Sunday, December 6, 2009

3 Moments of Madness... And yet another Month of Madness

When we drop Gago, give his '5' shirt to Lass and Lass' '10' to this Guy... he's been earning it.
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So it ends 4-2. A pretty neat scoreline that masks the chaos that ensued in the 2nd half. In the ends though, there are a few things that are noteworthy to point out.
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Tactics
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Manuel Pellegrini granted some but not all of my wishes: bringing in Van Der Vaart as Kaka's substitute and Granero in for the suspended Lass. he didn't give in to all my 'requests' though as we saw Marcelo remain in the starting XI. The result was a single-pivot / diamond formation. Rafael Van Der Vaart gave a good account of himself, playing at the tip of the diamond, behind the striking partnership of Higuain and CR96... Xabi Alonso on the other hand, played as the lone pivot in a lineup that was discussed before as a suitable one against weaker opponents in the Bernabeu. Granero played on the right side of the midfield where I found that we didn't' look too natural in that role. Marcelo played well as a left-sided midfielder (despite my preference to see him on the bench) in a role that allows his very elementary defensive abilities to be used but allow his attacking instincts with his dribbling and pace to create problems for the opposing defense.
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A variance to Pellegrini's tactics however sees us play with a 4-2-3-1: with Xabi Alonso and Granero holding pivot positions to create the midfield compression effect that we saw against Barca (not used so much here), creating a dragnet for their midfielders to lose the ball. I suspect this to be so out of seeing Higuain attacking Almeria through the flanks on counter-attacking situations... with Cristiano in the middle. Let me say this then: the seemingly seamless shift from a 4-4-2 diamond when on attack to a 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1) while Ronaldo and Pipita switch positions from being Attackers to be auxiliary wingers to being full-fledged strikers is a mark of tactical sophistication that I haven't seen in a long time at Real Madrid. It is a clear indication of Pellegrini's ability to understand the variances that he can create out of this supremely more talented lineup as compared to the one he had at Villarreal. Perhaps this switching between Cristiano and Pipita has been the reason why Benzema was left out of the starting XI (here I am answering my own questions... hahaha).
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Performances
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The match had been going well early on in the game with Pellegrini's tactics working perfectly... leading to total domination of the match for the first half. Perhaps, their only luck came from Diego Alves' impressive performances, which had kept us from racing forward to a 4-0 lead before we even got to the halfway point of the first half.
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It was all Madrid in the first half, especially in the first 20 minutes of the match where Almeria were rendered completely helpless by Madrid's pressure. Madrid's midfield dragnet allowed us no only to win possession before even reaching the midfield, but even still, Madrid were even win ball in attacking positions which lead to the 3-4 goalscoring opportunities which marked the early part of the first half. The fluid passing of the team had allowed us to get to their goal quite easily but at the same time, the perpetual switching of Pipita and CR9 with their roles as winger and striker gave Almeria different looks and variances to guess on how to deal with the Madrid attack. Eventually, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who crossed into the box for a surging Sergio Ramos who granted my wish of seeing him score from one of his trademark headers.
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The Dreadful / Dreaded Drop
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I wrote about Real Madrid's need to develop their killer instinct some time ago and talked about an attitude that we seem to have now that is symptomatic of a weak team: the inability to keep your head for 90 mins.: the propensity to let your guard down and thinking that you'll be alright because the scoreboard's numbers are in your favor anyway. The ability to hold on to a lead and control the game after getting the lead was an art form that we had once mastered under Fabio Capello but is now clearly a lost art for us. It took us a while longer this time around to let our guard down and let the level of our play drop, the score line was the same though: 1-0.
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And as predicted, we fell asleep in the 2nd half. And it was not enough for us to fall asleep and let them have a chance in the game... it wasn't even enough to let them slap us awake by scoring a goal in a play that was screaming 'Madrid are asleep!' (that first goal had 'half-assed defending' written all over it)... we actually let them score twice, waking that scary demon called set piece defending from its peaceful slumber.
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Pipita Doesn't Get It.
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When you tell Real Madrid that they're supposed to shit in their pants and die and lose the game or drop points, there's usually one man who just doesn't get it. And that man, currently wears #20... he is the 21 year old Gonzalo 'Pipita' Higuain, who was Real Madrid's Man-of-the-Match to me (the speedy Crusat was Almeria's in my book). He is a clear master at using his industry at grafting something out... getting goals and making plays out of sheer insistence. And let me say this: I do not think there is a player out there his age who has the knack for scoring the big goal as he does. Pipita is Real Madrid's Mr. Clutch.
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The goal gave Madrid the initiative once again. And in front of the home crowd that had been a bit more forgiving due to what I suppose was a clearly good performance from the team, especially in the first half. Pipita's goal lit the switch in the team that killed off the trend of us just mentally and physically losing our poise as the games end... almost the entire team.
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3 Moments of Madness and The Dawn of the New Nickname
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Cristiano: You are a DAMN fine player, but sometimes you're just a Jackass (Photo by Alvaro Barrientos, AP)
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Once again it was Higuain who found the pass to release CR9 to surge down the right wing. There are many Real Madrid doubters and haters out there who claim that it wasn't a penalty. It was a clear penalty to me and I'd like to add that had there been no other players in the penalty box, it would've been a red card for Diego Alves too. So once the who-ha with all the compaints had died down, Cristiano Ronaldo began to earn himself a new nickname... he stepped up to the penalty box and did a 'fake' in an attempt to get the goalkeeper to commit. Not only is this 'fake' illegal by my understanding, it also failed to rattle Alves and in fact, seemed to give away the direction where he was going to shoot. It was saved... only for the newly-on Benzema to swoop in and score on the rebound to make it 3-2.
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The goal of Benzema meant a lot both for the team and the player: It gave the team the lead and control of the match as the clock ran down and it gave Benzema the psychological boost that he needed after a torrid week. And as his team-mates piled onto him in cheers, jubilant at the 'remontada' we had just accomplished, Cristiano Ronaldo threw his head into his hands and threw a bitch fit (Granero was seen patting him on his back before rushing over to Benzema as if to say 'Cheer up man!'): MOMENT OF MADNESS #1
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3 Minutes later, Pipita is at it again, running onto a long pass, outpacing and outfighting what must've been 2-3 Almeria players trying to get to him. He gets off a perfect, video-game-like ground cross, finding a wide-open CR96 who taps it in for 4-2. Ronaldo then rushes to the sideline to take off his shirt as if he's scored a screamer in the World Cup Final. MOMENT OF MADNESS #2. It was a TAP IN. We are already leading. What the hell is wrong with you? Do you seriously think that you need MORE attention?
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Actually he does. Because 4 minutes later, he kicks out in retaliation and get his 2nd yellow and a red. 3 moments of madness, 3 moments of attention-seeking, primma donna bitch behavior. Cristiano Bitchnaldo - that's your new nickname Bi-atch! MOMENT OF MADNESS #3
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Bitch-naldo's 3 Moments of Madness might cost us dearly now that we face the remaining matches of La Liga, 5 points behind Barcelona with a Trip to the Mestalla and a game against a potentially tricky Zaragoza in the cards. It might turn out to be a Mad Month especially with the recent news that Kaka will likely be unavailable until next year.
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Looking Forward
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As I've mentioned in the Real Madrid Talk podcast, I do not view the coming Champions League game against Marseilles as very critical. They will need to beat us REALLY bad (3-0... not that I think it can't happen especially after 'Alcorconzo') in order to advance and take our place in the elimination stages of the competition. As such, I'd really like Pellegrini to look towards next week's match vs. Valencia where Bitchnaldo's antics threaten to cost us the chance to finally beat a top level team. Looking to secure a result would be enough and priority should be placed on keeping our key guys rested for the Mestalla. Positions where capable backups are available should be reivewed for this i.e. Diarra, Granero, Van Der Vaart and Raul should be given a good chunk of minutes.
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Pellegrini seems to have found the tactical formula to fit his lineup. The system he has developed is flexible in terms of tactical setup and also flexible in the way the players are able to switch positions to keep the defenses we face guessing and uncomfortable. What is clearly left to resolve is the issue of how the team's concentration dips after a period of time. In some sense, perhaps Almeria's 2 goals was a blessing in disguise for the team: as it lit up the fire for the team to find their concentration and drive once again. We all know however, that top level sides do not forgive such immaturity during big games... and while the big games aren't here yet, now is the time to set things right.

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