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.
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.
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.
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.
The game has now resulted with RM doing a ‘Manita’ on Valencia (1-5).
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.
I certainly won’t complain if we consistently make it rain goals like this!

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