Saturday, April 10, 2010

2010-04-07: Real Madrid Talk Podcast + a Great Pre-El Clasico Article on Soccernet.



To supplement the podcast, I'd like to call everyone's attention to an article posted on ESPN Soccernet. It's posted below with the original article here:
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Clasico cliches: Are Barca really better than Madrid?
By Didac Peyret
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It is not unusual to resort to clichés or cling to stereotypes in an attempt to explain something we do not understand, or in order to create a more comfortable reality. If you simplify the reality, then it creates fewer questions; the world of football is no exception.
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For example, in Spain, a country that will be gripped by El Clasico this weekend, there is a prevailing theory that Barcelona play better football than Real Madrid but that their rivals from the capital are more effective.
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It is an opinion that through force of repetition has turned into a convention; a truth accepted by the majority. It is also a perspective that has been used in Barcelona to discredit Madrid.
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To address this preconception, firstly it would be pertinent to agree that it is not the same to play good football and to play attractive football, even if both concepts are often taken hand-in-hand. If you have a model, your own recognisable style, good play consists of making this philosophy as concrete as possible on the field.
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So then if we compare the paths of both teams in La Liga this season, it is very bold to declare that Barcelona have been playing better. Actually, Madrid have strived to find a very good balance with a fast back-four playing a high line to reduce space, a midfield that mixes a good distributor of the ball, a holding midfielder and a more creative element, and one mobile player in behind two strikers.
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Their game is faster than Barcelona's, with fewer breaks in play but with as much rhythm and intensity. Barcelona have another plan: go on the attack, dominate the game and avoid the threat of the counter-attack, retaining the ball and playing an elaborate and expansive game.
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Barca are a tantric team, Madrid achieve their climax via quicker means.
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But Barcelona have not been playing at a similar level to last season, except in some divine moments such as at the Emirates when they eviscerated Arsenal in the first half.
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Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez have not performed at their peak and while Lionel Messi, Eric Abidal and Victor Valdes have maintained, and in some cases surpassed, their level of performance, the rest of the squad have lowered their level.
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It is a situation that in many ways is natural. It is very hard to maintain the same attitude, the same passion and the same commitment after winning six trophies in a calendar year.
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Examining from another angle the topic of whether Madrid play inferior football but to a more effective level, it is interesting to observe certain statistics from La Liga.
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Firstly, no team has scored as many goals as Real Madrid. There is also no other player who needs fewer minutes to score a goal than Gonzalo Higuain. But it is equally true that Madrid are the team that have enjoyed the most chances.
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To put this another way, Madrid have had less success in front of goal than Barcelona in percentage terms. Madrid have had 620 shots to Barcelona's 471 - perhaps explained by the fact they boast more players who take on long-range shots, Cristiano Ronaldo for example.
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Furthermore, the claim that Madrid are less creative is also undermined. Madrid have generated more opportunities, which actually speaks volumes for the collective game of the team. Madrid have 20 shots per game whereas Barcelona average around 15.
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Does that mean Real play better than Barcelona? Not necessarily, but it certainly questions the myth that Madrid's success is founded on efficiency.
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Another interesting topic is that of pressure, and determination. Pep Guardiola's successful Barcelona side last season were one of the best in regaining possession. The onus started with Eto'o, who inspired his team-mates to be equally as dedicated in chasing the ball.
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This season, though, Madrid have recovered possession on 1,782 occasions while Barcelona have managed 1,702. This is another example of how cold, hard facts can dismantle first impressions.
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This Saturday, when two of the greatest clubs in world football do battle, the millions watching around the world will have another chance to draw their own conclusions and contrast prevailing stereotypes with reality.

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