Monday, September 27, 2010

ZZZZZ…. AAAAAK!


Watching Real Madrid These Days Feels like this...
So here I am on my lunchbreak at work trying to figure out what to say about what happened to my beloved Real Madrid last Saturday Night. It was weekend of ‘upsets’ and frustrations.
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Saturday night at the Ong House’s TV started at 7:40pm to take in Chelsea vs. Manchester City. I had grown to like watching Chelsea’s weekly goalfests and was looking forward to seeing them stick it to the Billionaire’s Club new boys Manchester City – it wasn’t to be though as Carlos Tevez and his new haircut decided to spoil Chelsea’s night with a goal coming from an impressively powerful run. The Chelsea match was followed by Arsenal vs. West Brom at 10pm (a match my Gooner of a house guest from Manila preferred to watch over Liverpool-Sunderland even if it was available on HD). Once again, the favorites end up one the losing end: Arsenal are bitchslapped in the game, going down 0-3 before Samir Nasri grabbed 2 late goals to put some suspense into it. Over on the HD Channel, Liverpool’s Reds (my wife’s team) were getting hammered by Sunderland and barely managed to come out with a point.
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I was tempted to let the football marathon continue onto Sporting-Valencia, which I had cheekily predicted to go Sporting’s way (I had a ‘feeling’ I said)… but I instead decided to catch up on some other shows stored in my Hubstation (Singapore’s TiVo). At about 1:45am, I switched back to the football and saw Valencia leading Sporting 2-0. Not my day, I said to myself… still oblivious to the horror that awaited me.
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At 2am, Levante vs. Real Madrid had started. “The World will find Order once again” I told myself, looking forward to a comfortable win with hopes of more than a few goals. But Oh how wrong was I…
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Jose Mourinho started the match with his favored 4-2-3-1 (with inverted wingers) with only 2 changes from the Espanyol Match: Arbeloa at RB and Sergio Ramos at CB to replace the suspended Pepe and Khedira returning from his ‘rest’ to replace Lass Diarra alongside Xabi Alonso:
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------------ Casillas --------------
Arbeloa-Carvalho-Ramos-Marcelo
------ Xabi Alonso-Khedira ------
-----Di Maria-Ozil-Ronaldo ------
----------- Higuain ----------------
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The positives and the negatives as talked about after the Espanyol game was there for the world to see. Let’s start with the Positives:
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-We were once again solid at the center of the pitch. Xabi Alonso & Sami Khedira held the midfield well and teamed up adequately with Sergio Ramos (whose athleticism at the Center of Defense makes him an awesome Center Back) and the superbly intelligent Ricardo Carvalho. It wasn’t a troubling night for Casillas and the 4 men-in-the-middle are the reason for this.
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-Our fullbacks were great. With our summer flirtation for Maicon together with Lass’ try-out at the Right Back position, I had developed a fear that Alvaro Arbeloa would turn into an underutilized benchwarmer: only there to make up the numbers for rules on homegrown players and Spanish players. Thankfully, situations still do pop up for him to prove himself. Arbeloa played a very typical game: unspectacular yet solid and effective. He played his role with no fuss: providing width going forward. And solidity at the back.
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Marcelo: My Madridista of the Match
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Marcelo on the other hand, turned in a Madridista-of-the-Match performance. His decision-making in going forward and sitting back showed great improvement. On attack, he provided his requisite level on danger: running to the byline for crosses and even cutting in to link up with the midfield. While on defense, Marcelo put in a lot of spunk to his defending and looked very different from the player who was perpetually out of position that we saw many times before.
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Despite the fact that we were generally solid at the back, and at midfield, our attack was just about as razor-sharp as a baby’s pillow. The tactics have now been set to allow the team to play attacking football: surging fullbacks to give the team width and the option of crosses from the flanks (Arbeloa & Marcelo), a pass-first playmaker with excellent vision at the final third of the pitch (Ozil), 2 pacy-wingers capable of creating chances for themselves and others (Di Maria/Leon, Ronaldo) and a world-class striker (Higuain).
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There is still a clear lack of interplay between the 4 attacking players: there were no triangles, no 1-2s… no pass-and-move football: the kind that will allow the team to unhinge the opposing defense. Most of all, what the team REALLY need to do, is work on their finishing. The only thing more horrific than a goalkeeper who can commit a Robert Green-like howler every time he touches the ball is the team facing him taking 25 shots on his goal failing to score on every one of them. This was the story of Real Madrid last Saturday night. Great on Defense, Solid at Midfield, Dangerous from the wings but blunt on attack as epitomized by Pipita’s host of fluffed chances and Cristiano Ronaldo’s seeming preference to shoot at the wall, instead of the goal during free kick situations (for fear of awakening my wife, I couldn’t remember how many times I struggled to stop myself from screaming ‘let someone else take the bloody free kick!!!’ every time Ronaldo placed the ball on the grass and took on his familiar pose prior to a free kick).
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This was perhaps the reason why I drifted to sleep during the first half’s last 15-20 minutes (ZZZZZZZZZZ….)… only to wake up for the 2nd half and see the team elevate their play, yet continue to struggle.
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Mourinho did try to change it up, pulling Ozil & Di Maria out in favor of Pedro Leon & Karim Benzema. To change his team’s shape into a more conventional 4-4-2:
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-------------- Casillas -------------
Arbeloa-Carvalho-Ramos-Marcelo
Leon-Khedira-Xabi Alonso-Ronaldo
--------Benzema-Higuain-----------
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Pedro Leon ended up putting in a performance worthy to note. The young Spaniard is a peculiar player: despite his pace not being off the charts, he still has the knack to get past his defender(s) and even unleash an accurate cross while being crowded out. He was a breath of fresh air in the match and I’m happy to hope that the contents of today’s rumor mill would come true. Benzema was largely anonymous during his 30-minute stint on the pitch. Despute that however, I think that we’ve now officially gotten to a point where it’s trying him out in the starting XI wouldn’t be a bad idea. Here’s to hoping for something better for tomorrow’s match.
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WHY can't we SCORE!?!?!?!?!? WHY!?!?!??!
Yesterday morning, I woke up to find that the one upset I had hoped for didn’t turn out: Barcelona had beaten Athletic at San Mames 1-3. That was my cue to REALLY go: AAAAAAAAAK!
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It was a football weekend to forget. Here’s to hoping for a reason to smile tomorrow.

3 comments:

  1. Great & insightful review.

    The problem is perhaps deeper than just strikers not doing their job, i.e. scoring goals. We control the midfield but when we get to the opponent's 1/3, the passing is awry. We basically passed with no authority in those areas. One of the causes is as what you mentioned: lack of movement off-the-ball. Linking up between midfield & forward is lacking.

    With such stellar squad, it will be unbelievably difficult to stop us from scoring if these issues can be worked out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Mourinho Big Fan:

    It looks to me like Mourinho's gotten the 'base' worked out already: the midfield and the defense are solid and are able to dominate their respective areas. So in that sense, he's got half of the job done already.

    The next step will be to work on the front 4. If it took Mourinho 5 games + the preseason to work out the base, I think it will take roughly the same time to work out the front end. SO hopefully by Christmas, we'll get to see this team clicking... peaking just as the 'money phase' of the season starts.

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  3. Hi Madridista Mac,

    In my view, the defense is already fine since the first official match at Mallorca. So, basically he only needed the pre-season to set up the defense. Not much improvement in that defense because there's really not much more to do there. The only one improving in the defense is Marcelo. The rest are as good as it should be.

    The midfield... yes they look strong, but consider that we are yet to face any of the big boys. So, I'll give it the benefit of doubt for now.

    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.

    The forward is where the big problem lies. For some reason all the gunslingers are heavily drunk at the same time. It could be due to players' form. But I suspect there's something deeper because it's unlikely for the whole forward to suddenly lose all of their shooting boots. Higuain at one time poor & Ronaldo OK or vice versa... it will me normal. But having all of them poor all the time is not normal. I have frequently witnessed Raul in poor form. But at those times, there was always another striker in mesmerizing form, covering for him (Suker, Mijatovic in late 90s, R9 in early 2000s, RVN in mid 2000s, etc.)

    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? These are tricky questions and although he didn't say it, perhaps he knows the case is not just waiting for the forwards to get their shooting boots.

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