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!
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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----------------- 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?
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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.
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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.’
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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.

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