Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009-10-21: Real Madrid 2 - AC Milan 3

Minute +10 Champions League Day 3



Kevin Walker of the OwnGoalNetwork & Corey Fiske of Real Madrid - The Offside and myself spent a few minutes chatting up our frustrations over Real Madrid's sorry loss to AC Milan: the word of the match: Character. Real Madrid need to grow some!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Losers.com

For some strange reason, one of the 2 sides who played just minutes ago, both with Bwin.com as their shirt sponsors, was allowed to play with their original sponsor logo on their shirt. So instead of allowing one of the sides to have no logo on their shirts like Madrid in Zurich, Bwin.com came up with the clever idea of making one of the teams play with Win.com. And as the visitors (or perhaps the less illustrious, glamorous of the 2 teams), Milan played with Win.com on their shirts. And win they did. We on the other hand, should change our team's shirt logo to Losers.com. Because that's how we played. Like Losers.
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Yes, yes, yes. We started the game well with Raul scoring off a Dida howler. By the time the 2nd half started, we had 13 shots, 6 of them on goal (I think) to a measely 3 shots from Milan. We had controlled the tempo of the game, kept them on their heels, and seemed to be headed for what I like to call a 'character win'.... a win the manifests that the team has spine, one that is obtained against a team of high standing and equal measure of character and pride.... A win that not necessarily defined by a lots of goals or spectacular play, but one that is forged by grinding, scraping and fighting one trench at a time. Perhaps a 1-0. So I didn't mind the profligacy in front of goal... It doesn't matter that Zambrotta had twice given us legitimate reason to call for a penalty: the first for bringing down the for-some-reason-hapless Benzema in the box, and the second for sticking his elbow out to deflect Ramos' cross into the box.
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I just contented myself that we had it in us to punish them for an elementary mistake and controlled the game in a way that made me feel (in the first half at least) that we had it in us to walk out of there with that 1-0. That very simple scoreline and memory of that game that we controlled them start to finish and calmly let the game go by with a lead as thin as a strand of hair. One vertical stroke of the pen: One. One-nil.
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What the fuck was I thinking???
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Perhaps it was because I had expected Milan to fly off the dressing room with a seige of our goal, which didn't take place? Perhaps it was because we were headed off to the hour mark and I saw Diarra warming up and thinking that I was happy to see him get more playing time to settle with the team. Heck, Drenthe was warming up too!
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But against the run of play, against all odds, the one man capable of scoring such a freak goal from such distance, Andrea Pirlo (who had completely failed to take control of the game) managed to score one. And then, we shit in our pants. Fuck: Madridistas should stop talking about Barca's Cagometro (crap-your-pants-o-meter) at the Camp Nou. Because the Bernabeu too should have its own Cagometro: and a big one at that. We lost all character, all spine, all fight.
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And in a few minutes of madness, we conceded 2 goals, maybe 3 (I watched the match on a Chinese stream and cannot manage to understand why Thiago Silva's headed goal off the corner was disallowed). It was a collapse so bad that it eclipsed something that would actually make me really happy: Pellegrini's brilliant decision to introduce Drenthe as an attacking midfielder /winger, who re-paid the faith given to him with a well-taken goal and some great runs and touches.
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Once again, we have failed a character test. Sure, we can beat the Tenerifes, Valladolids & Xerez's out there while scoring 3, 4, 5 goals. But if we fail against the Sevillas and Milans... at the moment, I wish to ask: are we anything more than a merely a bunch of spineless, overpaid, marketing-on-steroids, publicily gluttons?
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Maybe we should really change our shirt sponsors to Losers.com

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009-10-18: Real Madrid 4 - Real Valladolid 2

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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It Had to Happen Sometime

It had to happen some time... after the last several games playing at a very mediocre level, relying on the magic of CR96 and on the mere talent of the squad to create 10-15 minute bursts of brilliance (and 'goal showers')... it had to come to a point where we'd have to face a truly good team and be exposed for what we really are: a half-cooked dish. When I called out my prediction of 2-2, it was out of my gut feeling that this Sevilla side were too good, too organized, to disciplined to be left without a point against this half-cooked Real Madrid team. For those out there who actually believed that we'd win this one convincingly, I hope they're wide awake now to the reality that this Madrid team is still far from a finished product.
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Without a Cristiano Ronaldo to score an RPG (a Ronaldo-Propelled Goal as was fondly baptized by one of the contributors at the Real-The Offside website to refer to CR 96's freekicks) or a wonder goal (start of the game or not)... there simply wasn't enough magic out there to make up for the mess that the team was at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Perhaps my 2-2 prediction would have come true with him on, though I'd still think the 2-1 might have been the outcome even with him on. Either way, perhaps it was better that he was not on the pitch last Sunday.... to remind us all that we need to stop winning games the way we have been doing so far: relying on the individual talents of the members of the squad. Maybe this is good training: for us to learn to figure out ways to win even without the big stars of the team on the pitch. Are we really expected to win only if Kaka AND Cristiano were on? That'd be ridiculous.
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Let's get down to the most obvious flaw of the team, one that was cruelly exposed by Sevilla, not because they were that awesome or that Manolo Jimenez is some kind of tactical wizard, it is out of the very simple fact that our main flaw happens to be Sevilla's absolute strength. Not only did we fail miserably in answering the question that I asked over and over again this summer over the personnel moves (where is our left back? Marcelo? Really? Are You sure? Have you gone mad?): we are also opting for a system that further reinforces this weakness. Not only do we have Left Backs (Marcelo & Drenthe) who can't defend and a right back who is too eager to attack (Ramos)... we also happen to play a system that is just way too narrow.
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While I'm a supporter of Pellegrini's rotation system, I do not support his narrow system of play. And I'm not just talking about his 4-2-2-2... his 4-3-3 is also unsually narrow. This 4-2-2-2 without any wing players at midfield was something which we have seen before at Real Madrid from the Brazilian coach Luxemburgo. It was employed with a paceless David Beckham as well as a aging Luis Figo. Interestingly, it was attacked from the very beginning by the press as opposed to Pellegrinis' similar system, which had been hailed by the fickle-minded press pundits as the dawn of sexy football in Madrid. This is a bizarre system that I didn not expect to see considering the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, easily one of the best players in the world is also without the doubt the best winger in the world. And despite the success he has achieved as a striker, he has openly stated that his preferred position is as a right winger.
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I was hoping to see a system employed by Bernd Schuster in his early days at Madrid: the lopsided 4-4-2 which allowed one winger (Robinho) who liked to cut in to take shots but made the occassional cross, while the other side had an attacking midfielder (Sneijder) drifting inwards behind the 2 strikers. This is also seems to be the formation that has allowed Fabio Capello to achieve the golden balance at England that allowed Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to play successfully together in the same 4-4-2 midfield. This system was an oldie but goodie too, as it as employed by the old man Del Bosque to balance Figo and Zidane on the same team during the successful Galacticos era that saw us win La Liga and the Champions League without question. Why can't Kaka keep his role behind the 2 pivots and behind the striker as Zidane drifted inwards in the old days... and allow Cristiano to switch constantly from the right side and the left side at his own choosing (which would also help dictate the appropriate circumstances for Ramos/Arbeloa and Marcelo/Drenthe to join the attack).
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A change of tactics however does not rectify the situation that we currently have at Left Back. It might perhaps be too much for me to say this but I'll say it anyway: Real Madrid is not a place for prospects to have starting XI spots. Even the fabulous Pipita Higuain started with bit part performances, fristurating us by missing sitter after sitter until he became a big game goal scorer that brought him out as a fan favorite and a 20-goal/season scorer. Nevermind the 32-year old Guti who is still a prospect and is not really even a first choice player. And while we are at this point, we continue to employ 2 prospects at Left Back in Marcelo and Drenthe. Don't get me wrong: I have no doubt that the 2 can develop as very talented players: but at this point in time, they are clearly not Real Madrid Starting XI-calibre players and they will continue to get exposed and skinned alive as what happened to Marcelo this past game vs. Sevilla. The next question however is who is the left back out there who is worthy for a Starting XI Real Madrid role? I currently have no answer for this question... I suppose the search will go on.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Real Madrid Talk Podcast No. 4


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I had the privilege once again to participate in the Real Madrid Talk podcast last wednesday where Kevin from the Own Goal Network, Corey from Real - The Offside and myself discussed briefly our thoughts on the Tenerife game, our match vs. Marseille (we had the podcast just minutes after the match) and our quick thoughts and predictions prior to the Sevilla Match tonight.
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You may download the link from here too. Enjoy.

2009-09-30: Real Madrid 3 - Marseilles 0