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!