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.
.
.
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.
.
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'.
.
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).
.
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).
.
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.
.
.
.
With the squad that we have, I'm with Pellegrini on the issue of Rotation.
.
.
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?
.
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.
.
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:
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
Now that we're done discussing the 'R' word, it is now time to practice the 'P' word.
.
Patience.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009-09-20: Real Madrid 5 - Xerez 0

2009-09-15: FC Zurich 2 - Real Madrid 5

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.
.
And the team responded. Sort of.
.
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.
.
On the attacking front, the midfield did great. Xabi kept things organized, Granero looked comfortable, Kaka was very dangerous... And even Guti played well!
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.
.
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.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Purge

One of the rumors that swirled endlessly prior to Florentino's second coming at the Bernabeu which wasn't as talked about as explicitly as the return of the Galacticos (more of a subtext) was the purge of the Dutch contingent. Last season we had Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Royston Drenthe. Today, of the 7, only 3 remain with an exit being sought for the unwanted Van Der Vaart.
.
.
Huntelaar: He was 'only a goalscorer'... This is not enough for Real Madrid.
.
.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
This guy was never going to succeed at the Bernabeu despite his natural goal-scoring ability... Because that was all he could do (which was still not at par with Ruud Van Horseface who at 33 has other abilities like basic dribbling, the occasional lethal pass, and a very basic skill for a '9'; holding the ball up). He was a panic buy after Calderon's embarrassing summer of '08 and a Mijatovic favorite. He really seemed destined to fail at Madrid. Bought at 20m (a fair price I suppose for a good striker these days)... After 'depreciation', sold at 15m to Milan with 7 going to Ajax: proof that Ramon Calderon and Mijatovic are galacticos... Of stupidity (never mind the Champions League registration gaffe).
.
.
Wesley Sneijder is would be a shoo-in for the '10' shirt for most clubs... Sadly, Real Madrid is not one of them
.
.
Wesley Sneijder
He started his Real Madrid career with a bang: scoring a winning goal in the opener against Atletico 2 seasons ago and going on a tear in his first games at Madrid. He played so well so as to earn the '10' shirt. A horror injury last preseason however resulted in an incredible drop in form. People also say that his failed marriage also played a big part in this. His anonymous preseason form also didn't help, especially when compared to that of the returning Esteban 'El Pirata' Granero who seemed like a direct replacement for him. At 27m euros, I'd have to say another season like last would have made him an Andriy Shevchenko-like flop. He would've been a useful squad player but not a critical one, especially with El Pirata in the fold. We paid 27m for him and were hoping to sell for 20m (what he was probably really worth when we bought him in the first place)... Sold to Inter for 15m. Once again a fair price in my view and reflective of the previous administration's ineptitude.
.
.
Arjen Robben: An 36m Speed Demon who is as good at terrorizing fulbacks as he is at frustrating team doctors and therapists.
.
.
Arjen Robben
The last of the dying breed of pure wingers. His electrifying pace and dribbling ability is only matched by his propensity to get injured. At 36m euros, he was clearly over-priced... But Calderon had no choice after losing so much face for his transfer market failures and blunders. The arrival of Kaka and CR96 meant that he was headed to the bench as a supersub. It was a role he seemed to be agreeable to with his statements made to the public. His preseason form had also been awesome and had given many Madridistas (including this one) excitement at the depth of the squad and the thought of watching him coming on as a sub to shred a tired opposing defense. It was also very clear that he was in Pellegrini's plans. It's very sad however that he was not in Perez, Valdano and Pardeza's. 25m to Bayern is too little. With the form he was in and Bayern's desperation for a team upgrade (and to stick it to them for the way they publicly lambasted us), we could've and should've squeezed them for 30m at least... Or a player swap of VDV & Robben for Ribery. Instead, we await for Scarface's arrival next season while losing our squad depth. Perhaps it didn't make financial sense to keep a player at that salary level as backup... but this leaves many (including me) worried that his loss would come back to haunt us one day.
.
.
Rafael Van Der Vaart
An attacking midfielder with a knack for goals from Ajax's academy with a Spanish mother: he seemed made for Madrid. Seemed. When they failed to get Cristiano last summer, they really thought they had scored a major coup: a 'crack' attacking midfielder who scored goals with backheels for 15m! Trouble is, Real Madrid-calibre attacking midfielders are Balon D' Or and Champions League-winning types... Not Bundesliga midtable 'stars'. He was found out not long after. With the transfer window closed, it seems we are 'stuck' with him and he with us. He may be an unhappy camper now, but he does have a World Cup place with the Oranje to fight for. As for us, perhaps he will turn out to be a winter market source of income. Perhaps he can find his form and win a place in the team. Perhaps he is really a galactico who just suffered from a massive case of 'Calderonitis' last season. Perhaps.
.
.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
He is the hero of our 30th La Liga title. I hated him when he was Man U but love him now that he's with us. When God made the '9', he probably had Ruud Van Gol in mind. He is 33 now and coming off a horrific injury that kept him out of almost the entire 08-09 season. The irony of it all is that it was probably this injury that turned buyers off to him which saved his career in Madrid. His contract will be up at the end of this season and we are almost certain that it won't be renewed... To pave the way for Alvaro Negredo's return. I'm quite confident though that the trick the fates have played on Florentino to prevent his sale will come good for Madrid. It is always useful to have one of the greatest goalscorers of all time in your squad ready to come on for a miracle tap-in to win you tight matches against a stubborn opponent. Welcome back to the squad Ruud Van Horseface :)
.
.
Royston Drenthe
The jury is still out if he's the next Edgar Davids, the future Dutch Ronaldinho or the next loser to be touted as the next-(fill in name of legendary player). There is no doubt that all his managers have been in awe of his talent: from Schuster, to Juande to Pellegrini. We all await what happens to him. God forbid that he turns into a player I'm afraid he's beginning to resemble: Guti: unmatched talent, questionable attitude, weak mental strength and ultimately a dissappointingly mediocre player. He is young and there is reason to hope that he may actually be a good player... the preseason gave us a glimmer of hope.