Monday, February 16, 2009

A Day in a Life Without Robben

Have We Finally Discovered how to Live without Robben?
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I'm not really VERY sure as to why I've been gone from the past few weeks for my 'thoughts and commentaries' bit for this blog. Maybe it's because of the few personal milestones in my life that have taken place recently, or the insanity at work the last few weeks... Or it was just me going about, calm (over our 8 game winning streak with only one goal conceded) but bored over our stale play and seemingly hopeless dependence on the Glassman.
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Last night's 4-0 win over Sporting Guijon was a great relief though I have to say. We scored 4 goals and were utterly convincing in our play. It was the kind of commanding performance that the team needed to put in and the fans needed to see: including myself, feeling now like I've been zapped with a thunderbolt to hop back onto the keyboard to talk about my thoughts on the team.
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Tactical Flexibility and Dynamism from Juande
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With every game played by this team under Juande, I am beginning to really respect and look up to the man. Not that I thought he was no good before (I've always admired his Sevilla side), just that I never regarded him as a top, top class manager. But as things go on with this team, he's going higher and higer up my respect rankings. He is showing a very skillfull tactical sensibility that allows the team to adopt in a dynamic manner to the situations presented to them: in this case, the loss of all players from whom supposedly all the offensive creativity was supposed to come from: Guti, Sneijder (injured playmakers), Robben (our only 'crack' lost through injury as predicted to happen at some point) and Van Der Vaart (lost though suspension).
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309 Goals and Counting: Raul's legend continues
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Last night, we saw Madrid start with their favored defense (Ramos, Cannavaro, Pepe and Heinze), and central midfield (Gago & Lass) while Juande tweaked his 4-4-2's attack to fit a left back and 3 strikers. Marcelo played in a straightforward manner as a Left Winger while we found Raul and Higuain perpetually switching roles in the hole: where Raul was astonishingly effective, and Higuain was just an absolute pain in the ass for the Sporting Defense. Nevermind that we lost our right wing presence: Sergio Ramos surged forward to put in some absolutely dangerous crosses: 1 which almost led to a Higuain goal (he missed), another to give Raul is 308th goal (congrats to El Kapitan!) and another for Huntelaar's disallowed goal (which looked totally onside to me). The adjustments made by Juande were subtle, within his 4-4-2 and astonishingly effective.
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His substitutions also created dynamic situations for the switching of positions. Torres comes in for Heinze at Left Back on a straight swap. Then Javi Garcia for Gago as another straight swap... then finally we see Parejo come in for Sergio Ramos: as I began to scratch my head over the prospect of Juande going with 3 at the back, Marcelo withdrew to left back, Torres switched to Right back to allow Parejo to come in as the attacking left sided midfielder. This guy knows his stuff and I say we deserve a title for it. A dramatic La Liga comeback would be almost just as great as a 10th European Cup.
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Marcelo convinced a lot of Madridistas last night.... including me. .
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Ok, I admit it: Marcelo ain't bad as a Left Sided Midfielder
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By halftime, I was still a skeptic over the Brazilian. He did raid the left side of midfield, but he rarely crossed, often forced to pass it to the center where a 'reset' of the offense would almost always be possible. In the second half, his defender finally gave him running space: and paid for it dearly with a cracker of a goal. On another occasion where his defender let him get past, he found Marcelo making a decent cross in. Maybe there's hope yet. The kid ran his socks off. So from this space, I have to admit it: he played a great game (perhaps his best so far in a Real Madrid shirt) and I applaud him for it (and congratulate him for his first Real Madrid goal). More of those types of performances and we'll be able to breathe easier knowing that we have a few more backups from the wings in this team.
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Super Lass and Gago
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Lass and Gago were absolute monsters out there last night: they just swallowed the Sporting midfield whole. Lass's energy is amazing: an absolute attack dog at midfield. His ability to run and harass anyone not wearing a Real Madrid shirt with the ball is astounding. Gago on the other hand, is turning out to be an absolutely elegant Central midfield organizer. simple passes, long passes, short passes, keeping play live.... a lifeline at the midfield. I have no idea how Guti will fit into this midfield once he's back... maybe he needs to compete with Sniejder for that spot. But I'll say this now: we shouldn't mess around with the midfield anymore: This is it. Lass and Gago. Monster Midfield.
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I would however say that our great play was not only because of the midfield: it was also due to how we used our attacking players. It's been a long time since I saw Raul drop off deeper to midfield to many times to initiate and link play. I suppose it helps if you have Huntelaar in there too... playing the '9', holding the ball up and keeping the centerbacks of Sporting busy. To make things ever better, Higuain would do this too... his range of movements was much more considerable though: drifting left, right, running at the centers. Perhaps the only injustice of the night is for Higuain to not score.
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Rock solid defense
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I can't really talk about the game if I didn't talk about our defense. Pepe and Cannavaro were both outstanding in just erasing anything that remotely came near Iker's goal. I'm happy to see him get a day off.
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I'm REALLY Happy the Hunter has opened his White Goal Scoring Account
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Huntelaar
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Finally, I am happy to see Huntelaar open his account too. I expect him to be out there for 90 minutes against Betis since we won't be seeing him in the Champions League vs. Liverpool. The goal (even the disallowed one) will give him the much needed confidence that a striker needs to finally debut as a starter in the Bernabeu and make his place in the team even more firm.
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As the Red Train of Liverpool approaches the Bernabeu, I'm happy to see that while we get our best guns ready for them, we are now finding small but effective pieces to use for the La Liga campaign (as we optimistically wait for Barca to drop more points). Life without the Glassman has not proved unlivable as most had predicted. As the verdiblancos of Betis approach, a revived Marcelo and the Hunter awaits them... as does a few new tricks up our sleeve. Let's hope for the best.

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