Monday, December 14, 2009

Character Win


Higuain asks 'Who's the Man!?!?!' You are Pipita. You are.
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We did it! We walked into the Mestalla, one of Spain's toughest stadiums, home of one of Spain's Best teams WITHOUT our 2 best players and walked out with 3 points. It is what I like to call a 'Character Win' - a win that is produced through the sheer manifestation of the team's character, that internal identity and spirit of a supposedly galvanized team. This in turn generates a cycle, a positive cycle that can be perpetuated to further strengthen its will it and forge its winning character. I've spoken at length in my previous post about the need for sheer grit, graft and industry to get 3 points out of this match, and that's exactly what we gave Valencia last night.
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Tactics
Pellegrini hand no surprises last night: the Spanish press had discussed the resultant line-up and and formation that was going to result from Kaka and Cristiano's absences. Van Der Vaart started in Kaka's position while Benzema replaces Cristiano as Pipita's partner up front. This results in a little less flexibility tactically as we're not able to see Benzema and Pipita switch. There were worries about Marcelo's fitness after a training injury scare, prompting the call up of canterano Marcos Alonso. He eventually passed his fitness test though, and found his rightful place in the starting XI.
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Let’s go Player-by-Player...
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Casillas
Casillas was just Iker tonight, not San Iker. While the defenders in front of him can be faulted for their complicity in both Valencia goals, both of them could've been averted by Iker's basic palette of heroics, particularly for the first goal, scored by Villa off a cross that most top level keepers would’ve been able to snatch from the air. The second, from Joaquin would’ve been perhaps a more difficult proposition.
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Sergio Ramos
I’ve noticed an adjustment in on how he’s been playing the last few games compared to his dismal ways last season. It seems to me that he has stopped pretending to be a right winger and accepted that he is actually a right back. No longer do we see the wannabe heroics of a rampaging Ramos on the right side trying to heroically put in a Beckham-eqsue cross. Instead we see him holding his position carefully, patiently participating and offering himself in buildup play, offering a wider position to spread the pitch. And just occasionally, we can still see him making his surging runs. Though he was accountable for the first goal... He provided me with a moment to chuckle... falling to the ground and wincing in pain at the slightest contact from Marchena, forcing Valencia to stop play. Leading 2-3, it was not only clever, it was also great karma to be slapped onto the face of Carlos Marchena.
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Disaster... Pepe tore his ACL and will be gone for a month. That sound you hear, might possibly more than his knee buckling... that could also be the sound of our title hopes breaking apart.
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Pepe
Madridisimo and perhaps even Portugal trembles at the news that he'll be gone for at least 6 months after tearning hi ACL. The press are reports of a doomsday scenarios of 6 months has come true... meaning that he will actually be gone for the rest of the season, even the World Cup. Pepe needs a break. Without his injury issues upon joining Madrid, his brain explosion last season vs. Getafe, and now this, we would be essentially talking about the best Central Defender in the World today.
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Albiol
I was surprised to see Albiol become the subject of a rain of boos and whistles from the Mestalla, but I guess that’s something that we can expect from a local boy who leaves. He won’t necessarily find hospitality from the stands. Perhaps it didn’t help that the likes of the more-wanted Villa and Silva are still in the club, where he willingly opted to make the move. Albiol and Pepe had been forming a very good partnership: we must not ponder the future of how the Madrid defense will work.
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Arbeloa
My fiancé, who is a Liverpool fan, once, explained to me why she is no longer religiously watching their matches. She explained that apart from the fact that they’ve done nothing this season but disappoint, she said that she really misses some of her favourite players: Xabi Alonso and Arbeloa. Arbeloa will probably never dazzle Madridisimo in the way Ramos does as a fullback or even Pepe as a Centrback. But in each match, he’s been solid: good defense, astute positioning, and just enough contribution going forward. With him, we sleep at night, knowing that the left back position is not going to be a shipwreck. I haven’t mentioned him in my previous match reviews, so I suppose now is a good time.
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An ominous sight for defenders: Xabi Alonso surveys the terrain for Goalscorers before taking his free kick. He found Garay last Saturday.
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Lass + Xabi Alonso
The little tank was at it again last night, and judging from the way Valencia reacted to him, it seemed like they’d never seen anything like it. Lass robbed and intercepted balls, he tackled, pressured & harassed. Xabi Alonso on the other hand, effectively moved the ball around and did a great job with the ball distribution (I can’t even remember what we were like with Gago anymore, hahahaha). Apart from a few one-touch exchanges by Valencia’s midfield, we pretty much had dominion over the midfield… the problem however, lied when we got the ball to their third of the pitch… which was the territory of…
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Rafa Van Der Vaart
While I applauded him when he stepped off the pitch to be subbed out. I look back now thinking about his performance and realize that the in the final third, especially in the first half, we were mostly out of ideas and for this reason, always easily repelled by Valencia’s defense. Passes to VDV from the defense rarely resulted in a turn and charge towards the Valencia goal (as we’d imagine Kaka would do in that situation) but instead would be returned back. He had no shots on goal and  made no passes that threatened the Valenica goal:  all of these are tasks of the Attacking Midfielder behind the strikers... Or am I now expecting too much from Van Der Vaart?
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Marcelo
Marcelo is a player that seems to be evolving from the one-dimensional pacy dribbler who thinks he’s a fullback because he thinks having acres of space and use these said skills. Under Juande, we was utilized as a winger… and now, he seems to be developing into a sort of utility midfield player: balancing the use of his pace and dribbling with his rudimentary defensive capabilities as well as newfound positional sense (yes, yes, yes, I really think he is developing that). The Brazilian came alive in the 2nd half, racing forward and even venturing into a right sided attacking midfield position a few times, including the one where he set up the 2nd goal after a great dribbling maneuver. In this game that was a test of character, his development in this regard was there for all to see.
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Benzema
I seem to be the only one who doesn’t get why he is being singled out for so much praise after last night’s game. Instead, I’m left with more questions: Why does he like to drift left so much? Why does he like to choose to shoot from tight angles so much? 99/100 times, thoe shots he makes go out, hit the side netting or get blocked. I’m happy to see him get some degree of praise though for his one moment of brilliance to give us the 0-1… it might to his confidence some good.
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Higuain
In a game I billed as a ‘Character Game’… the Man of the Match was thus inevitably the man whose play embodies its essence: Gonzalo ‘Pipita’ Higuain. The 22-year old embodies the Madridista Spirit of refusing to surrender, of fighting hard: using his graft and industry. From the first half, either from the wing or through the middle, Pipita gave Valencia problems: it was thus perhaps Valencia’s destiny to twice taste El Pipita’s daggers in the second half: the first off an opportunistic header from Benzema’s cross and the next off a tight angles shot off a feed from Marcelo.
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Pipita, who arrived at Madrid age 19 is practically Canterano, the only difference being that he skipped Real Madrid C and Castilla and went straight into the first team. Who knew that this guy with funny hair and an odd front tooth had cojones the size of the Bernabeu?
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Garay
Garay filled Pepe’s shoes admirably in the 2nd half. He is still yet to convince me as a sound replacement for the alien-faced Portuguese, but after last night’s game, he will still have a few games to prove himself and show the management that backups from the Cantera would be a more suitable move as opposed to a new defensive purchase in the winter market. His winning goal also makes it ‘Argentina Night’ for Real Madrid last night.
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Raul
Why Raul came on for Van De Vaart is something I don’t understand at all. If Van Der Vaart couldn’t hold the attack together in the final third to initiate plays… what would make Pellegrini think that the 0-passing range Raul could? Looking at the bigger picture though, I can point out that Pellegrini was still the man who downgraded Raul from automatic starter to automatic playing time (and that doesn’t even happen all the time e.g. Almeria) and that in itself is big step. So I guess I can excuse the move… I would’ve rather seen…
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Granero
Yup. I’d have rather seen Granero come on to replace Granero. At that time, we had a 1 goal lead, and I had hoped to see Granero come on to futher stabilize the midfield while still allowing some offensive potential for it given Pirata’s ability to initiate the offense as well as his capabilities for trying from long distance as well.
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Looking forward, I have to say that Real Madrid have taken a big step forward this season with this win. The crisis looms however on dealing with the injury to Pepe, where we have lost one of the most vital cogs to our defense and our team. If titles are to be won, then replacements, whether within the club or beyond it need to be considered. If there is one thing to comfort us, it is the fact that we have one more team left to face before the winter market opens for us to make a move. With luck and time, our key men such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka will be back to support Pipita in our charge for the La Liga and Champions League title. While there was and is plenty of reason to be optimistic, the reality remains that there continues to be much to worry about... on top of that list is Pepe.
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Madridisimo wishes our Alien-faced Super Central Defender a speedy recovery!

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