Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy New Year Everyone!


Teaching them young: My adorable neice Mica... who among my Real Madrid figurines has chosen Raul as her favorite player. A 3-year old girl smart enough to know that Real Madrid is the greatest... she'll have a bright future ahead!
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Here's to wishing a Happy New Year to all of Madridisimo!
to the 2010 La Liga Title!
to 'La Decima' !
Best Wishes to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year


A bit of advertisement for my country: Pictured above are handmade Christmas lanterns you'd be able to find for sale along the streets of Manila this time of the year.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I've seen a bit of improvement re: the readership of this blog. To all of you who take the time to come here to share my love for Real Madrid, I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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I'll be heading off to my hometown (Manila, Philippines) to enjoy the holidays with my Family. As such, it will be unlikely hat I'd be able to post any entries until I get back on the first week of January.
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To all of you out there, whereever you are, may the light and hope of the Christmas season shine upon you all. Let's all wish for a 2010 filled with titles for our beloved Club.
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Hala Madrid!

Staring through the Pepe-Shaped Hole at the Center of our Defense...


Pepe belongs in a Real Madrid uniform on the pitch: not in crutches inside a hospital

Last Saturday, Real Madrid Pepe launched himself into the air to casually head away a ball that was threatening his defensive territory. Not one soul on this planet knew that it would be his last attempt to do so for the rest of the season. As he landed on the ground, he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), news that was confirmed last Sunday to the horror of Madridisimo and the nation of Portugal. His club, its fans, his countrymen and his teammates now know that they will face the 14-game-old La Liga, and round of 16-onwards stages of the Champions League season without the world's best center back... Possibly even the World Cup
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Pepe arrived at Real Madrid amid a shocking 30m-Euro purchase that made all Madridistas yell '30million!?! For a Centerback!?!' in unison. It didn't help that he spent his first weeks in Madrid grappling with an injury. When he began to play however, it wasn't long before everyone began to shut up and realize the kind of player we had.
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Pepe had all the makings of a great Centerback: strong, tall, broad-shouldered, quick, commanding in his presence, a great sense of anticipation, amazing positioning instincts and impressive aerial ability. Pepe also had a few extra characteristics that gave him the making of a Great Real Madrid Centerback: pace, ability to dribble, pass... and  overall great technical ability. He was a Martian, and he looked like one too... He was the Centerback Real Madrid had been looking for, for so long after the departure of Fernando Hierro... for so long after the club has had to put up with the likes of Raul Bravo, Walter Samuel, Jonathan Woodgate and even Fabio Cannavaro. In Schuster's full season in charge, in the first El Clasico, Pepe played like a titan that had Madridistas all over the world (including this one) conclude: this is it: we've found the first piece for the Hierro-shaped hole in our defense.
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Perhaps before I go on to ponder the situation further, I'd like to put out my wishes of get well soon to Pepe (nevermind if he'll never find out about me), as I'm sure all Madridistas out there are doing right now.
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The Real Madrid management SEEMS to have gotten it right thus far (if the press reports are true) in terms of dealing with this situation. Firstly by supposedly calling for a meeting between the key men in the sporting department (presumably Valdano, Pardeza and Pellegrini) to discuss the possible solutions to fill this said void. It is an indication that the loss of a player in the most unglamorous of positions is still an important matter to the club. Secondly, it also seems that the club is going to look both ways, internally and externally in their search for alternatives. This shows that there is a veering away from the usual mindset of 'oh, then let's spend 40m for (name of player)...' which is perhaps helped by the fact that this is the CB position we're talking about here.

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It has to be said however, that a look into the alternatives for this vacancy both internally and externally. A look into the list of options outside the club considering quality, age, Champions League availability, price and position yield hardly any choices beyond prospects or veterans who have been around the block for too long. What makes the search interesting however, are the countless variant possiblities and permutations that can be used in rationalizing the possibilities:
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-Do we buy a Centerback?
-If we buy a new CB, will he be a sub to Garay? or the other way around?
-Does Sergio Ramos move to the Center and we buy a new Right Back?
-Does Sergio Ramos move to the Center and we move Arbeloa to Right Back and we buy a new left back?
-Do we stick to our guns and let Garay, Metzelder, Ramos and Arbeloa (even Diarra V1.0 even perhaps?) take on this role? Then promote a canterano?
-Etc.?
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I've read several blogs and comments within those blogs all with justified reason for one, the other or completely another alternative to the options I just raised. The rumblings in the press seem to suggest that the technical committee has decided to stick to their guns and let Garay slot into Pepe's chance to give the young Argentinean the opportunity to show the world the talent that he has that got Real Madrid and Barcelona scrambling for his signature some years back. It is also said that Pellegrini is actually a fan of his and genuinely believes that he can fill in for Pepe. These speculations were also further fuelled by Pellegrini's addition of an unusually large contigent of canteranos, mostly comprised of defenders during practice. While we can always go back and recall the Perez policy of refusing to spend money on unglamorous players (e.g defenders), I'd prefer to see it as faith in the squad depth that we had established  at the start of the season in building our team.
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Pepe's partnership with Albiol seems to be a similar, yet greatly improved one to that of his partnership with Fabio Cannavaro. As a pair, Pepe, would always be the one who ventured beyond the usual territory of the Central Pair foraging for balls against attackers, terminating most threats before they even materialized, while the Italian (and now Albiol) would lie in wait for those who would slip past. This was a role suited to Pepe's pace and agility. People have talked up Garay's suitability in this role though I have to admit that I haven't seen him fit well in that role yet. It is however a position I've seen Ramos play really well in many times.

There are of course doubts which will inevitably linger in the minds of most Madridistas including this one. For one, despite the fact that Garay once upon a time sparked a mini-bidding war between Real Madrid and Barcelona, his immediate past (last season to be exact) is tainted by the fact that he couldn't even manage to secure his starting spot in Racing Santander. His impressive performance against Valencia aside (complete with a match-winning goal which he admits he didn't know anything about), it is now upon him to prove that the trust being placed upon him is a valid one. The fact remains however that Centerbacks are among those who live each match unaware if they will still be around for the next match given that they live every match teetering on the edge of a yellow or red card, or worse, get on the wrong end of a physical challenge. And while Garay seemed to fit the bill for that role as the '3rd Center Back', with his promotion, brings the perpetually injured and slow-footed Christoph Metzelder to that role: a situation that I'm totally uncomfortable with. Sergio Ramos being thrust in that position (as will be the likely outcome should Albiol continue to be unavailable for this Saturday's match this Saturday) works, yet with him clocking in regular 90-minute shifts at Right Back, and his record-breaking propensity for cards, the possibility of being short--handed in this position remains.
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I suppose that it is in times like this where Real Madrid, by right, should summon the best from the cantera and use this as an opportunity for the youngsters to be given the chance to win a spot on the team. I remain optimistic and hopeful that one of them can break into the first team. Whatever the reason is for the non-alarm in the market place for Real Madrid (maybe I'm speaking too soon): be it wanting to keep spending in check, selective willingness to spend (i.e. not on defenders) or a genuine belief that the current team and cantera have the talent to refill the shallowing depth of talent in the club, I'd have to say that at this point in time, perhaps the present stance of non-action, may turn out to be the right course of action.

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!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gameblog: Valencia vs. Real Madrid


No Surprises in Real Madrid's lineup here: Pepe is shown on the bench here after being substituted during the first half for Garay in what appears to be a serious injury.

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-We start the game with news that Barca have won their match vs. Espanyol 1-0 over a questionable penalty call. We REALLY need the points now.
-Iker Casillas' Red Goalkeeper's jersey looks good!
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0:05 - Real Madrid do a good job of winning the ball early in the game.
1:10 - Lass is positioned very high, trying to intercept the ball at their half, very near their goal... same pattern as our previous matches. We'll need to watch out for their counters though
2:15 - Clattering tackle from Ramos on Marchena! Get some of that!
3:44 - Great exchange from us to attack Valencia's goal resulting in a counter that Casillas rushes onto.. is this going to be the story of the night? Being subjected to waves and waves of counters?
5:35 - Valencia looks snappy with their passing too. Offside call on their attack saves us
6:48 - Xabi Alonso gets a yellow for deliberate handball. We saw him get carded for that same reason in one of the last 2 games.
7:40 - Shit. Valencia look very dangerous when on attack, They show us their own brand of pressuring, Lass to lose it close to our box
8:05 - Hernandez shoots! Whew! Miss!
10:17 -It seems clear that Van Der Vaart needs to bring something extra in this game if we're to win it.
11:32 - We lose the ball before we can even get to their goal. We need to have some definition to our playwhen on attack.
13:10 - Benzema seems to be on the left wing.... why is that? Why can't he just stick to being in that striking role? He's clogging up the midfield.
14:45 - Pipita gets to the area... gets a cross! But Benzema is on the left wing. Get inside the box will you!?!
16:03 - Lass wins the ball off Mata just as he was about to pull the trigger!
18:49 - Marchena overshoots an overhead pass to Mata for a goalscoring opportunity again. Soon enough, one of those passes will get to us. I'm scared.
21:41 - Marcelo wins a free kick at a decent area. A chance perhaps....?
22:25 - Great cross in from Xabi Alonso! A collision between Pepe and Cesar Sanchez foils it though. Replays show that it was the Valencia keeper who was the guilty party though.
24:47 - Our first period of having possession for a good period of time. The crowd's whistles are coming down on us. We should have more periods like this to calm our nerves in this game.
26:46 - Quick turn and shot from Mata! Saved
27:00 - Benzema shoots on a counter... hits the side netting. Wh does he keep insisting to shoot from such a tight angle?
28:37 - Someone should beat Marchena with a bat! He gets tapped by Benzema and falls to the ground asking for play to be stopped to get Madrid to stop play. WTF!?!?!? I he's going to since on the gorund like that, someone whould beat him so he can really lie on the gorund and wince like that!
30:30 - Mata is called offside on a great goalscoring chance. He didn't look offside to me.
34:04 - More rough & tumble stuff. Mata wins a free kick though... nothing happens for them.
35:15 - Yellow Card for Mathieu. What a nasty tackle on Benzema
38:30 - Here's a thought: we need more definition with our play when we reach their side of the pitch - we seem to go stale once we're at the edge of their box.
38:58 - What a chance for Higuain! He gets the ball, shifts the ball to his right foot, but could not replicate his goal against Almeria. Uff!
41:28 - Marcelo gets a shot that goes way over. The buildup play between Lass and Pipita saw Pipita going forward but unable to pick out a pass for Benzema. Haaaaay!
42:43 - Great play from Xabi Alonso resulting in Pipita getting a shot off... saved by Cesar Sanchez
43:04 - Ramos heads the ball onto the post! Higuain unable to hit the rebound in! Arrgh! Come on!!!
44:00 - Pepe is on the ground. Looks like his knee. It looks serious. Shit.
45:00 - Garay comes in for Pepe. Shit. This smells like trouble. I REALLY hope Pepe's alright.
46:12 - Banega shoots but Casillas saves comfortably
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45:50 - Bad sign - Albiol fluffs a clearance to concede a corner.
47:22 - A Thought: without Pepe, we now do not have that pacy defender to track the likes of Villa & Mata.
49:09 - We lack pace. Tactically, I think we're doing alright. But we just lack that pace to hit them on the counter when there is an opening.
51:51 - Shit. Pipita just pulled up and looks like he's limping right now. He looks very uncomfortable out there. This is getting scary, I look at the Madrid bench, and can't see anyone there who can replace him.
53:43 - Pipita Scores!!!!!!!! A header off an assist from Benzema! Great 1-2 between the 2 strikers! It's 0-1 for Real Madrid! His teammates rush to him and Benzema for the great play!
54:43 - I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Dreaded Drop in our level won't happen. Come on guys! let's hold on.
57:34 - Uff! Valencia almost scores. shit! It was Navarro. He heads it over.
59:05 - Shit! David Villa scores. It's now 1-1. A header from Mathieu's cross.
60:28 - Albiol concedes a corner. The Mestalla is bouncing, this is getting scary. Is this the dreaded drop?
61:58 - Yellow Card for Sergio Ramos for handball.
63:54 - Madrid are fighting. That's good - They're fighting the urge to be complacent. They need to. We will be 7 points adrift of Barca if this scoreline keeps up.
65:00 - Pipita!!!!!!!! It's 2-1 for us! Great play for Marcelo, running with the ball, skipping past the defenders tolay it off for his Argentinean teammate.
67:10 - Sergio Ramos does a Marchena... robbing Valencia of their momentum by falling ovr and pretending to be shot over some very marginal contact. Eat that Marchena. The announcer says 'certainly Marchena would have tobe be impressed with that' after asking '...let's see if this is serious, let's see where this is in the Marchena-scale' hahaha
70:24 - Nasty tackle by Ramos on Villa. Be careful now Sergio, I know you and CR9 are in a pretty boy club, that's ok. Don't form a brain-explosion-as-matches-end club at Madrid, please.
71:50 - Joaquin looks to come on. More pace for our defenders to deal with. Let's hope we cope.
73:31 - Yellow Card for Navarro for a late challenge on Benzema
74:09 - Raul comes on for Van Der Vaart. Good job Rafa, but do we really need Raul on?  Joaquin comes on for Valencia
75:33 - Real are being compact on defense. We're really playing on the counter now. Focus guys.
77:40 - Lass takes a shot from WAY out. He shoots wide, of course.
79:17 - FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! Asleep on Defense. Joaquin makes it 2-2. Who was tracking him????
82:10 - The Mestalla is roaring again. Xabi Alonso takes a free kick..... GOAL!!!!!!! It's 2-3 for Real Madrid!!!!! It's Garay! 
84:19 - Yellow Card for Carlos Marchena for pulling Benzema's shirt. I'm happy to see his ass carded.
84:41 - Granero comes on for Benzema. That moves Raul forward as the striker. Granero should solidify the midfield... I hope.
86:35 - Miguel comes on for Matheiu for Valencia. An attacking fullback to replace a fullback that has already assisted for 2 goals?
88:35 - Marcelo gets fouled. He's grown into this game. Anonymous during the first half, but he's been a livewire this 2nd half.
90:00 - It'll be another 3 minutes in this game. Let's see if we can hold on.
+1:52 - Granero gets fouled and Bruno is yellow carded for Valencia
+3:00 - It's over! It's 3-2 for us! Barca's lead is back down to 5 points. A win next week vs. Zaragoza at home will see us pile on the pressure on them to reduce the gap to 2 points.
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-Let's all keep our fingers crossed on Pepe's injury status.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Marching to the Mestalla


Valencia await us tomorrow in a match that will prove to be the ultimate test of character for the team. There will be no Kaka marauding the Valencia area or jetting past their stone-footed midfield and defense. We will also not have CR96 available after his 3 moments of madness against Almeria. He will have to watch the side effect of his actions last week from the television screen tomorrow night. We will be facing them with a good albeit unspectacular side instead and will have to play them straight on with good football without relying on the moments of magic that our 2 unavailable 'supercracks' can conjure up. We will be playing a top level side for the fourth time this season (the others being Sevilla, Milan twice & Barca) with the chance to finally break our duck against teams of such calibre. A win in this match without our 2 stars will be a statement to the world about our character, a massive injection of morale to the squad as well as the much-needed sense of affirmation Manuel Pellegrini needs to prove his worth as the manager of Real Madrid.
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Valencia are one of several Spanish teams that are currently falling apart financially but have managed to produce results that soothe the wounds of financial turmoil instead of rubbing salt on them. A big part of this is due to the good work of Unai Emery who will be fancying his chances to end up with 3 points knowing that the only people in Real Madrid '8' and '9' in the stadium are the minority Madrid fans in the stands. Pellegrini clearly has his work cut out for him.
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Valencia will be without David Silva but will still be headlined by El Guaje David Villa. Weeks ago, he has stated that be bears no grudges against Florentino for not letting Valencia push us around financially for the him. But with the rumor mill rife with talk of a Villa switch to Madrid added to his first statements of willingness to move abroad will have the world in attention and him extra motivated. Though it would be Raul Albiol who will know him best having spent many years with him at Valencia, it will in fact be Pepe who will be tasked with tracking him and keeping up with his wily movement as well as threatening pace.

At midfield, the Asturian Ace will also be backed up by Valencia's own wonderkids Pablo Hernandez and ex-madridista Juan Mata. Marcelo, Lass will Xabi Alonso will have their work cut out for them tracking these guys. A report came out of a funny anecdote saying that Arbeloa had to use the contact lenses of Albiol during one of recent matches (not sure if it was against Marseille or Almeria) after losing it on a collision in the match. He and Albiol will need to pack an extra set: keeping track of Mata (why he isn’t wearing all white for this match is beyond me) and Joaquin surging down the wings and going from zone to zone on the pitch will require his and Sergio Ramos’ full awareness and complete concentration... and perfect eyesight.
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On ttack, with no Cristiano Ronaldo and no Kaka, I anticipate Pellegrini to continue with his tactic of switching lineups, between a diamond 4-4-2 (or a 4-3-1-2, 4-1-3-2 or 4-1-2-1-2) and a 4-5-1 (or 4-2-3-1 ‘double pivot’):
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-------------Casillas-----------
Ramos-Pepe-Albiol-Arbeloa
-Lass-Xabi Alonso-Marcelo-
------- Van Der Vaart ----------
-------Higuain-Benzema-------
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Or:
-------------Casillas-----------
Ramos-Pepe-Albiol-Arbeloa
-------Lass-Xabi Alonso-------
Higuain-----VDV-----Marcelo
------------Benzema-------------
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Having no Cristiano Ronaldo keeps this tactical set up more straightforward than it could be (where he and Pipita could switch positions as striker or winger on the counter). Van Der Vaart will continue on to play his preferred role behind the 2 strikers where we have seen him emerge and do really well as Kaka’s substitute (I can’t help but think though how things’d be like if we had Wesley Sneijder in his place instead). Benzema’s inclusion in the XI gives us a physical presence up front that we didn’t have in the past games, it will remain to be a question however whether he chooses to drop deep into midfield too much and choke it up or choose to be the menace he can be. The young Frenchman also seems to be lacking sharpness and confidence (the premature rumors of his possible summer exit don’t help at all) and needs to find and put in his A game for this one. So far this season, he’s managed to score off rebounds (Milan, Almeria), a header, a goal off a counter attack. His one other goal, as I remember is off a move where he charges the defense while dribbling the ball, then firing towards the goal: a move that is blocked by a defender 99/100 times. Hopefully we will have a Higuain in his element to pounce in on a clutch goalscoring opportunity.
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Most of all, Pellegrini will need to drill his wards on concentration for 90 minutes. Valencia are not Almeria. If we fall into our newly-acquired disease of letting our level drop after a period of time and concede goals in the process, getting back on the saddle will be no simple task... it will also likely mean paying the price of dropping points, and losing ground in our chase for Barca. We are a team without our 2 big guns heading into hostile territory. We need character.
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People liked talking about us just needing to have our 2 ‘supercracks’ back to show the world who we really are. Perhaps it’s in these moments without them that we find out just who we really are.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Highlight in this Blog's Short Lifespan


I want to make a shoutout to El Socio of Fans Del Real Madrid, who mentions this blog in his and speaks well of it. Let me say that this is an honor for me and this blog's young life. I ran into his blog (before it was even in Ole Ole) some time back, and even if it's in Spanish, I've been able to enjoy it a lot (thanks to Google and Yahoo Babelfish Translate). This independent-minded guy does not mince his words and has some very strong opinions which (despite my limited understanding of Spanish), is delivered with wit, humor and rage all at the same time. Good Stuff! Thanks El Socio!
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He mentions:
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"...desgraciadamene nuestro amigo Lateral Izquierdo parece haber abandonado sus actividades blogueras; puena suerte allá donde esté. Pero a rey muerto, rey puesto, y he descubierto un excelente blog llamado Madridista Mac, donde el bloguero homónimo nos ofrece desde Singapur todo tipo de entradas sobre el Madrid: opinión, análisis tácticos y hasta crónicas en directo, a pesar de que no le lee casi nadie. Os recomeindo entrar en su página y echar un vistazo, que el tipo trabaja muy bien."
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I translate with AltaVista Babel Fish:
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"but desgraciadamene our Left Lateral friend seems to have left its blogueras activities; puena luck there where it is. But to died king, put king, and there am shortage excellent blog call Madridista Mac, where the homonymous bloguero offers from Singapore all type to us of entrances on Madrid: opinion, tactical analyses and until chronicles in direct, although it does not read anybody almost to him. Recomeindo to enter to you its page and to throw a look, that the type works very well."

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My further interpretation:
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"But unfortunately, our friend Lateral (Lateral Izqiuerdo of The Real Liga) seems to have left his blogging acitivites, we wish him luck wherever he is. But as the King dies, we install a new one: and there's this excellent blog called Madridista Mac, where the blogger offers from Singapore all types of things about Real Madrid to us: opinions, tactical analysis, even live chronicles of the game... although almost no one reads his work. I recommend you to enter his page and have a look, its good work."
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... And I am deeply, deeply flattered. It is true what he said though, that there probably aren't many visitors of this space. hahaha.
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Before mentioning this blog, he mentions The Real Liga, a blog that seems to have died down in the past few months: I keep it still in my blog list hoping that it'll kick alive soon again.
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He goes on to mention Adam Bader's Real Madrid Talk and Corey's Real Madrid-The Offside too and says that neither of us have converted to the religion of Anti-Raulisimo yet. I'm not so sure I'll ever get to that point though... I will always give credit to Raul and look upon him with respect for the things he has done for this club. I will say however that your presence on the pitch is justified by your ability to contribute to what happens to your team on it. And based on the way he has been playing, it seems clear that Raul is not in this Real Madrid's best XI to merit a starting berth. It seems like the time has come for him to pass the baton to this current generation of Real Madrid players who seem capable of winning it all. Just as he has snatched his place in the team from Butragueno, so too must he relinquish his place...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009-12-08: Olympique Marseille 1 - Real Madrid 3 + Some Random Anecdotes



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Some Random Anecdotes for you guys after taking in some of the highlights from last Tuesday's Champions League win vs. Marseille
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Achtung! Stupid-alert!
-Bernd Schuster, who loved clamming up in front of the press when he was still Real Madrid's coach has now chosen to, shall we say, 'open his heart' now that he's not Real Madrid manager anymore. Apparently, the clueless German thinks that Pellegrini's decision to call Raul out to warm up against Almeria and then subsequently change his mind was wrong. He also said that it wasn't wrong if it had been done to Drenthe? Eh?
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The man who was said to have paid the release clause to his contract from Getafe himself is also reportedly interested to front some kind of consortium to buy Xerez. While Tim Stannard of FourFourTwo has a suggestion to him on what do once his acquisition of Xerez is complete... I find myself contemplating what his role in that club would be. The guy can't coach. And he certainly can't be a spokesman for the club... hmm...
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Do us a favor Bernd, Shut the hell up.
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Pipita turns 22
Happy Birthday to our now-22 wonderkid Gonzalo 'Pipita' Higuain. 22 is an interesting number for him as it was the number of goals he scored in La Liga last season. Here's to wishing him more than those 22 for this season. And here are a few other number wishes: 10. That's for our 10th European Cup. That's for the jersey number I hope to see him wear next season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

And Now Comes the Hard Part


So now we're off to the elimination stages after last night's 3-1 win over Marseille, allowing us to advance seeded first in our group to give us the advantage of having the home leg at the Bernabeu. I'd say that last night's match wasn't quite as tricky as many have said it would be considering the fact that we needed to lose by 3-0 to lose our place in the elimination round. That said, with a draw enough to do the job for us, credit goes to the team for wanting more and getting more. It's not quite the 'character win', but it is nevertheless a good win: boosting our confidence to give us the belief that perhaps this season will be slightly different to seasons past in this tournament.

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A few thoughts on the match and some of its characters:
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Cristina becomes Cristiano Again

It's so much more fun to remember him as Cristiano the scorer of Spectacular goals rather than Cristina the Prima Donna don't you think?
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Going through the comments section in Adam Bader's Real Madrid Talk blog, a ruckus broke out over one of the comments that called out Cristiano for his Bitch Fit antics in the Almeria game... resulting in him being baptized with a far more creative name than the one I bestowed upon him (mine was an uncreative 'Bitch-Naldo): Cristina Ronaldo. I've written on this space about my thoughts on the matter as well as shared them on other blogsites: The essence of my comments have been that if he costs 96 Million Euros (and also has the cheek to say with a straight face that he's indeed worth that much), then he better live up to it. That means spectacular play, lots of goals and absolute professionalism. He failed in the latter category in last weekend's match and deservedly got some stick for it.
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Last night though, Cristina decided to become Cristiano again. He did it all: terrorized the Marseille defense, ran at them, did his flicks and tricks, put in some crosses, and scored 2 goals including a signature RPG (Ronaldo-Propelled-Goal a.k.a. Free Kick). The second goal, though seemingly easy, was a display of alertness and impressive strength and agility: recovering from a three-man collision, a quick and snappy turn and a precise and suave finish to make it a 2-goal lead for us. He just missed a chance for a hat trick when he hit the bar with a header off the corner and chose to pass off to an open Benzema (an apology gift perhaps?) instead of opting to shoot during one exchange, which the Frenchman failed to put away.
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I've been an outspoken critic of his, but I will call a spade a spade: he was hands down the Man of the Match last night. He also demonstrated that he might perhaps be the solution to Real Madrid's knack of dropping its level and losing their focus and concentration after jumping forward with the lead. His desire for the (or his own) 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and so forth.... goal keeps him perpetually blood thirsty which in turn helps keep the entire team's level up out there on the pitch.
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Defense
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Our defense generally held up ok. Last night's defensive performance will be remembered for Albiol's poor clearance, which gifted the ball to Lucho Gonzales, which followed an impressive goal-line clearance. Perhaps the fact that it was his goal that broke the deadlock somehow made up for this error that would've likely never been 'forgiven' by a superior team. I am very happy for him though to have been able to score his first goal in the white shirt. Another notable point to remember would be Casillas' poor judgment that made him see yellow (easily could've been a red) and concede a penalty (and consequently injure the impressive Niang who to me was Marseille's MOTM). The football Gods were with us last night however, as what could easily have been Lucho Gonzales' 2nd goal for the night, smacked the crossbar instead of the top corner of the goal. Great Champions are always the ones blessed with luck and last night, we were blessed with plenty of it.
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Midfield
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It seemed to me like Marseille wanted the game to become a rough, bruising battle in perhaps some effort to rattle Real Madrid? In Sergio Ramos and Lassana Diarra, Real Madrid had 2 players who were happily willing to oblige such a challenge. Lass was a monster as usual and his commanding midfield presence, ability to win balls as well as hold on to the ball while warding of 1, 2, 3 players trying to tackle him almost won the midfield battle on his own. Lass the Little Tank (yet another cheesy nickname from me) was complemented really well by Xabi Alonso who calmly tapped the ball back and forth, finding players surging forward, or offering outlets from his part of the pitch.
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Let me also call out Marcelo, whom I admit I was probably singling out as the target to allow Benzema, Kaka, CR96 and Pipita play together. As a left back, he was quite poor immature because of his gung-ho attitude in attack. As a midfield player however, his pace, technical skills and ball control, coupled with his elementary defending has made him a very useful utility player on the pitch. Able to hold positions, run into space to receive passes as well as use his pace and dribbling to surge forward, he gives a very unique quality to the left side of Madrid's attack. He played ok last night, missing a host of chances to score however.
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Rafael Van Der Vaart also continued his improving vein of form, likely encouraged by the gradually increasing minutes handed to him as well as being handed these opportunities to play in his favored position behind the striker/s. His emergence into the lineup has come well for Real Madrid in lieu of Kaka's injury that will likely keep the '8' for the rest of the year: that means starting berths for the Dutchman against Valencia at the Mestalla (who oddly almost signed him the summer before his move to Madrid) as well as against Zaragoza. I have to say that Rafa has been taking his chance well, slowly winning the confidence and support not only of the training staff, but also the club's supporters (including this critical one) and even (gasp!) the Real Madrid Press (AS's Resident Mad Madridista Tomas Roncero even had words of praise for him in today's 'Contratonica').
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Attack
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While CR96 dazzled us and the world with his great performance, the same however could not be said about the rest of our attacking line. After his Man Of The Match performance against Almeria, leading to my moaning about him not being given the respect he deserves, Pipita completely embarrassed me with an absolutely mediocre performance. One odd thing that I’ve noticed in this particular match however, is the frequency by which he ended up with the ball on the left side of the Madrid flank: a position I realize he looks very uncomfortable in.
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Benzema marked his return to his home country amidst a hail of boos likely out of the trauma he has subjected the Marseille fans to during his past years with Lyon. And while we saw him make some absolutely menacing runs at the Marseille defense, his night ended with the memory of squandering a perfectly good one-on-one with a keeper served to him on a silver platter by a not-normally-generous CR96.
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Nevermind Raul, whose most significant anecdote comes form his reunion with old friend Fernando Morientes in the warm up area…
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Other Random Notes on the Match
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Double Diarra
For the first time this season, we saw a the Double Diarra midfield, though we didn’t get to see them at their most destructive given that Diarra V1.0 came in with the game already won. I’d still like to see it one day in unleashing the ‘counter attack from hell’ to be led by CR96, Kaka, Benzema & Pipita…
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Sponsorless Uniforms

Real Madrid Old School: I'm wondering where I can buy such Jerseys...
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Let me just say that the boys looked very impressive and imperiously legendary in those LITERAL all-white kits (without the shirt sponsor's logo)… a throwback to the days of Di Stefano & Puksas’ all-conquering teams… here’s to hoping to achieve those same results in this season’s Champions League!
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We're off now to the elimination round of the Last 16: a hurdle we haven't gotten over in quite a few years: Roma, Bayern, Liverpool, who will it be this year... maybe it's just some crazy club-wide psychosis, but now we must REALLY get over this next hump.
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Now comes the hard part.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When is Pipita going to get the RESPECT that he deserves?

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All the talk is about Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo...
The Spanish Press... and even the International Press (the article above is from the usual press agency sources)... published in the Sports Section of the publication 'Today' here in Singapore.
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It is one thing for those who didn't watch the matches to think that CR96 and Kaka have been killing it for us... It is another thing altogether when those who have seen the match with their own eyes choose to be blind to the obvious truth.
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Pipita deserves some bloody respect. This is ridiculous.

2009-12-05: Real Madrid 4 - Almeria 2




Some additional post-Almeria Thoughts as posted on La Liga Weekly...
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On Pellegrini's Tactics
People have been talking about his 4-4-2 diamond with Xabi at the bottom, Van Der Vaart at the tip, Granero on the right and Marcelo at the left. It was indeed wished for by many Madridistas and was highlighted by Corey from the Offside as part of his wishlist in one of the podcasts for weaker teams (Almeria, 5 points from the relegation zone, fits the bill) that park the bus in the Bernabeu.
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I wish to point out a 'twist' to Pellegrini's tactics beyond the use of the diamond for this match: Pellegrini was actually switching from a 4-4-2 diamond on attack to a 4-2-3-1 on defense and in counter-attacking situations. The 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1) features Xabi Alonso with Granero in the middle, while Higuain tucks to the right side and Marcelo to the left. Cristiano switches with Higuain constantly within this set up. This to me seems to be a demonstration of Pellegrini's tactical sophistication, as the switching systems allow the team to respond to specific circumstances within the match and at the same time allows him to take advantage of the versaility of his players which consequently keep his opponents guessing.
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What is left for Pellegrini now is to resolve this clearly pressing matter on how and why the intensity and concentration level of the team clearly drops once we gain the lead. To be able to win games via 'remontada' is something that Real Madrid should never expect when facing top level teams. This is a mental issue that I've talked about before (Killer Instinct, or the lack of it) and it is clearly haunting the team.
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Cristiano Ronaldo's Antics
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Ronaldo is a passionate player. Sure. I can live with that. We all know that. But to bash the critics of his behavior last Saturday is out of line.
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I could live with him expressing his frustration at missing the penalty, to behave however in a way completely disregarded the fact that his team had just taken the lead is too much. Not so much as a pat on Benzema...
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Next, he takes his shirt off at scoring to make it 4-2 in a match under control via a TAP IN. This is nothing even close to Pipita scoring to make it 4-3 against Espanyol in extra time that kept us in contention for the title. He reacted like he just scored a 50-yard screamer in the WC final to win it. When he took his shirt off, I just went 'now that's just silly...' Now, I'm not crucifying him for it... but really thought it was silly... even stupid.
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Then, here.'s the cherry on the sundae: he has a mini-brain explosion (albeit not in Pepe's league) and kicks out at being fouled under the following circumstances:
1.) with the match won already given the time and the scoreline
2.) having already been yellow carded
3.) in his first 90 minute game back from injury
4.) in a match prior to a trip to the Mestalla against a legitimately good team
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Why can't he just go up to the guy's face and say 'what the f%ck is your problem!?!?' just as most players react to such fouls? or 'Ey ref! did you see what this f#cker just did!?!?'
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He lost the plot. Simple as that. It was behaviour that REALLY should have prompted an apology to his teammates. I refuse to give him credit for doing something that is the bare minimum for him to do after what he just did.
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His behavior has put himself in jeopardy and has put the team in jeopardy.
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He deserves the criticism and he should live with it. We as Madridistas must support him but also know how to be critical if our players behave in a manner unbecoming of the badge. And his behavior last Saturday was just that.
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The 'Raul Issue'
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I totally deplore how the Madrid-based sports dailies in Spain have been talking up the issue of Raul missing out on minutes for the first time in a long time, blah, blah.... El Kapitan is no longer the player he used to be. This is a fact that is plain to see... what is the big deal about benching him? Why does thist insignificant matter that deserves absolutely no attention at the forefront of Real Madrid discourse. It's absolutely pathetic and ridiculous.
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And beyond ridiculous, it puts an some sort of burden (direct or indirect) on Manuel Pellegrini to constantly re-assess (read: second-guess) his decisions which hav ethus far demonstrated very commendable progress in foresight, innovation and sophistication. We so don't need this.

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.

Gameblog: Real Madrid vs. Almeria

I semi-got my wish tonight as I see Van Der Vaart and Granero come out to replace Kaka and and Lass respectively... but Marcelo remains, which means that Cristiano's return has still come at the expense of Karim Benzema. It's a midfield Diamond with Xabi Alonso as the lone-pivot, Granero to the right, Marcelo on the left and VDV behind CR9 and Pipita. Why can't CR9 play winger (for Marcelo) and let Benzema start with Pipita?
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0:30 - Real Madrid doing a great job keeping possession.
1:33 - Cristiano still remains at a very central position. I'm not really in favor of this. We're still great at ball possession and control of this match though.
2:50 - Whoa! VDV charges Almeria and takes a shot! Saved! Cristiano next! Both saved by the keeper! Uff!

4:09 - Replays show that CR9's shot came off a great feed from VDV... looks like he's playing well in this preferred role behind the striker.
5:52 - Almeria is playing like they have absolutely NO CONTROL in this match. They can't hold onto the ball at all.
6:25 -AAAARGH! Almost a goal from Pipita! Nice pass from CR9!
7:28 - Shot from VDV. Blocked.
8:20 - Real Madrid still in complete control. Pipita's first touch let's him down off a great cross. We've seen that happen.
9:00 - Uff! Ramos gets on the end of VDV's free kick. Saved.
10:00 Real Madrid are winning the ball back not even at midfield. They're doing so in attacking positions.
10:47 - Whoa!!!! Higuain now marauding at the left side puts in a floating cross for CR9 off a backheel from Marcelo. CR9 doesn't get on the end of it though. Dazzling stuff!
11:51 - 6 Fouls to Almeria, 0 to Real Madrid.
13:00 - Ramos somehow finds himself in an Attacking Midfielder's position on the left side but ends up fouling the defender.
14:12 - Albiol loses the ball in Almeria's territory... what are you doing there???
15:15 - What the hell is wrong with Almeria: they give away a corner while their keeper and defender kick each other on the face.
17:00 - CR9 proves he's better from the wing as he slices the flank of Almeria and wins a corner. Pull Marcelo out please and let's see Benzema in his place.
19:00 - There's a drop in the pace of the game...
19:56 - Granero looks funny as a right winger.
20:12 - Marcelo takes a shot, easily saved by Alves.
21:50 - Statbox comes on: we have 76% possession.
22:00 - Shot from Granero! but he fires it right AT the keeper. Great pass from VDV.
23:53 - Nice camera shot of Raul enjoying the warmth of the bench.
25:11 - Almeria is growing into the game. Nothing to bother us so far though...
28:04 - First hint of frustration: CR9 forces a shot from long range that's easily blocked.
30:00 - Still no goal. Brownie points for good play though. Great Real Madrid break... no goal though.
30:50 - GOAL!!!!!!! I wanted to see this! Sergio Ramos scoring off a header! Assist from CR9!
33:45 - VDV Shoots! Saved! Higuain Again! Saved! AAAAARRRGH. Diego Alves is keeping his team alive. Should be 4-0 by now. So much for the level dropping after we score.
36:00 - Great tackle from Xabi Alonso!
38:14 - Ronaldo shoots off a Marcelo-led counter... easily saved.
38:45 - Another CR9 shot... goes wide.
40:50 - Let me just say this: VDV is really convincing me. He's been great this first half.
44:38 - Crusat of Almeria tries to counter, dancing around the Madrid midfield, but he's alone.... nowhere to go... he loses the ball.
45:00 - Halftime. The Bernabeu applauds (I think that's the first time we've seen it happen this season).
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Halftime thoughts:
-Real Madrid has played a very good game I have to say.
-Midfield pressure has been great - allowing us to win the ball in critical area of the pitch to start our attacks.
-Our passing has been really great too: we're seeing a lot of movement, great inter-passing.
-We've been playing some nice Vertical football: pacy and dangerous.
-We need more goals! We need to put away those chances! We'd be 4-0 by now if we'd been more clinical with the chances we've been able to create.
-I can only hope we maintain this type of intensity and score a pile of goals. I know I predicted a 2-0. Goal.com predicted a 4-0 and so did Corey from the Offside, but it'd be nice to be wrong... :P
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45:57 - Nice buildup play leading to a Ramos cross.... to Marcelo? He's too short! hahahah
46:27 - Pipita wins a corner in. Diarra v1.0 is seen warming up. Uff... Ronaldo flicks off the corner, no one gets on the end of it.
47:20 - What a pass from Xabi Alonso! That must've been 50 yards.
46:58 - Statbox comes on 19 shots for Real Madrid and 1 for Almeria.
49:15 - This 2nd half feels like an open game... even for Almeria. We shouldn't play this way.
49:50 - UFFFFF! CR9 hits it just wide.
53:30 - Real Madrid in control. nothing very tangible though... until CR9 thinks he has a legit claim for a penalty which is denied by the ref.
54:00 - Let me just say that our defense has also been doing a very good job.
54:50 - And just when I say that. Uche gets a shot on... Casillas, thankfully was still awake.
57:10 - Almeria Scores. Totally against the run of play. The cross was allowed in. Shot was deflected off Albiol. Shit. I shouldn't have said that thing about our defense doing well.
59:15 - Is it now THAT time of the game? Where our level drops off and we can't seem to do anything afterwards???
60:27 - The Bernabeu is stunned. Almeria just managed to launch a very dangerous counter, winning a corner.
61:16 - Goal for Kalou Uche. Oh Gosh. It's now 1-2 to Almeria. Asleep yet again defending the corner.
61:30 - Benzema comes on for VDV. Well played Rafa.
65:15 - Granero puts the ball into the box. No one there.
65:50 - Benzema can't shoot when the ball gets to him, Granero does but he seems to be aiming at the crowd. Shit, we're really up against it now.
67:08 - Crusat takes a shot! he misses. He's been a pain in the neck.
70:00 - 20 mins and in need of 2 goals. this is miserable.
70:05 -- Albiol heads in! Cleared off the line! Shit!
71:30 - Uff! Uche gets a pass... misses
72:10 - PIPITA SCORES!!!!!!! This boy is CLUTCH! When people tell him we're about to lose, he just doesn't get it! It's 2-2 now! Game on!
73:10 - Pipita again!!!! He couldn't to the Zidane volley though.
75:07 - Almeria's got us pinned down at our own half.... we now need to play long balls.... what happened to all that first half beauty?
77:00 - The Madrid seige is on. Almeria have 11 in their half. Hopefully they won't be able to stand the pressure.
78:32 - Free Kick for Madrid in a dangerous area. RPG?
79:00 - RPG on target! But saved. Pellegrini curses his luck.
80:30 - Penalty!!!!!! CR wins the Penalty! Alves gets booked. Replay shows he slide tackled CR9.
81:30 - Ronaldo's shot gets saved! But Benzema scores!!! Off the rebound! It's 3-2!
82:40 - Ronaldo is miserable for missing the penalty. Cheer up man! Chalk it up to rust.
83:25 - Diarra V1.0 in for Marcelo
84:01 - Ronaldo scores!!!!!!! Pipita tears up the defense apart from the wing and crosses in! Tap in for CR9. He gets the yellow too for taking the shirt off... come on man. We all know you have the 6 pack, no need for that shit.
85:40 - Pipita almost makes it 5! Almost! This guy does NOT know how to give up.
87:35 - Xabi Off Drenthe on.
88:00 - CR9 gets sent off - another yellow card for retaliation. Nice one you jackass. Now we lose you vs. Valencia. That yellow for taking your shirt off now REALLY hurts eh?
+1:40 - After some great ball control, Benzema runs at the Almeria defense who gets it to Granero.... finding a Drenthe who's called offside, who fluffed his chance anyway.
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Game ends... more thoughts on it in the coming days.

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My Man of the Match: Gonzalo Higuain... industrious and dangerous throughout the match. He has been relentless and it was his typical Pipita-like relentlessness that won us this match: scoring Madrid's 2nd out of sheer insistence... and further tearing up the Almeria defense to cross in for Madrid's 4th.
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CR9 was in contention for it.... but he was a bitch with his antics.... which might REALLY cost us against Valencia.