Sunday, September 19, 2010

FUgly


Xabi Alonso was happy to return to San Sebastian but couldn't have been happy with his and his team's performance there.
During our opening match against Mallorca, we got an idea of the basic principles of what Jose Mourinho’s Madrid was going to be like at its bare bones essence: great tactics, a solid midfield and impenetrable on defense. Last weekend’s performance against Osasuna on the other hand showed us how that system made the team effective on the pitch: reducing Casillas to a mere spectator regardless of the closeness of the match. Both our La Liga debut and the Home debut ended with volleys of criticism leveled at the players, Mourinho and the team in general.
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Enter Ajax. By the time the referee blew the fulltime whistle, the team had already taken 35 shots and rendered Ajax completely at their mercy. It was also by the time the referee blew the final whistle for this match that the Bernabeu, Madridisimo at large and the rest of the world finally realized what Jose Mourinho was really talking about when he declared so many times that he wanted his teams (and could get THIS team) to play attractive and attacking football too. The Ajax game captured the imagination of many (including me) and got everyone excited and salivating at the prospect of what Real Madrid were truly capable of once their attacking players finally showed up in a match wearing their shooting boots. Mourinho even proudly declared after the Ajax game “Some poor team is going to pay for the chances we missed today.”
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That team however was not going to be Real Sociedad.
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To start last night’s match, Jose Mourinho made only once change from the team that faced Ajax. The recently recovered Sergio Ramos took his place on the right side of the defense to send Arbeloa back to the bench. There was a not-so-slight difference though…
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Tactics: To Invert or not to Invert… That is the Question
 
By playing inverted wingers, interplay between CR96, Ozil, Di Maria and Higuain created a load of passing and scoring opportunities.


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An interesting detail of note in my opinion was the decision to line up the left-footed Di Maria to the left wing while the right-footed Ronaldo started on the right: a reversal of the alignment that we saw in the Ajax match. To compare the implications of such an alignment, during the Ajax match, we saw the Left-Footed Di Maria on the right wing, drifting inwards to use his favored left foot to score by cutting in (8 shots during the Ajax Match) while the Ronaldo did the same playing in the left side also looked to cut in to take potshots on the Ajax goal on the opposite side (11 shots): resulting on the opening of a ‘highway’ for Marcelo and Arbeloa to charge in to create width for the Merengue attack. This use inverted wingers gave us additional numbers in the final third of the pitch to create passing options for Ozil and Higuain and opened varying sources of goal scoring opportunities without losing width. The vulnerability of the spaces behind the fullbacks then fell on the shoulders of the fullbacks themselves who were expected to have the smarts to decide on the appropriate time to attack and defend, the central midfield pair (where we saw Xabi Alonso and Khedira intercept and recover so many ball clearances or potential lead passes by the Ajax defenders), and the Defense (where Pepe’s pace and Carvalho’s intelligence/sense of anticipation becomes vital). It was the kind of play that I’ve seen Mourinho’s Chelsea pla only in limited stretches usually to overcome a deficit after halftime (only to ‘close shop’ after gaining the lead)… but not for a sustained 90 minutes.


Pipita, not a classic '9' couldn't reach the crosses sent in from the wings. Ozil was isolated too. Both had terrible games.

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I can only speculate that Mourinho’s worry about Sociedad’s ability to counter on the wings is what led him to the decision this time NOT to invert his wingers (though we did see it a few times last night). “I have watched their two previous games and I can say that they are very organized and defend well. They are a compact group that waits to counterattack. Their attack can be devastating." He said prior to the match.
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By keeping Ronaldo and Di Maria along the byline, there would always be 2 Merengues on each flank (Di Maria + Marcelo on the Left, CRon & Ramos on the Right) to stop a counter. In THEORY.

Poor Positioning by Ramos & Marcelo at Fullback drew our CMs to try closing the spaces left behind. The remaining CM was then left outnumbered in the middle. While Sociedad's Wingers & Fullbacks got quite a few crosses in.
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The result of this alignment when going forward however was quite visible in its impact to Ozil and Higuain, both of whom were hardly involved in attack. And with the 2 wingers stuck on the flanks unable to cut in, we saw plenty of crosses into the box with no one to meet them given Higuain’s preference to play off the shoulder of the last defender rather than use his physical presence to win balls in the box ala a classic battering-ram ‘9’.
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Mourinho asks his assistant 'What the F&ck should we do!?!?!?'
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The theory of playing true wingers (instead of inverted ones) to assist our fullbacks to repel counters from the opposing wingers fell flat on its face as we all saw last night. This was of course due to Marcelo and Ramos’ continued lack of awareness and poor-decision making in deciding when to hold their position and when to hold back. The Brazilian and the Spanish Fullbacks were repeatedly beaten on the flanks. This not only resulted in Mourinho viciously throwing this water bottle in the dugout (narrowly missing one of his assistants) but it also forced Xabi Alonso and Khedira to repeatedly attempt to seal off the openings on the flanks… creating a domino effect: with the 2 central midfielders giving up their positions at the middle of the park: Los Blancos effectively ceded control of the center of the pitch and the game to the Basques. It allowed them to get to our side of the pitch with easem forcing us to concede the numerous deadball situations that ultimately almost cost us the game (Raul Tamudo in blue and white scoring against us, albeit not for Espanyol is a haunting image).
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Di Maria admitted himself that the goal, scored by his right foot was 'sort of' lucky...
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It is thus not surprising that Real Madrid won the match the Ugly Way…. Or even more accurately, the Fugly way, Fucking Ugly Way: Our goals came from a shot from Di Maria’s right boot (where he sheepishly admits “I scored a nice goal with the foot I use the least.”) and a free kick from Ronaldo which the help of Pepe’s back/ass. It was 3 points earned not by how the tema played but by merely the difference in class between us and them.
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Fatigue?
From the match against Osasuna (2010-09-11) till the match against Deportivo La Coruna (weekend of 2010-10-03), Real Madrid have/are going to play 7 matches in 16 days = that’s one match ever 2.2 Days following an international break of weekend and midweek matches (prior to the Osasuna match). It’s a half-month of absolute enjoyment for Madridistas all around but one that will beat the living hell out of the players’ bodies. With a squad of 25 players (albeit with injuries to quite a few of the players), the wisdom of using players like Canales, Benzema, Pedro Leon, Granero, Arbeloa and Lass Diarra seems to be coming to the fore: because a big part of what has made us so sloppy and sluggish last night might also have been due to fatigue.
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This is not to say that I do not understand the wisdom of keeping our best 11 out there during this part of the season with the schedule so packed. I also know perfectly well that it is in times like this where Barcelona’s thin squad of 19 can be vulnerable and where we have the chance to extend our cushion of points over them even further. I do believe that having some semblance of rotation for the players will still allow us to get the results while resting some of our key players and allowing other squad members to build up on their familiarity with each other, with Mourinho’s system and most importantly, on their confidence.
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Passing Forwards
If there is one positive thing to note that has been consistent in the several matches that we have seen in this season’s Real Madrid thus far, it is the fact that we are seeing Pipita and Cristiano looking out for each other in the final third unlike their previous tendencies to only be interested to go for goal.
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Sure, we still see CR96 looking for his goal and not stopping until he gets on the scoresheet. Yet despite this, we are now seeing a semblance of a developing chemistry between the 96-million Euro man and his Argentine strike partner. We’ve seen some 1-2s, through-balls and best of all, the tendency to release the ball on the break when once sees the other with an easier chance to score than himself. Is this the Mourinho effect as well? I hope so.
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An interesting side effect of the Ajax match was to see the fallout and the reversal of roles between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain who were cast in opposite roles this time around. Last time around in the Champions League, it was the open-for-the-shot Ronaldo who was spurned by Higuain - the selfish villain. But this time, it is Ronaldo who has been the target of whistles and jeers (and flak from the Madrid Press) for his poor shot selection, which stretched back all the way to the Osasuna match (nevermind that it was his assist that found the open Carvalho for the winning goal).
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Madridista of the Match: Ricardo Carvalho
It’s been 4 matches this season thus far (3 La Liga, 1 Champions League) and it’s interesting to note that it has been Mourinho’s footballing son, Ricardo Carvalho who has been the most consistent player in the team. Last night, he was my Real Madrid Man-of-the-Match. Intercepting balls, saving tackles and even last gasp deflections and interceptions were the order of the day for the 32-year old Portuguese Centerback. The season is young, but if Carvalho can muster 2 seasons of performances like we’ve seen so far, then the 8-million Euros spent on him would be very, very well-spent. I can only hope that in his stay with us, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Albiol and Garay can learn a few things from him.
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Result versus Method, Excitement versus Criticism
It’s an old but very true cliché: The mark of a good team is one that can win even when things get ugly.
Here’s another old but very true cliché: Real Madrid must not only win but win with style.
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It’s interesting to take stock of what’s happened to Real Madrid thus far in Mourinho’s reign. I as a Madridista am happy to see the team develop a sound system of playing that can balance an effective and exciting attack with defensive solidity as witnessed in the Ajax match. The interesting thing to note about this recent match would be: would we rather win ugly like this and walk away with 3 points? Or put in a Mallorca-like performance where we were able to effectively implement Mourinho’s system?
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To expect Real Madrid to produce a Barca-like stylish hammering of every opponent that comes their way at this point is simply ridiculous considering the decades-old system that Barca has been employing from youth-team to first-team. What Madridistas must accept is that Mourinho is here to set the foundations for the Real Madrid of the future: subject to ‘personal interpretations’ of future managers of substantial quality to upgrade and finetune for further success and aesthetics – similar to how Carlo Ancelotti has turned Mourinho’s Chelsea into a KILLING MACHINE.
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For Madridistas for now however, patience is the order of the day. The club has SO FAR shown that they have a little of it… but it remains to be seen if the fans or the Madrid press can grow some.
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FOR NOW, we will have to settle for solid Mourinho-like displays ala Mallorca and Osasuna, or scrape-through Victories or Draws like the one last night. Four matches into this season, I am now totally convinced that a time will come where Mourinho’s prophecy (of an Ajax-like performance with a bucketload of goals) will come true… it remains clear though that Madridisimo must learn to do something it’s never known how to do: Wait.
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This time though, it seems clear that doing so with hope and optimism won’t be for naught.

11 comments:

  1. OMG
    where has this blog been all my life!!!!
    excellent post...

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  2. Ey Guys,

    Glad you like the blog. Do drop by more often and share a few thoughts and sentiments on Real Madrid too!

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  3. Mac! si pocs to! lumelevel-up na blog mo ah! :D

    I'm rooting for Real! Only until they meet Arsenal in the CL Final of course! :D

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  4. Very nice analysis!! Love that! Seems its your first post that go so deeply about the tactics and formation of the team! Keep going it's awesome!

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  5. Ey Joe,

    Will try to do it as much as I can, juggling a day job that features long hours with watching La Liga (matches here are usually at 2am, 3am, 4am) & blogging is a tough one. Lucky for me last weekend's match was on a Saturday and I had a Sunday afternoon to share my thoughts... and even do some photoshop to for the tactical analysis...

    Will try to keep it up so hopefully, you guys keep coming back :)

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  6. Excellent post. Thank you very much.

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  7. awesome analysis...

    regards from Spain

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  8. What a great post.Fantastic analysis, really complete. I also agree with the tactical lesson.

    In other season, Real Madrid would probably lost this game, but thanks to the Mourihno tactical Real Madrid won, not without a lot of efort.

    Congrats again for your post and regards from Spain.

    P.D: sorry for the "english"

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  9. Hi Vivadeporte:

    I'm very flattered to find out that I have readers from Spain! Do not worry about your English, feel free to post your thoughts here anytime.

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