO OCCASSIONS! Talk about repeating past mistakes…. Repeating past mistakes twice in the span of 90 minutes.

Some points in the match:

The front line was pretty good: It’s nice to see Ruud Van Nistelrooy finding the form he was on late last seasons with his 2 strikes. And while everyone was talking about Ruud’s 2 goals, we should all give credit to Raul, who ran his socks off and was largely responsible for the 2nd goal: robbing the ball from the Lazio midfield and releasing RVN with a brilliant pass.

Apart from Diarra (who looked REALLY good during the times when Real was in control of the match), the RM midfield was unbelievably awful: considering that this is largely Real’s first-choice midfield lineup. Sneijder looked like the timid guy who played against Valladolid (where we had our asses handed to us), he hardly created anything from the midfield and was hardly able to create any danger. Word out is that he’s having difficulty dealing with the pressure and responsibly that seems to have been laid on his shoulder by the Madrid press. Guti was awful too… hardly able to make any passes and were a couple of steps slower… even in reacting to the defense. Robben was completely lost…. Where was the lighting quick winger who dazzled us just a few days ago?

On defense, we weren’t so bad, except when we conceded those goals. Cannavaro made several Italy-in-the-WC type of interceptions and tackles to slice up attacks. But heinze didn’t convince me at CB…. I am convinced that if they have injured Centerbacks (like now, with Metzelder and Pepe out), they should bring Sergio Ramos as a Centerback and give the young Miguel Torres the nod at right back. I’m clearly no fan of the slow-footed and foul/yellow card-prone Salgado. Heinze and Marcelo should just interchange at left back with Heinze being the defensive option and Marcelo the attack-minded one.

Is RM a team sliding? It looks like it…. But I’m hoping not.

2007-10-03: Lazio 2 - Real Madrid 2

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Oh Captain, My Captain


O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;


Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,


For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,


For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;


from 'O Captain, My Captain' by Walt Whitman




Thus it was Raul who emerged the hero from last night’s encounter with Werder Bremen. The legendary white captain, scored his 57th goal in the Champions League (a record) in 111 games (a Real Madrid record) and provided the final pass that led to Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s game winning (and 50th Champions League Goal, I think he’s either 2nd or 3rd to Raul… Shevchenko is either 2nd / 3rd ) goal. He ran his socks off too: 9,402 meters of ground covered in his 83+ minutes on the pitch: Clearly a Man-of-the-Match performance. He was all over; harassing defenders, running at them (with a few nifty ball tricks too), helping out distribute the ball and keep the ebb and flow of Real’s Game. I said in my last entry that I was hoping he’d be in-form: 3 goals in 4 matches…he is!

It’s an odd thing actually, I remember my first encounter of his name as a player: during the 2002 World Cup, when a younger cousin of mine who happens to be an avid fan of football (and a player himself) told me about a young Spaniard named Raul. At the time, he was still considered about to break into his peak but already having broken countless records: the future of Spanish football. It was a future I never got to see as his goal scoring numbers took a nose-dive as Florentino Perez’s ‘Galaticos’ era went along. I suspect that it’s a combination of a real drop in form as well as the fact that he was moved out of his best position: Second Striker. Thus, for the most part of my time as a Real Madrid fan, Raul was the falling symbol: the man they insisted to be the club’s talisman, but no longer for his ability on the pitch, but for what he symbolized: the local boy turned hero. I scratched my head at the thought of it… but I never questioned the effort he put on the pitch. This season, he seems to be yelling out to the world ‘I’m back!’…. after 4 games, it’s hard to tell, but the signs are promising.


Other Reflections on the match:
Real Madrid may have only won by a goal…. But they clearly played pretty well. Their passing game was fluid and seamless at times, ball movement and buildup play was good too. They attacked through the wings, created danger and were able to drill holes into the Bremen defense (though it took a while to tear them down). They were however a bit shaky on defense at times (though Cannavaro had some good moments too)… but that happens when you play against a team is run by a player with the quality of Diego.


On the players:

Ruud Van Nistelrooy
He is clearly not yet 100%. Given the chances he got last night, last year’s RVN would’ve nailed a Hat Trick and instead of the world hailing Werder Bremen’s gallant stand against the whites, they’d all be talking about rout. If he regains his sharpness, and Raul’s form proves to be consistent, defenses will crumble and titles will come again!

Gonzalo Higuain
Robinho had better watch out, because it’s very likely that he can lose his place in the starting XI to this guy. The kid is only 19, but plays with a kind of maturity and awareness rarely found in players his age. Last night, he was tireless on the pitch… but once again, forgot to lace up his shooting boots before the match. Then again, Robinho was only firing goalkeeping-practice-type shots during his stint last night.

Fernando Gago
The Spanish Press weren’t very kind to him in their post-game analyses today, giving him stick for failing to stop Diego… but that’s like asking someone to stop Kaka or Ronaldinho, it’s not exactly something everyone can do (Diarra would have sent him to the ground with a couple of clattering tackles, but I’m doubtful that would’ve been enough to stop Diego). But I thought that Gago played pretty well: the midfield engine was far more well-oiled with him on as opposed to Diarra (then again that was never really Diarra’s role). I really felt that the ball movement and ‘verticality’ of team was much more slick with him around. I think Real has great options in this position with Gago as a great midfield facilitator or Diarra as a destroyer for the other side’s buildup play.

Marcelo
I felt bad for him upon hearing that he was going to lose his spot to Drenthe and Heinze. He was after all, hailed as the ‘next Roberto Carlos.’ While Drenthe clearly isn’t a Left Back (at this point I’ve no idea what he is), Heinze sure as hell ain’t a left back in the Roberto Carlos-mould. Last night, Marcelo’s forays along the flanks, darting forward to cross balls and create danger delightfully reminded me of the short, bald, Brazilian who wore RM’s ‘3’ last year. When he lost the ball on the attack and left an ocean of space for an opposition counter attack, he reminded me of Roberto Carlos too…. But not the delightful side of course. Once again, Real find 2 quality options here: a hard tackling, combative, defensive-minded left back (Heinze) and a left footed speed demon along the left flank. I’m happy he didn’t end up loaned to some border-line 1st division team and even happier that he made a strong case for a spot on the team last night.

Iker Casillas
He might’ve been able to do better when the Bremen goal was conceded, but he made some critical saves that in the end, gave RM the victory…. While people are all talking an toasting to RM’s re-birth as an attack-minded team, I refuse to forget the man who has saved Real’s skin in more than many occasions.


We visit Real Valladolid on Sunday… I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of another 3 points, and god-willing another shower of goals against the opponent.


2007-09-18: Real Madrid 2 - Werder Bremen 1

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Short End of the Stick

Here I am again, left to with the short end of the stick…. Left to imagine how it is exactly that Real Madrid had been able to beat Almeria 3-1. Those greedy bastards working in Spanish TV haven’t settled their dispute yet so people like me have to settle for progressive live web updates as the match went on (I went with 3 simultenously: those of Marca, AS, and Goal.com)… and of course, I’ve had to spend the morning today hunting for clips of the match highlights in You Tube.
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So do enjoy the posting of the match’s goals by scrolling below.
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I was also able to find another site where they show other happenings in the match (aside from the goals)… it’s here.
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From what I’ve read and seen, here are a few thoughts:
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Refereeing
1.) Uche’s goal that was ruled offside could’ve gone either ay… it’s the sort of goal that gets annulled though it could’ve been allowed… but it wasn’t onside by miles… which I feel it the reason why it should not be seen as ‘ridiculous’ or ‘controversial’ in the way certain people like to view.
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2.) The Red Card for the take down on Saviola was justified… El Conejo would’ve scored had he not been taken down… it was gonna be sort of goal we all used to see him score.
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3.) The no-call for the penalty claim involving Metzelder was spot on… Metz was going to track back to another direction already…
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Thoughts on Almeria
1.) Almeria didn’t dominate Real Madrid like how the live commentaries last night portrayed… yes indeed they had quite a few shots on goal, but most of them turned out to be only like catching practice for Iker.
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2.) Uche’s goal was really nice though.
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Thoughts on Real Madrid
1.) Commentary from the Spanish press seemed to indicate that Guti was Real’s Best Player last night…. Good to see him gain plaudits for 3 consecutive performances played well. Is this the year we can finally see a consistent Guti? (I hope so)
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2.) It was nice to see Raul take the kind of shot he fired off which led to Saviola’s goal. He usually ends up hitting a spectator when he shoots from that far… last night, he forced a save out of the keeper (the shot was clearly on-target) which eventually led to a goal. Does this mean that Raul is REALLY in-form? (I hope so too)
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3.) I guess Schuster feels happy for his decision to rest RVN and gave Saviola a run out with Saviola paying him back with a goal… But come on dude… you scored on a tap-in, why all the blowing-kisses-to-the-sky-and-kneeling-to-the-heavens goal celebrations… too much. Over the top!
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4.) I am officially in awe of Wesley Sneijder. 3 matches, 4 goals… for a MIDFIELDER no one rated to be among the world’s best. (Sneijder’s name was never manetioned in the same sentence as Ronaldinho, Kaka, C. Ronaldo, Gerrard, Lampard or even Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas). I think his performances are slowly making a case for him to be considered among the world’s best. Is this Real Madrid’s equivalent to the San Antonio Spurs drafting Tony Parker with the 28th pick in the NBA Draft?
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5.) I’m SO HAPPY that Higuain was able to score. Despite only finishing with 2 goals last year, it was clear that this 19-year old was special. He worked hard on the pitch too and was always a danger. Signing him was a brilliant move for RM. I HATED how people were all over him for not scoring goals… If he scores a pile of goals this year… The silence from people who have been criticizing him would be music to my ears. His goal was a peach too! A ‘Petroleum Jelly’
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6.) I do hope, that former RM Youth Players Roberto Soldado and Miguel Torres eventually get some playing time and prove their worth to the team. For some reason, in Soldado, I get the feeling that by having him, Real are sitting on a gold mine.
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7.) It was interesting to see Schuster tinker with an RVN-less lineup… his 2nd half substitutions seemed to indicate that he was playing something like a 4-3-3:
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Start of the Game (4-4-2):
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Casillas
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Ramos, Cannavaro, Metzelder, Heinze
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Robinho, Guti, Diarra, Sneijder
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Raul, Saviola
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***
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End of Game (4-3-3):
Casillas

Ramos, Cannavaro, Metzelder, Drenthe

Sneijder / Gago, Guti, Diarra

Higuain, Raul, Saviola

2007-09-15 Real Madrid 3 - Almeria 1

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Uh-Oh

Wesley Sneijder is injured!
Apparently, he was tackled by Mario Melchiot in training and injured his ankle in the process... making him likely unavailable for the Dutch National Team's match vs. Albania... he'll also be doubtful for the match vs. Almeria this weekend.
Almeria is a newly promoted side and I would like to believe that Real can beat them handily, but you never know, they've won their first match and put up a good fight against Valencia before eventually losing.
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A positive however is that it can mean that Sneijder can be rested for the Champions League match vs. Werder Bremen, a difficult team (they gave Barca a lot of problems last year in the CL too...). This can also mean that Drenthe might get a start on the left wing with Heinze on Left Back (and Robben possibly getting in a few minutes off the bench).
The fingers are crossed nevertheless.
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Thoughts on other things:
Former Real Madrid youth teamer Alvaro Negredo (on loan to Almeria this season) has now scored 2 goals in 2 matches! Though he won't be playing against Real this weekend (his contract has a clause that prevents it), it'll be interesting to see if he can build himself a reputation that can earn him a recall to RM.
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Jurado didn't have a standout year for athletico last season... I do hope a few of the youth team gems out on loan can blossom this year though... it'd be nice if we can find another Raul / Guti / Casillas.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ballack???? Again!?!??!

Shit, shit shit…

Talk out of England again is that Michael Ballack might join Real Madrid over the winder break after getting his ass bounced out of Chelsea’s Champions League roster, in their bid to keep him fro getting ‘cup tied’… which consequently would make him more attractive enough for another team to buy him… and of course if there’s an expensive player on the market, RM is also inevitably mentioned.

Seriously… do we need this guy? I honestly don’t think so. We have 2 top playmakers already (Sneijder + Guti) and a pretty good attacking midfielder parked on the bench (Baptista)… and with our young wingers (Drenthe, Robben, even Higuain and Robinho) coming in, space in the roster is tight enough.

Why would we need to buy a 30 year old midfielder who has a scumbag agent demanding a 1-million euros in commissions for his purchase, had a bum year in a top club, has a bum ankle who asks to be paid 140,000 GBP a week?

Even if they hadn’t won anything yet, I think that Real did well for themselves so far with their clever free pickups (Saviola, Metzelder, Dudek) as well as their decision to go after young players (Sneijder age: 23; Drenthe age: 20, Robben Age: 23 + last season’s winter signings: Higuain age: 19, Marcelo age: 19 and Gago age: 20) in the transfer market. Getting an overpaid player who is likely past his prime is damn sure as hell the equivalent of stumbling more than several steps backwards after RM’s few baby steps forward.

Wise up Calderon, Mijatovic & Co.!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Villarreal 0 - 5 Real Madrid

Last Week

Bastards!

As if the offseason wasn’t long enough, The TV Networks in Spain are in some kind of a legal dogfight about broadcasting rights… and here I am, left to make do with you tube highlights of the opening weekend match… (the Madrid Derby at that!).

One can only imagine the shock and horror I went through when I started seeing players wearing the Dutch and Swiss National teams’ uniforms come out of a tunnel that’s not the Bernabeu’s. Even the Cable TV operator here in Singapore seemed blindsided by the whole thing as their website’s Programme Guide had already included the match in its programme schedule. The Cable TV operator instead found itself haplessly having to settle with broadcasting a replay of the friendly match between the Netherlands (were they thinking: ‘Maybe RM fans can feel a bit better if they saw a match with Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wesley Sneijder in it’???) and Switzerland with a message that streaked below the screen apologizing about the ‘sudden unavailability of the match.’

I found my mind racing on a flashback to that morning when I read Alfredo Relano lamenting in AS.com about something that had to do with TV rights (I don’t know how to read Spanish, so I am left having to make do with trying to understand what Spanish websites are trying to say through Google / Yahoo’s Translate features… and in many cases, it’s takes a lot of effort to even get a sense of what is being said).

“This was what he was talking about! Shit! Shit! Shit!” I said to myself.



The Result

The only great news about it is that Real Madrid actually won! And based on what I’ve read, they also played darn well and showed the ballsy character they had late last season (where they repeatedly kept making comebacks on their way to win their 30th La Liga Title) after going down 0-1 via Kun Aguero’s header 57 seconds into the match. It was also nice to see Raul getting on the scoresheet… there he was again: El Kapitan scoring a goal when it matters, when everyone is second-guessing and speculating on who was the best man to replace him in the starting lineup. Good to see him kiss the ring finger again to celebrate that goal (That lifelessly-executed gesture of pointing to the name on his jersey is kinda lame though).

It was also very nice to see Guti’s clever on-field antics again: fooling the Athletico defense with his pass to Sneijder which led to the 2nd goal.

Overall, it was nice to see my beloved Real Madrid start the season on a winning note after such a pathetic pre-season (over their city rivals at that!). I was able to see other highlights of the game aside from the goals via the Real Madrid Website, it did seem like they played well... lots of attacking and glimpses of one-touch football.... it did look like they were on the right direction.




Other thoughts on the game:

Jose Antonio Reyes
Though I’ve always thought that it was a bummer how Jose Antonio Reyes didn’t make it to the Real Squad this season, I’ve always enjoyed watching him on the pitch even in his days back in Arsenal. He’s got a good shot, and his great pace is fun to watch, and I really appreciate his unapologetic public display of wanting to wear the white shirt back then. And of course, let’s not forget that he scored a pile of important goals for Real Madrid last year too… including those 2 HUGE ones vs. Mallorca that finally clinched the title.

What pissed me off however was how his shameless prediction of a 2-0 win by Athletico via goals from him! Cheeky Fucker! Whatta Punk!

Karma was spot on that night: the bugger didn't even get a start. BUT the Bernabeu gave him a well-deserved ovation (class act gesture from the fans) even as a RojiBlanco Player as he entered the game. That night, he was a benchwarmer of the losing team despite the applause...

Kun Aguero

Before the match, this punk actually proclaimed that he'd pull another 'petroleum jelly' (A Chip Shot, somehow, it translates as 'Petroleum Jelly' on Google / Yahoo Translate) on Iker Casillas. Another Punk! A Teenager trying to be cheeky with Spain's No. 1. The night ended with him trying his Petroleum Jelly: Super Iker just snatched it out of the air. In your face punk!

Real Madrid 2 - Athletico Madrid 1

Hello

I haven’t blogged in ages…

The most obvious reason for this has of course been the ridiculous schedule I’ve had ever since I changed jobs last November. I’ve hardly had even the time to sleep, much less to ponder thoughts, and figure out how to properly verbalize them.

I have however been able to continue sustaining the passion I’ve discovered in this tiny Southeast Asian island of 4+ million people: football … futbol… or soccer (I hate it when the minority who call it that, insist on calling it that). My love for the game is documented in passing as I once upon a time wrote some thoughts during the World Cup in my other blog…. The one I still can’t manage to sustain (I still hold ambitions of bringing it back to life someday though…).

So while I struggle to put into words the thoughts that stream through my head when I do find myself waxing lyrical / philosophical about the other million and one things I tend to let my mind fester about…. Here are two things (for the moment at least) I know I can talk / write about… Things I’ve grown to love and be desperately passionate about… Football and my beloved Real Madrid.