Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Midfield...

Let me start off by saying that I'm quite happy with how our first away game went. To start: I find Pellegrini's move to start the game with Raul, CR9 and Lass Diarra on the bench very compelling: it is a statement to the world that we are not going to be like the Galacticos v1.0 by insisting on our star players starting every game regardless of form or fatigue (CR9 and Lass). It also conveys a message to those on the bench: train well and you may REALLY get the chance to play. And so El Pirata, Pipita and Guti managed to get their first starts this season. Lastly, the move shows that Pellegrini trusts the squad as a whole and is willing to be intelligent about managing his team's minutes. Nevermind that despite being fit, Raul also made the bench: perhaps out of fatigue management, it still reinforces to him and to all that he is not a blind shoo-in ro start every game.
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And the team responded. Sort of.
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Though the defense showed improvement (likely with due credit to the under-rated Metzelder), the midfield looked too porous: which in my view gave Espanyol more space to operate and attack than they would have had if we had a Diarra on the field. Despite Xabi Alonso having shown before that he can win balls and put in a hard tackle every so often, he's clearly not the man for this job. I can't wait to see Diarra V1.0 fully ready for action. Once again, Marcelo looked good going forward (even forcing Khameni to a great save with a missle) but it was really apparent that he is the weak point in this defense. Espanyol knew it too.
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On the attacking front, the midfield did great. Xabi kept things organized, Granero looked comfortable, Kaka was very dangerous... And even Guti played well!
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On attack, neither Pipita nor Benzema impressed... Which worries me because this was the striking combination that I've always wanted to see. People are saying that the reason for this is because the 2 are too similar: that they both prefer to drop deep and use their pace to attack. I still think it's too early to tell but of course, performances like this one can and will likely be used as reasons to not give the 2 young strikers the chance to play with each other and learn to gel.
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My overall assessment of the match is as I had conveyed in my comments at Real - The Offside: that it was the midfield who had won it for us: but was also ultimately the reason for our many vulnerable moments. Because while it's true that Kaka (who was Man-of-the-Match in my eyes), Granero (looking like a definite future starting XI figure), Guti and Xabi Alonso played well and made up for the dissappointing performances of our strikers on attack (with all goals and assists coming from them)... the absence of a Diarra to win balls and harrass the Espanyol midfield was clear. We were missing that 'shock-absorber' who could've further protected our improved (credit to Metzelder) but still shaky defense.
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It was a great win though against an opponent to be respected in their new stadium which gave a really good atmosphere to lift their team. Though we didnt see ourselves control the game enough, we managed to score 3 goals, kept a clean sheet. The performance was more beer than champagne, but enoyable nonetheless.
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On a separate note: my congratulations to San Iker for his 10 amazing years between the sticks for us. He made a few great saves and I'm happy to see him keep a clean sheet especially on such an ocassion.

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