Thursday, October 30, 2008

Same Old Story

Casillas Goes: 'Not Again!'
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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.’
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Welcome Back Sneijder! .
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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?
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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.
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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!).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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