Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stabbing with a Bat

'They'll only whack Mourinho Tomorrow Because of this Angel! Thank YOU!' says Pipita
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Last night , Real Madrid took a trip to France to play their 2nd Champions League group stage match. Auxerre’s stadium had an English feel to it with its stands right up to the edge of the pitch filled with rabid fans singing, cheering and booing boisterously as the match unfolded last night. It was no Potato Field either.
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And 2 days after the Levante horror show, and a day after Jose Mourinho’s in-depth comparison between Pedro Leon and a host of footballing legends that included Zidane, Maradona and Di Stefano, Real Madrid finally got the chance to do their talking on the pitch once again – this time in their nice blue-purple 3rd away kits. Looking back, it’s easy to tell why Mourinho was so furious at the pre-match press conference over the Pedro Leon questions: as he might have been excited to show off a new trick he wanted to try out against Auxerre. And it wasn’t the Benzema-Pipita-Cristina ‘tridente’ that we’ve seen before and the Madrid press had predicted. So perhaps last Monday’s bitchfit from the Portuguese tactician might have been more akin to a teenage girl throwing a hissyfit about how everyone noticed her thighs when all she wanted to do was to show off her latest stilettos.
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4-3-3 vs. 4-2-3-1
Jose Mourinho’s surprise however was not the ‘tridente’, but the ‘trivote’. I’ll go ahead and assume that this is a sort of Spanish Short Cut for the ‘Triple Pivot’. It was a formation that brought images of horror to the Madrid press as flashes of Capello’s (and his much-reviled ‘Double Pivot’) enormous, wedge-shaped chin, tearing into them filled their thoughts and gave them nightmares.
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It was however a formation that had made perfect sense to me for the following reasons:
1.) With our infamous recent history of travelling to countries whose leagues are of an-almost-similar level of competitiveness (e.g. France & Germany), it became even more imperative that we play a solid game with our back line protected and control of the match and the midfield completely ours.

2.) With our recent performances clearly showing a lack of interplay between players on the final third of the pitch, it made much sense to increase the permutations of passing combinations between players to build up play. To quote [Mourinho Big Fan], who eloquently commented on my recent blog post:
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“The linking between forwards & midfield is far too inconsistent. They had it linking very well in the Ajax game, and in instances in the Osasuna game - when Ozil played brilliantly. But generally they are sporadic. So, I would consider this is not yet set up and still need a lot of work.”
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I also wrote about how there seemed to be a tendency to rely too much on crosses to get the ball to the forward line despite the fact that our goal-scorers are known to prefer the ball played on the ground: Something that I think answers [Mourinho Big Fan]’s concern:
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Could it be that Mourinho's system do not suit the type of player Higuain is? Should Ronaldo be given a role as when Pellegrini was in charge?
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My interpretation of How Mourinho’s ‘Trivote’ Worked Last Night



The Trivote wasn't that bad: it kept us solid at the back and it had Auxerre on the backfoot and stuck on their side of the pitch
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Mourinho’s midfield lined up with Xabi Alonso sitting in front of 2 quick and Athletic Centerbacks (Pepe & Ramos). This effectively turned the ex-Liverpool Pass Master into Real Madrid’s master conductor: the fulcrum of the entire team. To assist him, Mourinho employed Lass & Khedira in slightly more advanced positions (the opposite of what the formation-graphic showed on TV). Both midfielders, famous for their tireless workrate, to serve as “Carilleros”: shuttling back and forth from deep positions to forward positions, serving the ball to the ‘Tridente’ (Benzema, Pipita & Cristina) in order to facilitate more interplay between midfield and attack. The 2 Carilleros, would then shuttle back deep into midfield to win the ball back once the ball was lost. Width was then provided by the conservative Arbeloa and Marcelo, who seems to have shockingly developed some football IQ.
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I thought that the formation did have some degree of success also through variants in attacking shape: with Ronaldo at the Left side drifting in (with Marcelo overlapping forward). Ronaldo at the Right Wing giving width to the attack or even Marcelo, rushing the ball to the byline on the left side or cutting in.
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The outcome was 70% ball possession and complete control of a game that was almost entirely played on Auxerre’s half of the pitch. The French did catch us on the backfoot a couple of times early in the game through the flanks: but when Arbeloa and Marcelo settled in, the ‘Trivote’ drew a line across the pitch that had ‘Auxerre: Do Not Pass This Point’ written under. Beyond this line were 2 fleet-footed Centerbacks waiting to chase down anyone who got past.
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This, I thought, was the exact same system that Maradona tried and failed to do for Argentina in the World Cup (where Leo Messi held the baton as part of the Tridente) and with Mascherano as a limited fulcrum at the heart of midfield. The failure of the system was with the use of Wingers (Di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez) as Carilleros: resulting in a weak and flimsy team shape.
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The Benzema & Higuain up front: We All looked forward to it... and we all collectively chucked our remote contorllers at the TV to see how it turned out last night.
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The problem however was still on execution in the final third. Lass’s close-quarter dribbling and ball control skills got him close to the goal and his attacking teammates often while Khedira’s movement helped a lot too, but it was still the lack of 1-2s, off the ball movement and coherence in link up play in the final third of the pitch that made the difference. That and poor finishing. Pipita is still out of sorts and so is Cristina. Nevermind Benzema: who decided to express his gratefulness to Jose Mourinho’s reward to him with a starting position with an incredibly anonymous performance. So while the Madrid press bitch and moan about how truly miserable the Trivote was, I’d actually have to say that the problem was the Tridente.
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Benzema was finally put out of his misery in the 57th minute, with Ozil coming in to play in a Messi-for-Argentina-during the World Cup role. Trouble however is that Ozil is no Messi and was quickly reminded of it by the French’s physical play. Enter Di Maria for Lass and Real Madrid reverting back to 4-2-3-1 (or Double Pivot):
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------------- Casillas ---------------
Arbeloa-Pepe-Ramos-Marcelo
------ Khedira-Xabi Alonso ------
---- Ronaldo-Ozil-Di Maria -----
-------------- Higuain --------------
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Di Maria (who alongside Marcelo was my Madridista of the Match), offering his trickery with his mazy dribbles, combined with his pace opened up the game even further against the French. In the end, it was Ozil’s simple pass that found a streaking Di Maria roaming into the box whose left-footed half-volley gave us the lead and ultimately the win.
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Finally, in a typical Mourinho move, Real Madrid closed shop with the exit of the miserable Higuain for the much maligned Diarra V1.0 (this Madridista was happy to see him though).
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From a Wider Perspective
At the end of the day, one can say that there are quite a few important positive points to ponder following this match:
-We went into the stadium of a top European League team and walked away with 3 points.
-With AC Milan and Ajax’s draw, we shoot up to the top of the Group standings: a group labeled by many as the ‘group of death’. A win against Milan at home will likely do the job to get us to the round of 16 (where the hard part begins). It was a critical win.
-The team showed their capability to remain solid while playing a different system from the one we’ve seen them play many times.
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All of this however has happened within the shadow of the events that transpired in the Ciudad De Valencia Stadium against bottom-feeding club Levante last Saturday. We are all still living with the memory of that horrific 0-0 (and just for everyone’s recollection, Fabio Capello’s Madrid tore them apart with 4-goals in that same fixture). Last night, Real Madrid looked like a team trying to stab the Auxerre defense with bat, just like they did with Levante, Espanyol, Osasuna, Ajax & Mallorca. And until we get the team to lace up their shooting boots and get themselves synched while going forward, this Real Madrid will not only continue to just be pointlessly hammering away at massed-up opposing defenses, but it will also be bludgeouning us all to sleep while they do. And in the morning after, the Madrid and the rest of the world will read all about it.

9 comments:

  1. Nice Analysis. I sort of agree too.

    We have a solid defense , if nothing else. Nicely organized. Hope we have better understanding as a team with time. We are creating quite a lot of chances in most games. Hope we finish our chances better.

    We already have a excellent squad, and if we finish our chances we will have a excellent team.

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  2. Very nice analysis again, MM.

    I guess now we have the same thoughts about probably the forwards don't really suit the system Mourinho plays. Very nice point on the crossing stuff.

    When I look back the articles from the pre-season, it's clear he wanted a new striker. And the ones he tried/give some thought are:
    Drogba, Adebayor, & Lukaku.

    What are the similarities between the three? Big, strong, and aerially superior. Cristina Ronaldinha 7 basically has a complete game (incl. aerial games) when he's on, but problem is... he's off right now. Higuain, not so much.

    I don't know how the Spanish media is going to take this though. Aerial goals tend to be not as aesthetic. There are some amazing ones, but the majority don't really display the beauty of the striker passing 1-2 defenders & defeating the GK. The media is demanding for wins packaged in beautiful individual skills. But most of the time, we have to be realistic & prioritize the win first. We saw what happened to Capello.

    So, perhaps in January he'll get the striker he wants. At least if we don't play beautiful we can win matches... play beautiful only when in comfortable lead. Hopefully the next few months bring us more strength:
    1. the team gets glued more strongly
    2. somehow Pipita + Cristina finding their lethal shooting boots
    3. getting the ideal Mourinho striker
    4. Kaka playing again, and hopefully he brings the ingenuity & beauty the public is craving.

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  3. By the way, I'll add Edin Dzeko to the striker list. I think Mou also considered him, but he got the red light "no more players".

    Again, same type of striker of the previously mentioned three. But I've seen some clips of him, he actually has excellent dribbling skills. Amazing for a guy over 190cm. Future Ibra?

    VfL Wolfsburg will likely cash him in when they can as it is likely than they will be relegated this season. Of course Dzeko wants to play in UCL, too.

    Of the 4 mentioned... Drogba is the best, but he's too old & probably can't play well for more than 2 yrs. So, I think I will pick Dzeko if given the choice. Perhaps Mou will have to work w/ his ego because he's used to carrying the weight of the whole team in Wolfsburg & Bosnia. But he's an expert at this.

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  4. Let me add another name to that list: Fernando Llorente. Currently one of La Liga's topscorers (as proof of his goalscoring credentials), a hulk of a man, a classic 'battering ram #9' and of course, he's Spanish.

    He's got proven La Liga credentials and will be a hit among the fans also because he was part of the WC-winning squad. Here's another sweet bit: he's NOT cup tied.

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  5. Yes, I forgot about Llorente. He was also mentioned but I guess with little intensity, so that I didn't remember. Such a hulk at 1.95m.

    That type of striker will definitely bring in more variety to our forwards, perhaps also completing the team's arsenal. And what's more... in the past the right type of striker, even though he's not really the greatest one, can really become frequent goal baggers.

    I'd really like to see how it's going to work out if Mou is provided the striker he wants. Perhaps winning UCL in his first season is not so much of a daydream anymore. Of course we need our luck. Any cup wins will always involve good system & good luck.

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  6. This came out just after we discussed the problem here:
    http://www.realmadrid.dk/news/article/?newsid=15681

    Fancy that!

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  7. Part of the reason why getting that 'classic #9' is so important is bacause the ability to get to the ball once a cross comes in from thew ings is now clearly very important for this Mourinho team: with someone in there to knock the ball up to and win the balls (ala Heskey), guys like CR9, Pipita or even Benzema plus Ozil & Kaka can get more involved. This was how Lampard used to be able to come in and score so much with late runs into the box.

    To me, Drogba is too old. Adebayor = we've seen the best of him already and I'm not perfectly convinced he's Real Madrid material. Dzeko's a mysetery to me so my vote would go to the proven Spaniard Llorente or the teen prospect Lukaku. I do find myself lamenting the departure of a still-effective 'classic #9' = RVN.

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  8. Corey has a nice post in his blog regarding this type of striker we're talking about. Morientes was the same type of striker that was beneficial to our achievements in 1998 & 2000. But he wasn't well received by the fans.

    How lucky we were when we had R9 as he was the complete package: predatory striker while mesmerizing at the same time. Predatory striker is really what we need. Flair is just for the fans. But a player with both features is not always available. Very rare & expensive.

    I think the fans complicate things way too much and it ended hurting the team, hindering them of titles. They just can't prioritize things properly. Playing beautiful without winning anything is just such big bullshit.

    Looking at Morientes' experience, I'm not too sure Llorente or any other will get received well... if the feature they mostly display is only predatory. They must show flair as well, which I'm not very sure any of them have. Morientes was also a regular in La Seleccion, but the fans still didn't love him for all the contributions he gave.

    Fundamentally, I think the main problem is the fans, which then infect the whole structure: changing coach every year, no vision in developing a team, throwing away talented canteranos only for them to play against us, throwing away vital players. They just have to be realistic. Prioritize things more properly. I really wish it doesn't take 5 zeru tituli seasons for them to realize how silly the expectations are.

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  9. Real Madrid fans expect 2 things that go hand-in-hand together: good football and titles. The absence of 1 is not good enough. The club is obsessed with excellence. The last time we had this was during the early days of the galacticos with Del Bosque.

    Now after many years in the wilderness, we are forced to have to accept just 1 of the 2 FOR THE MEANTIME. For now, the big deal is about winning... and to do that, we need to get the pieces together.

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