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.

No comments:

Post a Comment