Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finding Hope.... To Play for Pride... and even more Hope

Juande Ramos: He has given the team Tactical Organization, Discipline and Confidence. He is also giving Madridistas hope.
.
.
.
Many expected a rout, a beatdown, a massacre. People were mentioning possible scorelines like 5, 6, 7-0. They weren't so wrong to think so because I as a Madridista feared the same thing, knowing that it was all truly possible.
.
Since Capello, we've always played Barca on the counter (except of course that night of the pasillo). The difference today however was just that we didn't even have enough warm bodies to put on the field. Heck, we even tried an unfit Sneijder. We had a makeshift defense too with our rightback Sergio Ramos on left back. That was the beginning of the surprise.
.
Yes, yes, yes. We played like a small club as Cules (Barca fans) are now criticizing us. They call us cowards, called us pathetic. What would you all have us do? Play Schuster style? To get hammered with 7 goals? Now THAT's stupid. THAT's pathetic. Every great team should and will play according to who their opponents are and how they play. Every great manager will use his resources in a manner that will make it hard for his opponents to do what they do: for Barca's case, it was about denying them space, giving them no time, never allowing them to feel comfortable even if they had the ball. And it almost worked.
.
Who knew that Madrid could actually be ordered, organized, disciplined, and tactically proficient to repel Barca's relentless tiki-taka onslaught? For 83 minutes at least. Juande did so apparently. Seems like he's pretty good afterall.
.
.
.
Few knew we had a bright right-sided youngster named Miguel Palanca. I say draft him into the squad even if we're getting a winger on January. With Robben always hurting and with 'Acci-Drenthe', it's good to have choices.... especially from the Cantera.
.
.
.
The only mistake I think that Juande made was to give up perhaps too soon on his 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 ?) and switch to a 4-2-3-1. Perhaps he decided that he was ok with a draw? In swapping Guti for Javi Garcia, Juande lost the guy who can make that defense piercing laser guided pass on the counter (like he did vs. Sevilla at the Bernabeu under Capello) in favor of another defensive bodyguard. He then swapped the pacy Pipita for Van Der Vaart, to turn the now paceless Raul, who had been working his ass off helping at midfield into the 9. So we lost our pacy attacking option for an attacking midfielder who can't really pass coz our guy who could make that one pass was subbed out already. VDV didn't help much as a defender either so what goes? Juande will need to figure out what to do with him. But to Juande's credit, he let Palanca in for Sneijder instead of VDV. It was a great surprise out of the bag.
.
.
.
Super Iker was RE-canonized as a Saint Last Saturday Night at the Camp Nou Cathedral
.
.
.
Then, there are some more: San Iker is back!!! Salgado it turns out have a few more decent performances in him, same for Cannavaro and there is hope yet for Metzelder (as a 6 yard box policeman)! Gago continues his progression and in Juande's system, I am really coming to believe that it will be further accelerated.
.
Barca is now 12 points away though. And at 6th place, it is clear that the objective is now to make the top 4 to qualify for the Champions League next season. Realistically speaking, the only way we'll win La Liga is through a Capello-esque, double digit winng streak coupled by a sensational Barca capitulation: though not impossible, very imbrobable.
.
Juande Ramos has made me delusional though: from his 2 matches thus far, I have now come to believe that we will achieve things in the Champions League. With his slew of Copa Del Rey, Supercups and UEFA Cup titles, I don't find Champions League success beyong reach anymore. We are now finding order, discipline and harmony, coupled with a new injection of new morale. January re-inforcements to regain our squad depth and the blessing of good luck that we are very much due will take care of the rest.
.
We might not be heading for La Cibeles straight from the Bernabeu come May, maybe not from an away match locally either. But if we get there late from a flight from Rome, then Barca can have their La Liga title. We'll get them back for next season... Like we always do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bye Bye Bernd, Hello Juande

Bernd is wondering what time it is... Time for you to go Bernd. Buy yourself some Tampons.
.
.
You can't say it wasn't coming. Our football has been terrible. His relationship with the press (a function which is very important for the RM manager) has been a circus because his mood swings towards them have been worse than that of a genetically moody woman with the worst kind of PMS. He reportedly had an icy relationship with El Kapitan Raul and the sporting director never liked him anyway. The board, it was said, couldn't stand him too. The only man who was said to be a believer of his was Ramon Calderon.
.
That was until he committed one of the gravest mortal sins: 'Winning in Barcelona is impossible. They are flattening everyone... this is their year. We can only hope to put on a decent display.' He might have been right. I have been wincing in pain all week not from our sorry loss to Sevilla, but from thoughts of how we will get slaughtered at the Camp Nou on Saturday. That however isn't the point, especially if you're the manager of Real Madrid. It's a disgrace to admit defeat before a match is played, regardless (or perhaps, especially) if we're talking about the 'eternal rival.' Fuck injuries, fuck poor form, many Davids have killed Goliaths with less. Besides, it's not as if we're 'David'.
.
I've said plenty of times that its perhaps not a good idea to sack a manager midway through a season. I did however state that in case we get into an emergency wherein our Champions League qualification is in danger, then perhaps we'll need to do something. Yes indeed there are 69 points left to play for and perhaps we can still turn things around, but let's admit it: at our current condition, even though it's not impossible, it's improbable (cue in Adidas impossible is nothing commercials... Not!). And for what Schuster has shown us so far (and likely to show us had he continued), he'd probably be sacked by June anyway... There is the worry of a long term solution of course. But in this case, we seem to have met my mentioned criteria: we are now at 5th place in La Liga, with defeats to the likes of Valladolid and Getafe while conceding goals as if we were a newly promoted side. What I'm saying is that I believe that we were already in a situation that was headed for disaster: not just because of the results, but more because of Schuster's lack of interest or ability to solve the situation which was further exacerbated by his sudden inclination to make things worse.
.
I was hoping Bernd could save our sinking ship even if it seemed that he was having trouble / seemed incapable of doing so. That to me wasn't the problem. The problem is that he didn't even seem interested to save it and had, for weeks now even manifested a keen-ness to sink the ship himself. This cannot stand.
.

Juande, this is Peja, You are his Bitch now, I hope the 2 of you can get along
.
.
Which brings us exactly to where we are now: Juande Ramos and the oulook for a long term solution… which is where the genius of this deal comes out: for Juande Ramos to be on a six month caretaker contract. How many teams can get a manager (one of the 'candidate' coaches in our upcoming summer shortlist anyway) who has won 5 titles in 15 months on a caretaker basis?
.
With what Schuster has done and seemed on course to do, what will be the difference IF Juande fails? I say, not much.
.
However, if Juande Ramos manages to succeed, then he'd already have had a 6 month warm up to go on to do bigger things to prove all his doubters (myself included) wrong. We can talk about timing too: Juande Ramos now has 3 matches (tonight vs. Zenit, Saturday vs. Barca and the next Sunday vs. Valencia) to size the team up before the winter transfer market opens. Even then, he still has a month to buy players too, so the timing isn’t as awful as we think it’d be. Granted, that we have all these big games coming up, how would we have liked it anyway…. Do we prefer to have a manager declare defeat 1 week before the macth and tell everybody ‘I told you so’ while we get massacred at the Camp Nou this Saturday? Or a manager who might put in some effort for us to win over the weekend ad that even if we lose, we can go out and say ‘Hey, it’s the first La Liga match we had with this manager’? I prefer the latter
.
Let me say this though: I too am a Juande Ramos doubter. He has not been successful as a manager at all except for his stint in Sevilla (think about it, Bernd was pretty good at Getafe, but was he REALLY that great? Surely not better than Juande at Sevilla) and has miserably failed at Spurs. He's not the proven title winner that RM should have as a manager. We should have guys like Mancini, Benitez, Wenger, Scolari: tactical geniuses who have REAL title credentials. Despite all this though, I am unwilling to dismiss Juande: how could I, how could we after such massive success at Sevilla where as manager, he almost always kicked our ass when we played them. And they played some pretty nice football too!
.
Juande Ramos is part-stopgap, part-longterm solution. The next 6 months might tell us that which one he is. For while his failures are there to see... we cannot deny that he has merits that deserve the benefit of our doubts. And let’s try to be fair too: at this point, perhaps the goal left for the season is to push as far as we can (hopefully to at least the semis) in the Champions League and a Top 4 (hopefully 2nd place) finish. Any expectations/demands beyond that I think would be unfair.
.
Between a man who might not be so great (but impressive in some sense as well) and doesn’t really know the ship he’s just gotten into but will try to keep us on course (read: Ramos) and a man who has developed a clear itch to sink the ship I’m in. I pick the former.
.
It’s happened already…. Now we should all just shut up and pray. And I mean pray REALLY HARD.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Misery

I had this bad feeling we'd lose last night... And we did. It didn't matter that I had not eaten junk food yesterday (my weird as hell superstition), or I wore my Zidane jersey while watching the match. It seemed inevitable that we'd lose to them... They who scraped a point from Barca last week, they whom we hardly ever beat no matter how supposedly modest they are or how big and almighty we supposedly were. Last night, Getafe were great and we were just shitty... And I am miserable.
.
What has happened to Iker Casillas??? Where has the saint gone? He played like a C-teamer last night: conceding a goal to his nearpost, fumbling on caught corners and being directly responsible for quite a few unnecessary goalmouth scrambles that could've easily turned into disasters. He looks devoid of confidence, uneasy and perpetually nervous. I can only suspect that this is the impact of the Euros on him... Playing deep into the summer and all of a sudden having to play a full season again. Fatigue.
.
Our backline seems lost again. Ramos looked nothing like the powerhouse defender that shut out BATE Borisov midweek. Pepe was decent, but should've conceded a penalty once or twice if it weren't for the referee. Thank heavens that Salgado wasn't attacked on his flank too much, that might've made things even worse for us!
.
At midfield, I had wondered previously why Sneijder had been 'holding back' on his set pieces. I developed this suspicion that he was still suffering from a lingering injury (suffered against Recreativo) but the necessities of he BATE match forced him to play... Same case last saturday night. He didnt appear to be tackled strongly. Guti even took a free kick while he was still on before he went down. His replacement, Van Der Vaart, was just REALLY awful last night. VDV doesn't tackle people, he just fouls them. He fired a free kick from a very distant range WAY OVER the goal too. No shots on goal, no danger created. Guti made some great passes forward including the great pass that led to Saviola's goal but he hardly tracked back. I saw a replay of a Getafe attack that unfolded almost directly in front of him and he didn't even bother to make an effort to stop him. Gago tried hard but his positioning was off (unlike against BATE).
.
On attack, while many have ribbed Raul for being invisible, I count that he had at least 3 shots...on target, all nicely saved by Pato. Saviola scored a goal, but apart from it, he hardly did anything great.
.
So back to 4th place we are with Pepe, Sneijder and Miguel Torres joining the injury list... How truly miserable. I smell 2 losses vs. Sevilla and Barca. Unless of course we park the bus in front of goal. But how do we do that with no defenders? Haaaaaaaay!
.
I woke up this morning with the Madrid sports press on red alert saying that the injured Klass-Jan Huntelaar is joining our injury-ravaged squad for 23-24m Euros. Calderon's trying to save his ass now before the Dec. 7 assembly.
.
I live in Singapore. This mess in Madrid stinks so bad I can smell it up to here! Fuck.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Now Here Comes the Hard Part

That's 2 straight clean sheets now! Boy am I happy as hell about it.
.
Last night, we looked good at the back: no bold rampaging runs from the right back position coz we had Torres out there with Ramos in the middle: it was fine by me, because it kept us solid and minimized our vulnerability at the back. Heinze adjusted himself positionally forward, mostly only for the purpose of allowing us to align ourselves for attack, not so much as to really join in the attack. His comedy clearance almost cost us the clean sheet though (perhaps even the match). In the middle, I thought Ramos and Pepe were great. They anticipated attacks and cut them up before they could materialize, they also cleared almost all aerial threats, and tracked back to win balls against the surging BATE attackers.
.
I thought that Gago did well too! He anticipated things well, keeping great position the entire match: shielding his defenders but also keeping the game fluid with his slick passing for the entire game. Guti and Sneijder were good too: not spectacular but solid in moving the ball around, probing, and took generally good care of the ball when we had it. I'm curious however as to why Sneijder tended to be more conservative with his free kicks & corners: he opted many more times for a timid pass to a nearby teammate instead of a pot shot at goal or a swinging delivery. Heck, he even let Guti take a few ones!
.
On attack, Raul did what Raul does... Especially in Europe. Drenthe was good too: full of energy, speed and was generally in control when in attack mode. Someone should teach him how to shoot though. Saviola however was useless. I now think that Schuster should give Bueno a start or at the very least, some REAL playing time. I think that he should now be given a go-ahead over El Conejo.
.
One thing that Schuster ought to look at however is how to attack without just using the left flank with Drenthe on it. The young Dutchman won't always play that way and teams with better quality will figure us out easily with such a predictable attacking strategy. Perhaps things will change with a healthy Robben or even with Higuain back (he is capable of drifting wide).
.
For now though, I'm delighted with the win, and the qualification to the elimination rounds. Now it's on to the hard part: getting to the quarters... Hmm... If only we REALLY knew how to do that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

With Schuster in the Shit-ster

We are well and truly there: neck-deep in a C-R-I-S-I-S!
.
Elimination from the Copa Del Rey courtesy of a 3rd Division side… and then, a loss to a team which Barca destroyed with 6 goals in one half. Absolute embarrassment. Absolute shame!
.
And let me just say that it’s not just about us losing: it’s about how we lost. Valladolid weren’t exactly great. They didn’t play at home in the way that Sevilla plays at the Sanchez Pizjuan against use these last few years (where we Madridistas go ‘fucking hell, these guys are playing som great fricking football!’ in resignation to the beating we’d get). These guys were slow, error-prone (read: Borja) and weren’t exactly imaginative or compact in a way that it’s difficult to pry their defense open. We just played without heart or sense of urgency or desire to win. No Balls football.
.
It was clear that Bernd Shitster was being cautious in putting Javi Garcia into the starting XI, sacrificing Wesley Sneijder. Gago’s been ok, but I really don’t think he can handle the middle on his own in this era of football. We like to hark back to how awesome Redondo was with his passing and positioning and how Gago can become just like that. But in today’s physical, very tactical football world, the single slick-passing and smart-positioning midfielder might no longer be enough. This I think explains why Gago needs to be beside Mascherano when playing for Argentina and would be good at the center with Diarra at Madrid. Sadly, with the Malian’s injury, we have no other alternatives except for Javi Garcia (I happen to believe De La Red can do this too: but he’s not well either). So while Schuster has been getting flak for this move, I won’t fault him for it because I take it as a clear move to address our frailty at the back.
.
Where I find myself scratching my head is over Schuster’s insistence on the 4-3-3: a formation that puts 2 players of the front 3 on the flanks. Of the 3 players we had up front, we had Raul, who got a few headers in that were saved and a great chance off a Valladolid error which he completely botched. Raul being in the middle is ok too: after all, I believe that his loss of pace makes him more of a ‘9’ now than a second striker. The problem of Schuster’s 4-3-3 last weekend however was in the other front 2. While I theorized that Rafa Van Der Vaart might make a good fit for the front 3 given his penchant for taking potshots at goal, this theory of mine was put to bed by his terrible performance against Real Union where Schuster seemed to have listened to me and given it a try. Then, we had Gonzalo Higuain, who led the line as the center forward vs. Malaga and scored 4 goals, playing in the wings, being flushed to the touchline by the Valladolid fullbacks.
.
So here’s what I’m thinking now: if we played the Valladolid game knowing that the only REAL source of width for us would be the fullbacks (Marcelo who was amateur-ish again, and Ramos who played a decent game), should we not have tried a 4-3-1-2 instead? We’d have a pair of defensive midfielders in Gago and Javi Garcia shielding Canna + Heinze as well as playing bodyguard to Guti in the middle, while we can have Van Der Vaart in his favored mediapunta position: which then puts the 2 front men, Raul & Higuain (3 and 4 goals each respectively in their previous starts) playing more to the middle where both of them can be REALLY dangerous. I do not pretend to be some tactical expert, this is merely amateur tactical speculation from me.
.
.
----------------- Casillas --------------------------
Ramos – Cannavaro – Heinze – Marcelo (or Torres)
---------- Gago – Javi Garcia – Guti ---------------
---------- Van Der Vaart (or Sneijder) -------------
--------------- Raul - Higuain ---------------------

(4-3-1-2): My amateur-ish suggested proposal for what was our doomed match vs. Valladolid, using the same players Schuster had started with. Would we have done better with this?
.
.
Today, as more and more failures continue to mount so does the talk about the need to sack Schuster. I however still continue to believe that a lot of the blame has to fall onto Mijatovic & Calderon: their stupid insistence on getting CR7, while draining all our negotiating resources: resulting in the loss of Robinho, and the embarrassing failure in their last-gasp bid to capture David Villa (the much needed striker help) or others who the team really needs. Now we have an unbalanced team ravaged by injuries and no helpful backups…. this is management’s fault.
.
Schuster however, is not free from blame. Granted that the team is imbalanced and has an overloaded injury clinic. There is however no excuse to get eliminated from the Copa Del Rey to a 3rd Division side: not with the talent of our team. Aside from this, our countless lapses in defense (same lineup last year) are also coaching issues. His admission that he is clueless on the latter is indicative of his managerial inadequacies. Rumors are rife of talk that he is also not communicating to the players enough. Granted that management has done terribly with the signings and this would have an adverse effect on the group: but this team should not be THIS BAD despite the injuries and ‘unbalanced-ness.’
.
Despite all this however, I still agree with the sentiment that Schuster should be allowed to keep his job till the end of the season. I think that the only reason he should be fired is if we find ourselves teetering on the brink of failure to qualify for the CL next year. In the mean time, while all pray for a turnaround, I think it would be prudent not only for management to get the necessary help in the transfer market (a very difficult task at this point), but also to draw up a shortlist of managers who might replace Schuster by the end of the season… just in case.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ruud Van Nistelrooy: A Tribute



As we play our first game knowing full well that Ruud isn't going to be with us for the rest of the season... here's a little tribute: what we will be missing for the rest of the season.

I hope to see him again in the white shirt next season. Get well soon Ruud!

2008-11-11: Real Madrid 4 - Real Union 3

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Head on the Chopping Block

Seems like the Madrid press have completely turned on Bernd Schuster… they are all calling for his head. I suppose that he’s really had it coming, especially from these guys: with his constant gloomy moods, sarcastic answers and generally hostile posture towards them. Now that his team has completely fallen from grace towards absolute humiliation: the knives are out and they’re all waiting for his blood to be spilled, for the guillotine to come down on his head. Real Madrid’s dismal performances have become the perfect reason for them to ask for his head.
.
Replacement names have been mentioned already: Miguel Angel Portugal, Michel from the inside to serve on an interim basis. Names of outsiders have also been mentioned: Juande Ramos and Roberto Mancini.
.
The Madrid press is indicating that Calderon (to his credit in my opinion), has tried to temper the situation with Schuster, sharing a meal with him to discuss the matter, telling the German than he still has a job. I’ve never encountered a situation of a coach being replaced in the middle of a season where the team achieved success on that same season. To sack Schuster now might constitute dooming the entire season (or perhaps even the next few seasons) for the team: bringing us back to the circus days (or final couple of years) of the Florentino Perez era.
.
Calls for Schuster’s head seem to be coming amidst reports that the team was not adequately prepared for the match against Real Union: that he didn’t display the kind of respect that the competition merited. It didn’t help that he once again bungled (something that is now a routine) the post-match conference and seemed indifferent throughout the entire match. Reports also suggest that he didn’t even speak to the players after the Real Union disaster match. Nevertheless, from what I read, unnamed RM players still feel that he must continue on this season.
.
Schuster has a tough task ahead of him: he needs a good, convincing result against Valladolid this Saturday. We thrashed them 7-1 at the Bernabeu last season, but were beaten by a rocket of a goal in their stadium. Besides, this is not the same team as last season’s. To get a convincing result, Schuster must start with trying to get himself a clean sheet from this Saturday’s match. That will be a problem since Cannavaro and Metzelder are not looking fit for the match at the moment. Pepe is still probably not 100% and his likely partner will be this season’s Mr. Disaster, Gabriel Heinze. Scoring 3-4 goals would be good too... perhaps Schuster should give Alberto Bueno another call up too after his golazo against Real Union – after all, we are lacking in striking options.
.
Schuster will also need to ensure Champions League qualification. If he fails this: he will be in for the sack almost for sure. It will be a complicated proposition for sure. Though BATE Borisov were absolutely shit against us in the Bernabeu, I am totally willing to believe that they will give us a heck of a hard time once we play in their ground. Zenit St. Petersburg will also be a pain in the ass for us: a game which happens on ‘Black December’: where we square off against La Liga superpowers Sevilla, Valencia and Dream-Team-Reincarnates Barca. If he manages to survive the year 2008 with Real Madrid still having momentum and within striking distance for the La Liga title (I won’t even expect La Liga leadership) along with a ticket to the last 16 of the Champions League, then the gauntlet will be thrown to the Board.
.
For their part, the Real Madrid board will have a very difficult task of trying to compensate for their failures during the offseason. Real Madrid would do well to address the need for another striker (someone who won’t mind time on the bench once RVN is back but will score goals when he’s on the pitch) and a winger (an endangered species these days). Perhaps they would do well to reinforce the defense too. Names for the January window have begun to surface and I trust that there will be more to come, among them:
.
.

Andre Arshavin: yet ANOTHER 'mediapunta'

Andre Arshavin (Zenit St. Petersburg): some have called him a genius, some however have called him the Russian Guti (1 brilliant game, 7 awful ones next). I for one see him as yet another ‘mediapunta’ who will compete for spots with Guti, Sneijder and VDV… he’s not the winger or goal scorer we need. He’s Cup-tied too for the Champions League
.
Julio Cruz: A clear stop gap measure given his age (34). A reliable player though and a seemingly mature presence in the dressing room. I’m not too hot about it though. (Has Inter played him in the Champions League? If so, then perhaps he’s not a good idea either)
.
.
Huntelaar: Is he good enough for La Liga? Can we still go after Benzema if we get him?
.
.
Klaas Jan-Huntelaar (Ajax): RVN’s heir in the Dutch National team and a proven goal scorer… in the Dutch League. There have been those who have doubted if he can become successful in a top league like La Liga, but his age and track record seem to make him a good choice. He’s not cup-tied too. I think though, that it might become a question of price (sell or part-exchange with Saviola?). The other question I’d like to ask also however is: if we land him, does that mean we won’t go after Benzema in the summer? I certainly hope not.
.
Or maybe we should just promote Alberto Bueno to the first team full time? If he can manage a few more goals as he showed us last Tuesday, then why not, right?
.
Once we pass a January wherein the management makes the right decisions in the transfer market, then Schuster’s next task will be to take us beyond the last 16 in the Champions League. To do so would bring an incredible amount of credibility to him. I don’t know how things will unfold for us in La Liga given how Barca seem to be destroying every team they face. If they continue playing that way, then we might not win La Liga this year. We don’t look like we can win the Champions League either. But if we do manage to come in a respectable 2nd in La Liga and with at least a semi-final spot in the CL, then maybe, just maybe Schuster will be able to survive.
.
But let’s not forget, he’ll have to learn to smile and maybe tell a few dirty jokes during post-match conferences first.
.
Until then, here’s to hoping the circus decides NOT to drop by Madrid any time soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It’s the Defense, Stupid

Maybe we’re all missing the point. We’ve been talking too much about getting new strikers, new wingers, etc. I am guilty of this too: speaking to a friend about the mouth-watering prospect of seeing a Madrid lineup for next season that would feature a Benzema-Higuain partnership upfront while being serviced by CRon, Sneijder and VDV while protected by Diarra at the midfield. I thought of our ‘defensive upgrade’ of having Ezquel Garay in our ranks as an unmentioned afterthought.
.
And perhaps that’s the problem: that the defense for us has become an after thought. As I went down to buy my coffee today, I recalled our most recent matches, the results and how we got them:
.
4-3 win against Real Union resulting in our elimination from the Copa Del Rey with a 6-6 aggregate score with us losing on goal difference: We conceded 6 goals against a 3rd division side. 3 at home: that is inexcusable and pathetic. While there was talk about bringing in potentially Mario Gomez or Andre Arshavin to beef up our attack in the days prior to last night’s match, Raul (whom we all pronounced as ‘dead’... again) scored a hat trick to bring his goal tally to 8 in total this season, 2nd to Higuain. We also saw flashed of brilliance from Alberto Bueno, a canterano from our very own Real Madrid Castilla.
.
4-3 win against Malaga. We celebrated 4-goal hero Higuain’s performance, but seemed to forget how cheaply we conceded those 3 goals at home to a newly promoted side whose main strategy was supposedly long ball tactics (read: dull, and low-scoring).
.
0-2 loss against Juventus. We were toothless indeed in attack with no ideas. But we gave away 2 cheap goals: with Cannavaro choosing to stand away from his old buddy Del Piero knowing full well, that the Juve Captain is fully capable of lashing out a shot from that distance to kill us: which was exactly what happened. For the 2nd goal, fellow RM-blogger Lateral Izquerdo summarized it brilliantly in his blog: “In the second half, the worst defensive wall in the history of the game was constructed after conceding a foul just outside the area… Hours after the match, nobody has been able to work out how a wall that defends neither post and blocks the goalkeeper's view can be a plausible defensive tactic.”
.
1-1 draw against Almeria. We were ahead for most of the game until we lost our nerves and conceded a late goal. 2 points lost: the difference between us and Barca in the league table.
.
3-2 loss to Real Union. Ditto
.
3-2 win against Athletic Bilbao. We celebrated like mad at our ‘claw’ with little attention to how bad we are on defense.
.
2-1 loss to Juventus. Ditto
.
I get the picture now: We have played 16 matches in total this season. We have had only 2 clean sheets while conceding 27 goals. That’s 1.69 goals conceded per game: which means that on the average, we need to score 3 goals (we have scored 39 so far, averaging 2.44 goals per game) a game to win: something that might be achievable against smaller teams every now and then, but is surely a tall order even for a team with Real Madrid’s firepower. The numbers don’t add up to stats that can lead us all to believe that we are playing the sort of football that will bring us to the top of La Liga, much less the Champions League (ditto once again for the Copa del Rey, where I really hoped we could perform well in this season given the supposed depth of this squad).
.
Last season, Iker won the Zamora trophy and we boasted of having rock solid defensive performances like the one we saw in our victory at the Camp Nou on our way to emphatically win La Liga. I’m no longer interested in discussing referees because they will always make decisions that are either in favor or against us. Talk of an anti-Madrid conspiracy is childish: we should instead look at ourselves and work on these defensive frailties.
.
Our defense is clearly in bad shape: Ramos seems lost out there on the field. His form has taken a dip, aside from what is probably a sensitive relationship between him and his team mates after his outburst to the press. Cannavaro has been rapidly declining since his arrival and is no where near the defender that he was when he captained Italy to the World Cup (or perhaps, the offensive-minded philosophy of Madrid just doesn’t suit him). Pepe, aside from being injury prone since his arrival has been error-prone too: a stark contrast from the dominant, fast, aggressive defender that he was last year. Heinze has been culpable for what I recall is probably 80% of the goals conceded by the team. Torres is injured. Marcelo still doesn’t know how to defend or cross accurately). Metzelder is too slow and lumbering. Salgado should do himself and the club a favor by retiring at the end of this season. I await Garay’s arrival next season with optimism. In the meantime, I can only scratch my head at how poor our defense has been so far and what can be done about it.
.
Perhaps we should make a move for some defenders this winter break? Experiment further with Javi Garcia at center back? Is there someone from RM Castilla or the C Team we can promote to defense for the first team as Barca did with Carles Puyol?
.
The rumor mill is has cranked out just this morning that Schuster will be sacked if we lose to Valladolid this weekend with Miguel Angel Portugal or Michel waiting to take his position: are we headed to the 1 coach-every-5-games era once again? Schuster seems to be protecting the players, but is doing himself no favors by making more and more enemies in the press and perhaps even in the offices of the Bernabeu. I myself, have cast my doubts on him as well but is this really the right time for this course of action?
.
This mess is starting to smell really, really bad. And as a Madridista, I am now really, really scared.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hapless! Helpless! Inept!


This is the first time I’ve ever felt so humiliated, so embarrassed as a Madrid fan this way since the fading days of the Florentino Perez years. Back then, I was still a new-ish football and Real Madrid fan, still half wondering what was going on, still unaware in many ways at how ‘big’ our collapse really was at the time.
.
But last night (or rather, at 3:30-5:30am Singapore time), I was sitting in my living room couch, still struggling with the food poisoning bout I had suffered over the weekend, feeling…absolute indignation. As I pounded on the couch for every bad pass, poor show of defense, impotent attempt to attack and I cringed and winced in pain to see how Juve had totally dismantled us in the game, my thoughts drifted endlessly:
.
.
.
Shut the Fuck Up Ramon Calderon!
This Jackass Ramon Calderon has the cheek to rip Alex Ferguson as ‘jealous of our 9 European Cups’. He also took a few pot shots at his old boss Florentino Perez. The next day, we get raped on our own pitch by the Grand Old Lady of Europe whom we jokingly remarked ‘had a broken hip.’ Bloody Fuck.

He seems to eat through his ass and shit through his mouth
.
.
I’ve told many of my Man U-supporting friends that if they actually list down the Man-U lineup, I actually love most of their players and thus cannot explain why I dislike (note: NOT hate) Man U. The closest explanation I can come up with was Alex Ferguson whom I really respect but just don’t like. But on this regard: let me make a shout out to Calderon: Alex Ferguson has won 2 Champions Leagues, you Senor Calderon, in your 3 years in charge have not won a single one. Those 9 trophies in our cabinet, are not of your leadership so shut your pie hole until you win a couple of your own. I’d back it up if Don Alfredo made such a reply (though the classy fellow that he is, wouldn’t make such a remark), but from you… please stop embarrassing us!



I don't like Ferguson, but even then, I applaud him for his 2 Champions League Titles, which he won himself as a manager, how many have YOU really won Senor Calderon?
.
.
And while we’re on the same subject, Florentino won it too you jackass. And he did it by bringing the world’s greatest winger at the time (Figo… who happened to be Portuguese) and one of the greatest footballers on the planet (an attacking midfielder named Zidane) to the club. You on the other hand, promised to bring in the guy who was the world’s best attacking midfielder (a certain Kaka) at the time and got your ass rejected in public… repeatedly, embarrassing all of us Madridistas. Then you spend the entire summer flirting with the world’s best winger today (also Portuguese!) and fail yet again. So before you talk shit about other people, I suggest you have a good look at yourself! Maybe you’re the senile one!
.
I hate to say this, I really do, but last night, we missed Robinho. Fuck! There! I said it! We needed width (Glassman’s injury timing was just damn perfect again!), we needed creativity, we needed someone to open up the Juve defense: and we had… Royston Drenthe! We also needed goals by the way (last I checked, Robinho scored a hat trick for Man City not long ago).
.
.
.
Royston D & Our Summer of Fuckups


Welcome to the Champions League Roy!
.
.
Don’t get me wrong, by the end of our 0-2 humiliation at the hands of Juve, he was our best player. My reaction was of disbelief and ‘not again!!!!’ to realize that Drenthe had made the starting XI in place of Robben. At that time, I felt that perhaps Higuain should’ve gotten the nod in the starting XI, or even VDV. Drenthe started nervous, bungling up great chances to build up play or create danger. But somehow his selection seemed clear: spread the field or play wide enough to stretch the Juve defense open. He grew into the game soon enough. As his confidence grew and nerviness dissipated, he began making crosses, using his trickery and ran like crazy (Guillem Balague once wrote that he is a force of nature, that he can run all day)… perhaps, his performance was the only bright light for us in last night’s disaster: that he showed a longer flash than usual as a potential service-able player for RM.
.
.
Here’s the thing though: Drenthe is 21 (I think), and was just tossed into the deep end just like that in a CL fixture against Juventus for one reason: without Robben, there’s no other natural wide player in our roster. We can talk tactics until Mars turns blue (more on that later): but the fact is that our summer fuck up in the market (coz of one jackass’ mindless pursuit for ONE player that turned into nothing) is the reason for this: pawning Robinho to lure Cristiano that ultimately led to the loss of both players (is that fuckin’ stupid or what?!?!).
.
.
.
Coaching / Man Management / Tactics
Yes indeed El Kapitan is the top scorer of the Champions League, so is Ruud (closing in on Raul). But Higuain has been playing out of his mind. He should have been given the nod, Robben or no Robben. He probably would’ve played even better knowing that a certain Diego Maradona was in the stadium to likely consider him for the National team (one of his stated ambitions). This was a match where Real Madrid needed a man up front who had pace, has the ability to cross balls in and provide width aside from scoring goals: qualities that define ‘Pipita’. Instead, Schuster opted for Raul, who to his credit, ran tirelessly and made a nuisance of himself at times to the Juve defence. Raul however, is a player who has lost his pace entirely, and naturally prefers to drop deep to help his midfield in what was a very cluttered center of the pitch. Has sentimentality given way to plain old tactical soundness?



Schuster's Telling Himself: "Hmmm...Nevermind if we're down 0-5, and we really need to win this one, I'll make my magic substitutions during injury time and we'll win!"
.
.
Then, here’s something everyone’s been talking about for a VEEEEERY long time now: why the hell does Schuster take so long to make on-filed adjustments? Jose Mourinho at times doesn’t even wait till half time to make them. Schuster waits AT LEAST till the 65th to do them…. All the frickin’ time! He waited until the game was almost over before he introduced Saviola and Van Der Vaart in: what the hell did he expect them to do on the pitch? Warm up for an after-match training session? I’ll probably be saying this for the first time (though I’ve thought it plenty of times): maybe Schuster just isn’t good enough for Real Madrid? In every single time he’s had to face a team with real class and managed by a manager of real caliber in a big match situation where the onus is on RM, he has faltered. Now, now, now…. I’m not asking for his head… I’m just really beginning to doubt his capabilities as a tactician.
.
Now here’s to hoping Mars turns Blue.

2008-11-02: Almeria 1 - Real Madrid 1

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Same Old Story

Casillas Goes: 'Not Again!'
.
.
.
Here we go again: another gutsy win, against another ‘eternal rival’. Another close one. I went to bed (or in the case of this weekend, the couch at my brother’s house in Manila) feeling good with our hard fought 3-2 win. I felt a sense of comfort: after all, Villarreal only managed a draw after their thrilling encounter with Atletico Madrid while Malaga actually nicked a win against Sevilla. It was a perfect time to grab a win to ‘restore some order’ at the top of the La Liga Standings: now the top 4 teams are Valencia, Barca, Real Madrid & Villarreal… some would say ‘as things should be.’
.
Welcome Back Sneijder! .
.
.
Poise & Discipline
I woke up on Monday late morning though with a very troubled mind: why did we have to put ourselves through such a tortuous process just to win 3 points? The most convenient response would be to look at the atrocious refereeing during the game and what had happened during the Madrid derby and the few games back. It’s easy to look at the times we’ve hit the woodwork and say ‘we could have won 5-2!’ I say: That’s not the point. Why can’t we have won 2-0? Why not 3-0?
.
Referees will always make bad decisions and we will always come close to scoring goals which don’t end up on the score sheet thanks to the woodwork, or some moments to brilliance from the opposing goalkeeper or defense. We can’t keep living on ‘yeah, sure it was 2-1 or 3-2, but that scoreline doesn’t reflect what happened, we could have scored 5!’ We should be better than that, and I truly believe that we can be better than that. I’d take a good, solid 2-0 over ‘We could have scored 5’. I think Madrid and we Madridistas would do well with that mentality.
.
What we need to have is Poise and Discipline. We need to start every game calm but hungry for blood, on our guard and ready to take the game to the opponents instead of being in awe of the occasion completely ready to get caught with our pants down and our cocks standing! (lesson from the Juventus game!). We need to understand that at 1-0, we should not shut ourselves off, that instead, we should cautiously look to hit them for a 2nd, and use our goal advantage to keep the opponents where they need to be so that we can nail them on the counter once the onus is on them to attack (and not hand the game to them to have a go at us like what happened against Atletico!). We need to understand that if we have an early 2-0 lead at home, we should control the game with poise and carefulness and a compact shape: to allow us the chance to pick out smart chances to make it 3-0, 4-0… and not play like we’re thinking that it’s ok to sleepwalk for the rest of the game since 2-0 is good enough (lesson from this Bilbao match!).
.
No cheap tricks, no getting winded up (read: Marcelo), no lapses of concentrations (read: Heinze… again). It’s true that the referees were awful, but let’s please look to ourselves too. As ugly as his football may have been, now, I miss Capello’s refusal to discuss referees and the great sporting example it set back then.
.
.
The 3 of Winter ‘07
Prior to what went on to be a disastrous match for us against Juventus, they showed the team lineups on the screen and I found myself paying attention to 3 particular names: Higuain, Gago and Marcelo – our 3 signings in the winter of 2007: Mijatovic’s babies. Many big clubs had a look at them, some talked of signing them, on hindsight, I don’t really think that the competition (from other European Clubs) to land them was really that fierce, but we did land them. They were all no more than 19 years old. And here they are now, all starting against Europe’s Grand Old Lady. I felt proud in some sense: having seen them before when they first played for Madrid, at first showing us glimpses of their ability… up to what we have today.

Higuain
Pipita Higuain scored 2 goals against Bilbao last Sunday, could’ve been 4 too! He had great movement, used his pace well, played the offside trap very cleverly and drifted from the wings to the middle very effectively. Most of all, he has found his shooting boots. It’s true that people aren’t talking about him just yet in the same breath as Kun Aguero and Lionel Messi, as among the current crop of Argentina’s future greats, but I really believe this will happen very, very soon.
.
.
Gago
What I’ve always liked about Gago’s game was his slick passing. He always makes an effort to execute that one-touch move. He’s always poised and seems used to being surrounded by opposing players. Hi tackling isn’t great yet (which is why Mascherano is still very much needed in the Argentina setup), but his ability to thread long raking and at times, vertical passes up the field to the final third of the pitch to feed his attacking midfielder or his strikers is a sight to behold in a football match. His tackling remains awful, but I reckon he's not interested in hacking someone's legs off... he's just more interested in getting to the ball before you do, and in that sense, I think his sense of positioning (something that takes time when you're in another league) is dramatically improving.
.
.
Marcelo

The Brazilian, among the 3 had the lowest profile of the 3 when he came in. In fact, I still remember the talk of him even spending time with Castilla. Capello immediately declared him to be very young as if to say ‘y’all shouldn’t expect me to play him!’ His appearances last year showed that he was still largely a ‘project’, a work in progress, as he was known for his aggressive runs down the left flank but was the clear weak link in the defense: and everyone knew it. Somehow this year though, either by coincidence / circumstance / Heinze’s long list of blunders / luck or perhaps just him developing as a player, he has seemed more solid. He even showed us his mean streak against Athletic, I do sense quite a bit of progress from him though. Not quite ‘the next Roberto Carlos’, but… a solid acquisition right there.
.
.
.
In any case, it was great to see the 3 ‘prospects’ last Sunday, putting in the kind of performances that would win us big games. I’m hoping to see more of the same in the coming weeks… hopefully… more clean sheets though.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting the Midfield Right


I am writing this down now as we find ourselves trailing Juventus 2-0. I am obviously frustrated like mad. We shouldn’t be losing like this! The halftime commentary talked about how we have seemed hesitant to really have a go at Juve and our history of consistent losses to them…. That somehow indicates that we are afraid. Are they? I’m not really sure that RM headed into this game with a kind of fear. I am more willing to chalk up our awful start (where we conceded a goal from a stunning strike from Del Piero) to just being lax… but for the remainder of the first half, I don’t see our performance as one of being lazy or afraid, I honestly believe that it was simply a matter of a flawed tactical system.
.
Thoughts on the Derby
I thought we were great vs. Athletico Madrid: the 1-2 scoreline was flattering to them. We had many unrightfully disallowed goals and what I felt to be an unfair sending off of RVN. What I thought was the brilliant thing which we did in that game however was our midfield: the combination of De La Red, Gago and Sneijder was great. They held the midfield well positionally, which resulted in a great shape for us. Sneijder played as if he was never injured: he was active and was spraying some nice passes around. Gago was making these great raking passes forward and De La Red held his position really well and got forward and did well to distribute the ball forward.
.
(GAME UPDATE: WE’RE PLAYING MUCH BETTER WITH ROBBEN ON AND RUUD HAS JUST GOTTEN OUR FIRST GOAL!)
.
Van Der Vaart is not a Central Midfielder!
One thing we did in this game vs. Juventus was to start with a midfield trio of VDV, Sneijder and Gago. What makes us think that this is an ideal lineup for such a match…. Against an Italian side!?!? Van Der Vaart is NOT a Central Midfielder. I know that we’ve racked up wins with him in the middle 3, but he’s not really a true midfielder: he’s not known for his passing / playmaking or positional ability. He’s an attacking midfielder by nature: which is why we’ve seen him threaten the goal with shots from distance but at the midfield, aside from Sneijder’s active moves and Gago’s raking vertical passes, we have had no shape and have been bullied… and our front 3 have been left starving for service). Why couldn’t have we just repeated the midfield lineup we used in the derby?
.
(GAME UPDATE: DRENTHE HAS JUST COME ON FOR VDV TO PROVIDE US WITH EVEN MORE WIDTH)
.
I really believe that it’s this deficiency we stated out with for our midfield that is the reason why we had spent the first half completely dominated by the Juventus Spine of Chiellini, Sissoko and Amauri. No solidity at midfield meant that Sissoko who had played a brilliant first half, has completely killed off our midfield and Chiellini has had an easier time containing a starved RVN-Raul-Higuain front 3. Amauri also had an easy time, dropping deep into midfield and lead the line forward to punish us.
.
Heinze…Again!
The announcers have absolutely crucified Pepe for giving up the ball that led to the 2nd goal. But can we all please have a look at the replay and see who was defending Amauri and how he defended the guy? It was Heinze….again. A late, half-interested lunge towards the ball from him was completely ineffective in stopping the Juve forward. I know I should lay off him a bit since it’s his cross to RVN that’s given us a fighting chance in this game… but heck.
.
Ramos has been awful in the 2nd half.
What’s up with Sergio Ramos??? An awful game versus Athletico and he has been absolutely dreadful this 2nd half. Slow to reach balls, constantly losing the ball, fouls galore… getting caught out. I’m just scratching my head. Where is the world’s best right back?
.
Width and Making changes sooner
Schuster has been constantly criticized for making his changes perhaps too late all the time. In this game, it has been Robben’s presence that has transformed the game. But why did he wait for so long before sending Robben in? It was very clear very early on that the best way to overcome Italians’ strength in choking up the middle of the park and holding the line at the center of defense was to open up the field with wide players. Granted, that Schuster tried to replicate that same situation on the other flank by bringing in Drenthe (perhaps also as a reward to him for winning that penalty during the derby), but he was completely useless. More and more I am beginning to feel that perhaps Drenthe wasn’t really such a good buy. Goal.com actually once did a feature n which type of player RM needs the most at this time. For some reason, the readers replied that what RM needs the most at this point in time is another striker. I voted that we need a winger. Those words echo very strongly in my head now
.
(GAME UPDATE: GAME OVER… WE HAD JUST LOST 2-1)
.
I know, I know… we’ll get ‘em back at the Bernabeu. Juve played well, I have to give them that. But I really have to say that we should’ve done better by not being so lax at the stat of the 2 halves but at the same time, I also think that we could’ve done better too… if only we got our midfield right from the beginning.
.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Would We Rather Have It This Way?

So here we are... first draw of the season and dropping down even further in the table to be tied with Barca on points and further away from Villareal and Valencia who have been putting on great performances thus far. I know it's early on in the season but these types of situation are making me really antsy: we are adrift by quite a few places from top spot in what is shaping up to be a competitive La Liga season: Villareal is great as ever, Valencia have found themselves again and Sevilla seems to have recovered from the loss of Juande Ramos and their summer player departures. Then let's not forget Athletico Madrid who are being carried by the super-scoring strikeforce of Aguero and Forlan... plus of course Barca, who, after a sputtering start under Pep Guardiola are playing great football and winning convincingly again. If we don't figure our issues out... we'll be in trouble.
.
I actually thought we weren't so bad. Even in the first half where we conceded the 2 goals. We were able to move forward and create some chances which were fluffed (typical Higuain miss- making all of us go 'uh-oh'). But we moved forward quite well.
.
We were even better in the 2nd half as we laid siege to their goal in the second half but were left with only a point. Would we really rather have it this way? I ask this question more than a week after our game against Zenit where we lived a situation with the tables turned against us: 2nd half with the opponent laying siege on our goal. 3 points with all that suffering? or 1 point despite the effort?
.
I totally get where the guys who had made comments in my previous post are coming from: we all want to see Madrid destroy teams utterly, with our guys who are not only the best players on the planet, but also the sexiest, most popular and even most stylish. We don't' have those players now though: CRon is still with ManU, Kaka is still with AC Milan, Messi will be Barca for life (likely) and Aguero is not in the white half of Madrid... so what gives (we can discuss our transfer failings some other time)? Instead, we have a darn good team with great unity and fighting spirit: something I would happily take and accept. I'm happy to accept our team that fights and suffers for 3 points. Hopefully, we can get bet back to those winning ways at the Calderon on the 19th.
.
.
Raul
.
Raul is starting an odd trend: he seems to play well at the Bernabeu but is quite shitty when on the road. Somehow I think this works out for Schuster since the pressure to play El Kapitan comes mostly from the partisan Madrid crowd who wants to see the local hero on the pitch. If the local hero is on the pitch when the brown expects him to... and he scores goals then all is fine and dandy then! On the road, however, Schuster may choose a more effective but less luxurious or sentiment-driven lineup with Higuain and Robben supporting Van Gol with their pace on the counter attack. I know and fully admit that I have been one of those who have called for Raul's benching in favor of Higuain... but as a Madridista, I will always be happy to the the Captain score and bail us out (term of the year: Bail Out).
.
.
Heinze
.
Heinze is really irritating the crap out of me. since the start of the season, I've been pondering the idea of buying myself a Real Madrid '08-'09 Jersey. I haven't done it yet because I can't figure out whose number I'd like to have on the back of it. So I came up with a list: which was a pointless exercise since the list was too long (LOL) . But the name that was easily not on the list was Heinze's. It's strange: I used to love the guy... 'the gringo' I loved his graft, his no nonsense attitude, his toughness and his unapologetic blue-collar nature. But after a year in La Liga, he's picked up all the bad habits of the Spanish League already! (e.g. flailing his arms, twisting and turning on the ground and seemingly wincing in pain at the slightest contact from an opponent). What's more is that he has really been the weak point in our defense. The bad tackle to conceded the penalty vs. Espanyol was his and the 2nd goal conceded was his fault too. He was also culpable for one of the Zenit goals (attempting a stupid diving header when a clearance with his foot would've easily sufficed!). Maybe Schuster was onto something when he kept giving Marcelo a run out...
.
.
Robben / Winger Problem
.
Robben got hurt vs. Espanyol which now has all Madridistas wondering in fear how we'll ever be able to create enough space in the midfield without our winger who could spread the field open. The answer is most definitely not Drenthe. In his 2nd season at RM already, I have really yet to see more than just tiny glimpses of real quality from him. Higuain is perhaps our best option in that regard... or we can opt to put in a more defensive midfield (who can drop back) and use our fullbacks (Marcelo & Ramos) to provide width. Another idea that came to mind (as the suggestion of Guillem Balague's went) was to include VDV as part of the front three in Schuster's new favored 4-3-3 instead of as part of the midfield: given that VDV isn't really the match-pace controlling type of midfielder (e.g. Diarra, De la Red, Gago) and is really more of a scorer rather than a ball distributor in the mold of Sneijder or a playmaker like Guti. Latest medical update however revealed that Robben might be ok for the Madrid derby... but the thought must still be taken into consideration in lieu of Robben being 'the glass man.'
.
.
Sneijder & the Midfield Options
It was GREAT to see Sneijder back... wearing his new #10 jersey (his #10 is the front-running consideration for me for my '08-'09 RM Jersey)! he only played a few minutes and is still clearly not yet match fit: I am just totally hoping that the coming international games can break him into shape just in time for the Madrid derby. The same can be hoped for Gago for when he returns to the Argentina squad for their WC Qualifiers.
.
My skepticism however lies with what looks like Guti winning his place back his place for the Madrid derby: what is he's not match fit - which is a real possibility. I'm totally not happy with AS talking so much about De La Red's errors in the Espanyol game that was dissected like no one's business. Somehow, I feel like De La Red might be the better choice for the match since it wold be a great chance to grab Athletico's supposedly weak midfield by the balls to prevent them from linking up with Aguero up front.
.
Our new found glut in midfield somehow really puts the option described by Balague as a real possibility: to move VDV as among the front 3.
.
Lastly, I'm really happy to see the piece on AS the other day on Diarra where they had openly expressed that he has been RM's best player this season so far. I'm really happy for the team and for him: He has been imperious thus far and it's great to see the 'water carriers' being given the credit they really deserve!

2008-10-05: Real Madrid 2 - Espanyol 2

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Win is a Win

So there are many who look back at our win over Zenit in St. Petersburg in a negative light. We took the lead on a classic RVN 'fox-in-the-box' goal.... and shortly after that we proceeded to defend. We spent the entire second half on the backfoot, defending from one wave after another of Zenit's attacks. We miraculously left the game with all three points and Zenit with no points in 2 games. By the time the game was over, I felt relievsed but admittedly, like most Madridistas, a feeling of disappointment from how we pulled off the win.
.
After much pondering however, I actually have to say I'm happy with the win.
-It was Real Madrid's first away win in the Champions League in almost 2 years
-It was against Zenit St. Petersburg - who count Bayern Munich, and Manchester United among their European scalps.
-It was the first time I've seen the team spend 45 mins. with 11 men behind the ball to pull off a very un-Real Madrid-like win: something that tells me that we as a team, have stepped out beyond our usual notion of having to beat everyone by merely attacking them. Most of the time, for opponents like Zenit however, such a mentality / philosophy has always resulted in us heading back home with our tails between our legs.
.
So, let me say this now after looking at the situation retrospectively: a win is a win, and perhaps we Madridistas should not think of our team as the team to beat. Perhaps we and the rest of the world should stop looking at this particular game as a matter of Zenit possibly nicking a win against us and counting us among their scalps: it is us who should think of counting them as among ours.... after all, this was exactly the type of game that we were incapable of winning: and here we are with 6 points from 2 games in the Champions League... with only half of our midfield line intact. I'd say this was a darn good result considering the circumstances.
.
We're playing Espanyol at the Bernabeu in a few hours... I'm now totally hoping for a good performance with a convincing scoreline to put some comfort back into the hearts of all Madridistas... we especially need a good win after Barca's thrashing of Athletico...

2008-09-30: Zenit St. Petersburg 1 - Real Madrid 2

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008-09-27: Real Betis 1 - Real Madrid 2

Clutch City

Bernd Schuster is turning this team into a great team! I hope it's not pre-mature at this point to make these declarations, but I can certainly see the makings of a great team already:
.
We are playing high-scoring, entertaining football at home: hat tricks and back heeled goals for our midfielders and 7-1 mauling of poor, newly-promoted sides. We played awesome against Sporting, though was still careful not to read too much on a victory over a minnow team which Barca had just trounced 6-1 days back. What give me encouragement though are the wins on the road against tough teams such as Racing and most, recently, Real Betis in their home grounds, where getting 3 points is far from easy. We've played solid football throughout those matches and have put away the naive game plan of wanting to play tiki-taka against teams in their soil, only to be smashed with counter attacks that would cost us the game.
.
Moreover, we are showing the kind of winning mentality necessary to win titles: disregarding the momentum of the game or the opponents' superiority in numbers to make comebacks or score tie-breaking goals to win matches as we have shown yet again against Betis just days back and against Valencia in the Supercup. This is a team that is capable of winning 'character-matches'. This is a team with a winning character, and so far, I've been damn proud of them.
.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, now healthy again, has resumed doing what Ruud Van Nistelrooy always does: score goals... no matter what, no matter where, no matter when. Rafael Van Der Vaart hasn't really gotten into the scheme of things (or maybe that's just his style), but he's been a constant threat / menace to the opponents' goal with his shots from long distance and the perpetual threat and insecurity to the opposing defense that it brings. Robben has been thankfully injury-free and has become the wing presence we need to replace the void left by Robinho (in a way) while Higuain has finally found his scoring boots and has been playing really well thus far.
.
At midfield, injuries have brought us terrible luck, but the same injury problem has allowed us to discover a something really great: that Ruben De La Red is awesome. I like him paired up with Diarra much better: as his physical presence and defensive capabilities allow him to control and even boss the midfield (in a way that Guti is not capable of), but at the same time, he has the ability to roam forward and serve as the offensive fulcrum in initiation the offense. And let's not forget his capabilities as a goal scorer as he has a mean shot from distance. De La ed to me, turns out to be the rare box-to-box midfielder who can give us the flexibility and dynamism we need to push forward and we had found missing in the first few games with Guti in the double Pivot alongside Diarra.
.
I'm also really glad that Schuster's decision to go with a rotation policy has paid off: now we have guys like Javi Garcia and even Saviola who have received some real playing time in their actual favored positions in real games: at the same time, guys like Robben who is a perpetual candidate for the treatment room as well as guys like De La Red & Diarra (midfielders = something we're short of at the moment) are able to rest up and have some breathing space between the matches in this part of the season where we play up to 2 games every 3 days.
.
Marca has just conducted a survey on who should be that 'attacking trident' (in a 4-3-3 formation) for the Zenit game where Schuster would need to bench one of either Robben, Raul, RVN or Higuain. I voted in favor of a starting threesome of Robben-RVN-Higuain. My apologies to Raul fans, but I do think that now is the time his place in the starting XI needs to start being non-guaranteed. Schuster was right that 'it is necessary to respect his history, but I think we must also equally respect the good work and and the resultant good form that has been reached by his teammates.
.
Next Stop: St. Petersburg in Andre Arshavin's turf. I'm hoping for a win (though the conservative prediction would be a draw) to get us past halfway to advancing beyond this tough, tough group.

Monday, September 22, 2008

2008-09-21: Racing Santander 0 - Real Madrid 2

Improvements

I generally liked how we played last night in out 0-2 win against Racing Santander. We played with character, toughness and discipline. We walked away with a professional win.
.
I wondered for a while when Schuster would be fielding Ruben De la Red for the longest time: having fielded the canterano as a sub for the quite a few games already but giving Gago a chance ahead of him to start. I didn’t think De La Red’s chance to start would come last night though as I had expected a midfield of Diarra-Guti and Van Der Vaart with Higuain playing either as a winger or as a 3rd forward in a 4-3-3. Schuster instead surprised us with a central midfield of De La Red and Diarra holding the middle to allow Guti to roam forward. Schuster however reigned in his tendency to gamble with the attacking Marcelo in favor of his ‘best defense in the world’ combination of Ramos-Cannavaro-Pepe and Heinze protecting Casillas. Then, the much talked about move of Higuain came to be, not at the expense of Raul though.
.
The defense held up well: keeping Racing at bay and giving us our first La Liga cleansheet. We seemed a bit shaky on defense though as we tired to defend those last gasp dead ball situations when Racing were making their last stand. Pepe hasn’t played like the menacing centerback who sucked out all potential threats before they could even materialize, Cannavaro made some insane errors that almost cost us a goal or two too… and while I’d rate Sergio Ramos’ performance as good, I thought that Heinze was awful: he gave me a few moments to be nervous about but most of all I didn’t like seeing his moments of cynical play. Along with his blatant elbow against BATE (which would’ve cost us a penalty and possibly even a straight red for him had the ref seen it), his other antics in the game were really bordering on thuggery and I found it quite embarrassing.
.
On midfield, I think that Schuster might’ve found himself a darn good combination for his double pivot: Diarra + De La Red. I thought De La Red had a great game. He tested the keeper with a nifty shot from distance and even scored the go-ahead goal to give us the lead. What I did think he did very well was pair up with Diarra to control the middle. He linked play well, was a good physical presence, played good defense and covered lots of ground. This performance of his, dare I say puts him ahead of Gago in the pecking order for RM’s central (defensive) midfielders. Guti however, got injured and now all of a sudden, we are looking very thin in an area where we supposedly have a glut of talent: Sneijder, Gago and now Guti all on the treatment table with Diarra going through the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan (i.e. he’s not 100%), we will only have De La Red, the not-yet-fully-integrated Van Der Vaart and Javi Garcia (whom I do not rate as of yet) playing in the middle.
.
Up front, Gonzalo Higuain has made an emphatic claim for a spot in the starting XI with his man-of-the-match performance. He was everywhere: surging forward with runs and passing to initiate play, on the wings where he created loads of danger (including his spectacular run on the right side which led to his assist for De La Red’s goal). Of course, Ruud is still Ruud: what a Golazo he scored! Raul however looks lost.
.
I love Raul, I really do and have loads of respect for El Kapitan but I really do think that it is perhaps now time for him to cede his automatic berth in the starting XI. He is no longer effective as the link man between midfield and the forwards because of the severe loss of his pace, his lack of passing/playmaking ability as well as his lack of dribbling skills (despite his clear full hearted effort-exertion and sheer graft). His performances thus far tell me that his effectiveness last season was due to him playing the role of the ‘9’ with RVN’s injury. This season, with RVN back and banging in the goals with his usual consistency, Raul has become redundant. I expect to see him play against Sporting this Wednesday as we will be playing in the Bernabeu and perhaps a ‘weaker’ team can provide the avenue for him to find his scoring form and confidence. But I do hope that Schuster gives it a try to rest him vs. Betis and use a lineup that can allow more possibilities in attack.