Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Earn Your Spot

Esteban 'El Pirata' Granero: My Man-of-the-Match vs. Valladolid
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It was a generally 'ok' game. We had looked good going forward. our build up play had been good and our finishing wasn't too shabby either with CR96 in his preppy boy outfit on the stands and Kaka coming on in the 70th. We scored our 4 goals without them: they were all borne out of good offensive play, ball movement and organization.
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The Madrid-based press has been doing what we all predicted they'd be doing by now: trumping up Raul as some kind of God for his brace. Don't get me wrong: I do think that he did well for himself in this game. I do however believe that he is not worthy of the 'supercrack' praises that he's being showered with at the moment for last night's performance. He was good... But he wasn't that oh-so-wonderful player who pounded Valladolid either.
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In my book, last night's man of the match was another canterano: 'El Pirata' Esteban Granero. He made us forget that Kaka didn't start and showed the world that the Madrid cantera was indeed capable of producing top quality players who are worthy to wear the white shirt. Granero kept the ball well and distributed it to the right people and to the right areas of play. He played with dynamism and intelligence: knowing when to hold his position in the middle and when to drift wide, knowing when to surge forward with a run or a raking pass and when to do a tactical retreat to reset play by passing back. He displayed great technique and an ample dose of pace too: leading to his menacing run down the right flank to assist Raul's first goal. If there was any bit of injustice, it would have been that he wasn't able to score. I am one of many Madridistas looking forward to seeing him point to the sky and cover his eye once again (his ‘pirate’ celebration).
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On defense, I'd like to point out that neither of the goals came from our traditional defensive inadequacies. The first goal was off an unstoppable free kick that was further helped by the goal post. The second was off a lazy backpass that Valladolid ruthlessly pounced on. Both goals were borne not out of Marcelo / Ramos' 'open channels' but out of silly mistakes from our 'double pivots' (Lass' careless foul near the box that led to the free kick & Alonso's lazy backpass). It doesn't mean however that we had a good game on defense. We continue to be miserable in our defending of corners (e.g. Raul getting beaten again with a header from the corner, though ultimately saved by Casillas again) and were lucky to face a side that didn’t kill us for every mistake we made.
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One sour point to the game was perhaps Karim Benzema. He did try to play as the ‘9’ early on in the game: making himself available for the ball to be knocked up to him. Every instance we tried this though, instead of trying to control the ball to hold it up, he simply just let it bounce off his chest back to the midfielder: completely negating his function to hold the ball up (I supposed it was better than losing it). He did make a few runs from the flanks, but was essentially ineffective.
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Pipita Goes: Hey You! Yes You! Write it Down: Pipita to Start vs. Milan on Wednesday. .
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And as one plays poorly, another one comes to show what he can do. I am thrilled, very thrilled to see Gonzalo Higuain score the kind of top class goal he did. It was a goal that reflected his soaring confidence from his much-deserved National Team call-up as well as his goal for them in his first start. I am keeping my fingers crossed to see him get the nod for a spot in the Starting XI against Milan on Wednesday.
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We can bash Raul as much as we like at this point, but we can’t look past the fact that he’s still scoring goals. And with Pipita’s performance this weekend, I hope he is rewarded with the starting berth against Milan (same for Granero too!). As for Karim, he must then prove himself worthy as I believe he can of displacing Raul or Higuain to reclaim his place.
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Here’s to a game with enough to be optimistic about as we head off to face Milan on Wednesday.

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