Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not Again!!!


Lyon were all over us: They out-muscled, out-fought and out worked us last night... What ever happened to our pride? Our fighting spirit?
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Tim Stannard’s La Liga Loca column was a great defeated “I’ll drink to that!” moment for me this morning (after witnessing our absolutely horrendous performance last Tuesday night in the Champions League). He seemed to have written his column before the match itself link to article here):
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Madrid ready for their annual knock-out round
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“We’re going to show that we're Real Madrid,” growled a mean and moody Esteban Granero from betwixt the pages of Tuesday’s Marca.
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La Liga Loca is assuming the grungy midfielder doesn’t mean “by getting dumped out of the Champions League at the first knock-out stages” – as has happened in each of the past five seasons.
It’s February folks, so once again it’s “this year, The Tenth is ours!” time in the Madridista press - a perennial campaign that has been fairly short-lived thanks to the interventions of Juventus, Arsenal, Bayern, Roma and Liverpool.
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But this time everything will be different…”
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No, it wasn't different.... not at all. With barely enough time to enjoy the fact that an injury-ravaged Barca gave up 3 points this weekend (brining their La Liga lead down to 2), we find ourselves in a very familiar position once again. It is a position that seems to be a default mode setting for everyone in the club in the past 5 years: First elimination round of the Champions League: and we're shitting our pants once again... losing 0-1 and facing the prospect of elimination in a tournament that too many Real Madrid fans have claimed as 'our tournament'. Gosh, today, that statement is so fricking old-fashioned... embarrassingly dated.
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With all due respect to Olympique Lyonnais (whom I salute for their great performance last night), We're not exactly talking about Fabio Capello's Juventus here... or a Thierry Henry in-his-peak-led Arsenal (complete with an 'overlap' with the Cesc Fabregas era)... or perennial favorites Bayern Munich... (forget Roma we choked big time in that one)... or a Liverpool squad that zipped to second place in the EPL last season. This was a Lyon side that I had described in our last podcast as being sort of in that part of a cycle following a an era marked by a remarkable 7-consecutive League Titles. This was a Lyon side that had lost their BEST player to US (who now warms our bench!)... This was a Lyon side struggling with its identity and consistency... This was a Lyon side, who despite being clearly a very good team, we, Real Madrid, who spent a fortune on the world's best players last summer... are supposed to beat! But we didn't. We choked.
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That's a big problem.
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Choking is a big problem because it is my belief that choking is a symptom of lack of character. For a club with the stature, money and players that Real Madrid have, beating Xerez 5-0 or 0-3 is something to be expected. Then again, to beat teams like Lyon (with all due respect to their stature) is also to be expected. With all the talk and wetdreams in the past (perhaps till today) from the likes of Florentino Perez to come up with a 'European Superleague'... I find myself asking the question: Should we even consider that to be a good idea considering how terrible we've been in facing the best. Ditto for those like Lyon that are just thereabout but ot quite yet.
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Lyon outmuscled us, outworked us and out fought us... they outright outplayed us. They swarmed us in midfield, frustrated us as we attacked... and hit us on the counter repeatedly. Yes, yes... Makoun's goal wasn't exactly a counter, it was perhaps even a semi-Hail Mary shot... it doesn't however, disguise the fact that we played poorly. Prior to recording this week's podcast, Isaiah of Barcafootball Blog commented during our pre-recording discussion that we played the first 15 minutes with complete domination... only to fall asleep for the remaining 75 minutes: how can any team expect to do this agaist a side that has been in the Champions League for the last decade?
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Madrid Press Madness: They have started the fingerpointing game. Thankfully, most of Madridisimo are level-headed enough to think that ALL are at fault
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Once again, let me call out the Madrid press for being a total shitter in this situation: acting like lunatics going through an uncontrollable menopausal moodswing: endlessly and pointlessly looking for someone to finger. I'm not even sure what sinister question they posed to Kaka (who had a few good moments charging down the left wing in the second half), that got the normally level-headed, shy and humble Brazilian go 'Don't Blame Me'... oh yes... it was actually the Spanish Press who decided to take his statements out of context to make him sound like a 'washing-my-hands' loser by deciding to make that one line as the headline for the news item (where he simply wished to highlight that the entire group was accountable and not one individual). AS continued with the blame game by posting a survey on their site asking 'who's to blame?' with the choices being: The Team, Pellegrini, The Whole Lot or Lyon (i.e. they were just to good). Thankfully, most of Madridisimo are level-headed enough to think that all are at fault... an opinion that this Madridista shares. Let's go through the lot:
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Common Sense
I would like to pose a question to Manuel Pellegrini: With a fit Garay.... what shitty thing did you eat for breakfast that you still believe that Marcelo is capable of playing at Left Back? Has it not been established countless times that this guy is NOT capable of playing at this position (despite his own delusions that he's a left back... perhaps he hangs with Diego?). When Lyon's starting XI flashed on my computer screen, it showed a 5-man midfield spread accross the entire width of the pitch: Claude Puel is not a genius by a long stretch of the imagination, but it became absolutely common sense that left back #12 was the weak point of our defense. And boy did he go to town with that idea in the first half... Govou just skinned him. Over and over again. I was happy the Marcelo left flank nightmare was over by halftime. A really good article/commenrtary on the subejct of Pellegrini's tactics was written by Goal.com's Sulmaan Ahmad can be found here
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A Dreadful Defensive Display
Our pre-podcast recording discussions on the defensive display had Corey from the Real Madrid Offside come up with the 'prostitute's legs wide open' metaphor (a fitting one) to describe the ridiculous number of shots and passes that were weaved right through Albiol's legs: most of them by Lisandro Lopez who ran and fought his socks off in a display worthy of the ovation he recieved from the Stade Gerland.
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With the culprit of the poor performance clearly coming from the 3-man midfield that drowned because of Lyon's 5-man midfield mob: it makes me scratch my head why our defensive line never bothered to move up to:
1.) close the gaping HOLE that was left between our line of overrun midfield players and the defense
2.) serve as a passing outlet / inlet to reset plays if our midfield guys can't manage to get the ball to our attackers.
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The Lyon onslaught was so overwhelming that we actually even saw Iker Casillas shitting his pants and putting on a nervy performance. Apart from the sequence we all remember where he cleared the ball, or rather, passed it right to Lisandro Lopez for a goal-scoring opportunity, a review of the goal also brings out the question: Did he not look to be a bit off his line during the sequence that led to the goal (with a row of defenders in front of him).
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Attack
With a drowned midfield our attack was sterile, discombobulated... even laugable. Pipita didn't show up until his narrow angled shot at Lloris' goal and looked to be in shock at how the French Defenders seemed to be able to keep up with him. His existence in the match left me broken hearted. The readers of this blog surely know of how much I adore him for his qualities in big games and his character. His no show last Tuesday is a big, big dissappointment.
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The reactions on Kaka have been mixed: we have all seen him grow and re-develop in the past few games with evidence suggesting that he's on his way back to being in his 'Milan form'. Despite his largely anonymous first half where we all remember his repeated failed passes, his lost balls from failed charging/dribbling attempts towards the Lyon game: his second half attacks, sometimes against 3-4 Lyon defenders acquits him somewhat in my book.
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But while the Madrid press are saying bullshit like 'Only Cristiano played Decently' statements (likely due to his number of shots on target): My frustration with Cristiano Castrol Boy Ronaldo is currently in full flow. I have long believed (and continue to do so now) that the only way he will ever justify his ridiculous salary and 96-million Euro pricetag is to DUPLICATE or BETTER the feats of Don Alfredo. And to play a Champions League elimination round as if it was a stepover contest is not the way to do it.
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To Cristiano Ronaldo: This is not 'Dancing with the Stars'. This is the Champions League.
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'What the fuck are you doing!?!?!' I was yelling at the top of my lungs at 4am in the morning at the sight of his pointless juggling tricks in front of the Lyon defenders that mostly resulted in an ordinary pass after allowing the Lyon defense to settle in their positions or a flick to a teammate that didn't go quite where the ball needed to go... or worse: straight to a Lyon defender. If he is truly to be the man to get the team to buck up by his example on and off the pitch, then he must use his clearly unparalleled talent and take the game by the scruff of the neck to slit the throats of the opposition the way we've seen him to so many times.
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And perhaps it's his way to re-build the confidence of his teammates and the fans... but I find myself very irritated by the fact that his rightfully irate postgame soundbites were followed by an arrogant prediction of a 3 goal win. I do not consider this to be the appropriate declaration after getting your ass handed to you in front of the world. We should really stop it with the soundbite game and just fight and win.
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What frustrates me as much as worries me at this point is our inability to win against the big teams. Perhaps we can go and call out wins such as the ones we had against Villarreal and Valencia at the El Madrigal and the Mestalla respectively... but the opposite side of the spectrum is much more compelling: Barcelona, Sevilla, Milan and now Lyon as well. There are 3 big fixtures coming in the next month: Villarreal, Sevilla in La Liga and the second leg tie against Lyon. All of them in the Bernabeu - a place that has, in the last 10 years developed into a lethal double-edged sword for us. It is time to rise to the occassion: there are now just 2 points between us and a Barcelona side whose treatment room and suspension list is getting filled up... a perfect opportunity if there was ever any. And now, handicapped with our 1-0 loss, we face a Lyon team that stands in the way of La Decima without the suspended Xabi Alonso (I'd be happy to forget about Marcelo for the mean time, lest Pellegrini gets tempted to use him again as a left back). It's time to show the quality we told the world last Tuesday Night that we have a massive shortage of: Character.
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If we are truly the elite team we believe (and wish) we are, having a good (perhaps even 'decent' will do) record against the big teams is paramount... it is and will be the testament of our worth as a team and to the character (not just the talent) of those who wear the white shirt. If we fail yet again, then we'll be headed right down the infaous path that we dread so much: to be proven as the bunch of circus clowns the naysayers out there are saying we are.
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Our legacy and our history deserve better.

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