Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The 'R' Word

The 'R' word being referred to in this entry's title is 'Rotation' just in case Cristiano Ronaldo thought it was all about him yet again: We're up 3-0 and cruising. We play Marseille and Sevilla in days. And you choose to act like a petulant 13-year old girl over being subbed out. Grow the fuck up.
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Let me start by inviting everyone to listen into the new weekly podcast organized by Corey from Real - The Offside, Kevin from the Own Goal Network and Adam from Real Madrid Talk. I was lucky and happy to be invited to participate. You may download the podcast here.
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There are those who say that our 3-0 scoreline vs. Tenerife was too flattering for us. It's a good thing that I'm writing this now, a day past the match itself, with my thoughts and memories of the match having stewed in my brain more. So now, to those who say that Tenerife deserved more: to them I say 'I beg to disagree'.
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It was indeed very clear that our initial midfield of Xabi Alonso, Granero and Lass were overrun by the Tenerife midfield, making it easy for them to get to our final 3rd of the pitch. However, during the times they made it to our box, the steady presence of Raul Albiol and Pepe extinguished their chances time after time. This was the first game with Raul Albiol in a Real Madrid shirt where I found myself saying 'hey, this guy's not bad at all'... I am now beginning to feel really good about this Pepe-Albiol partnership. Let me also point out that Iker wasn't forced into any superhuman saves nor did any Tenerife forwards make any Valeron-esque misses (to those, who don't know what I mean, please dig up the video of our season-opener vs. Depor).
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The second half was clearly a totally different thing: with Kaka and Guti on, we gained control over the midfield and the game. I have to now ask the question: is Manuel Pellegrini the man who gets to finally unlock Guti's full potential? Nevermind Kaka, who knifed his way effortlessly across the Tenerife defense and was duly rewarded with a cracker of a goal: his first in open play as I had initially hoped to see (I also predicted a 3-0).
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Let's of course not forget to mention Karim Benzema's brace. He's due a few goals and I'm happy he's managed to bang in a couple last Saturday. The 2 goals were quite different too: one was a header (something we don't usually see from him) and the other off a strike whose chance he created by running after and muscling a Tenerife defender off a poor backpass. I can only now look on worriedly as Pipita Higuain and hope that he can catch the goalscoring virus too.
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With the squad that we have, I'm with Pellegrini on the issue of Rotation.
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It was a classic story of a tale of 2 halves that also reveals the classic subject of debate: rotation. I've read alarm bells ringing in the various Madrid columns expressing worry over very similar questions: who's good enough to be a sub for Xabi Alonso? Who's good enough to be Kaka's sub? Are we doomed with this squad without depth? To these questions, I shoot back with my own questions: is there even such a thing as a substitute for Xabi Alonso? for Kaka? Isn't the fact that there are none out there like them the reason why we paid so much money for them?
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Simply put: Real Madrid can not and should not play in a way that assumes they are on the pitch when they are not on it. It is a shortcoming in terms of preparation when we can't manage to crack open a newly-promoted side at home with the starting lineup that we had (yes, I'm talking about the lineup withOUT Kaka and Guti). Granero must do better on the pitch and should be man enough to stomach being sent to the bench after such a performance especially after being handed the prestigious role of holding up baton that Kaka usually wielded when on the pitch. He lacked mobility, vision and poise during the first 45 mins. As a non-believer of Guti, even I would have the guts to say that a Guti in the first half playing as he did in the 2nd would have likely allowed us control of the game, if not take the lead.
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Cristiano Ronaldo: grow the fuck up: while it is clear that you have the talent of a Balon D 'Or winner, you also have the tendency to act like a petulant 13-year old girl. To be worth 96m euros and be substituted out with 10 mins to go in match with a scoreline of 3-0 in your team's favor is a decision most sane coaches would make. Only when you really grow up, can we Madridistas ever say that you have a level of class to match the likes of Zizou. Let me air my stance out on rotation: with the calendar we have which involves 2 matches a week for a span of almost a month or longer, and taking into consideration the kind of players we have outside the starting XI (Arbeloa, Metzelder, Diarra v1.0, Guti, Granero, Higuain, Van Nistelrooy, etc.): we must rotate the squad. Here are some reasons:
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1. Keep our starters fresh and help in avoiding injuries. In the long term, I REALLY believe that we will feel the difference towards the 'money' part of the season where games are more crucial and silverware is at stake.
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2. Keep the the ENTIRE squad happy. The names I listed up there of the non-starters can form the starting XI for a Champions League team. If you don't use their talents, you risk poisoning the dressing room and losing chemistry in the team. You will also likely lose many of them when the market opens and then there goes the squad depth.
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3. Let the squad get familiar with each other. As awesome as they are: Real Madrid will need to know how to play without our supercracks (Kaka & CR 96) and other pivotal players (e.g. Xabi Alonso & Lass) as an injury or suspension can kill us in a competition. I'd rather that Granero run around out there like a lost boy to be 'rescued' by Kaka in the 2nd half during a match vs. a newly promoted side on league day 6 rather than on a CL final where he comes on for an injured player clueless on what to do because no one ever tried him out enough.
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4. Keep the opponents guessing. At this point in time, we have seen Pellegrini vary from a 4-2-2-2, a kind of convoluted 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1... Each with a varied set of players and even with the same players in different roles for the same system. Confusing enough? I hope so. Because an investment of patience and time will allow the team to understand Pellegrini's system better and allow him and the squad to confound opposing scouts and managers. I.e. We are looking at a possible Real Madrid team that can destroy you not only because of the lethal arsenal at their disposal but also because of the multitude of ways by which that arsenal can be used.
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Let's put things in perspective here: we face Marseille in the Champions League tomorrow and Sevilla on the weekend. The decision to rest our top players in a match vs. A newly promoted squad is a very sensible thing to do. I'm with Pellegrini on this one. So Far.
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Now that we're done discussing the 'R' word, it is now time to practice the 'P' word.
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Patience.

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