Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Prophecy? Not.


Xabi Alonso played the role of 'Master Conductor' Last Night
.
5 before last Sunday’s match, after the Champions League Match against Ajax, Jose Mourinho proudly declared (and I paraphrase): “One day, some poor team is going to pay for all the chances we’ve missed today.” We all looked forward to it over and over again and got miserably disappointed… until last night.
.
It turns out that the poor team Mourinho was talking about was Deportivo La Coruna.
.
Last night, Real Madrid had finally put on the performance of Mourinho’s and Madridisimo’s dreams: a full-on attacking display built on a rock-solid defense and midfield. After a week of much unnecessary controversy due to Pedro Leon’s exclusion from the Auxerre Champions League game as well as Mourinho’s subsequent decision to conduct the training sessions prior to last Sunday night’s match behind closed doors, Madridistas around the world finally have been able to experience the cathartic event of seeing their beloved football team bang in more than the requisite 1-0 scoreline. Nevermind that the opposition was the fossilized remains of what we all used to fondly call ‘Super Depor’ (they’re more like ‘Sucker Depor’ these days)… when you go down 0-0 to Levante, hammering yet another hapless club with 6 goals will still feel like you’ve just done something REALLY huge. Besides, Barca only managed a point against Mallorca who were visiting them (our dropped points to the islanders were on their turf).
.
Needless to say, despite the great football and the great scoreline, Mourinho actually didn’t do all that much to this side as compared to how his teams have played so far this season. He lined up what looks to be the first choice-formation and possibly first-choice starting XI for this team tonight (a 4-2-3-1):
.
----------- Casillas -------------
Ramos-Pepe-Carvalho-Marcelo
----- Khedira-Xabi Alonso -----
---- Di Maria-Ozil-Ronaldo ----
------------ Higuain -------------
.
Last night, the team took on its now-characteristic rock-solid defense and combined it with a well-tuned Central Midfield. Xabi Alonso seemed to have the room to dictate play from deep with Khedira running about tirelessly to do all the dirty work. The half-tunisian German International is actually a pretty awkward looking midfielder. With his height and built giving him what appears to be a pretty high center of gravity, his running about on the pitch making tackles, winning balls and shuttling back and forth and side to side make him appear awkward. Having said that however, his work rate and blue-collar style of play, coupled with his slightly more –creative passing game (compared to say… Lass) make him a good choice as Xabi Alonso’s partner-in-crime.
.
The fullbacks once again played a crucial role in the game: Sergio Ramos this time however, played a far more mature game, this time not being beaten by his man, despite that man being Depor’s usual main wing threat: Andres Guardado. It was Marcelo who showed us this time again that he’s still not quite the finished article: being beaten twice late in the game after failing to track / mark his man: with the second instance gifting the goal to Depor while risking himself to get sent off and further suspended with a Luis Suarez-esque volleyball slap on the ball.
.
With more space, better interplay between the attacking 4 was much easier.
.
The biggest impact on this game clearly came from the front 4 of Di Maria, Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo & Higuain, each of them getting a goal (CR7 got 2), assisting each other for the most part to create these chances. Euphoria however should be something that we should all watch out for (perhaps it’s a good thing there’s an international break to cool things down a bit) as one must note that most critical milestone of the game: the opening goal at 4’ to give us the 1-0. I was in fact Casillas who said: “The key was to score early in the game"”
.
With a lead to chase, Depor didn’t give us the same 10-men-behind-the-ball defensive ploy when we had the ball. They were also eager to push forward in the early part of the game even while our front 4 pressed them. In fact, it was only when we started to relax on our pressing that they began to get comfortable pushing further and further forward. It was through this that we won the opportunity to score again: with swift counterattacks as evidenced by Pipita laying off a ball for Ozil who, for a, while, looked like he’d let that chance go to waste by delaying too long with the ball, before proving us wrong with a shot that hit the post and into the goal. The third goal was also off a counter-attacking move, this time through the Argentinean connection of the team, so was the 6th (off a super long ball from Xabi Alonso). And ditto for the 4th goal where Pipita did look offside.
.
Another positive note to the game as a result of this was Juan Carlos’ debut in the Bernabeu. The Canterano, contrary to Mourinho’s suspicion (Mou reportedly asked him ‘are you shitting your pants?’ before asking him to warm up)
.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in anyway, playing down the good points of the team… all I’m saying is that we should all weigh this match with 2 basic thoughts in our minds:
1.) That we played against a poor team
2.) That we had scored an early goal which allowed us to play on the counter and take advantage of the spaces they left behind them as they tried to get back into the game.
.
Mourinho’s post-game reaction was in my opinion, as brilliant as it was surprising:
.
"We are not the best team in the world yet for having beaten Depor 6-1," Mourinho declared. "We are under construction and neither the result nor the applause of the fans makes me think our work is done. The work continues. I am very calm. We have a lot to do and a lot of work.”
.

Mourinho's 'humility' might also actually be to keep control of the Euphoria of the Madrid media
.
Instead of basking in the glory of his convincing victory, as if to tell the critics ‘in your face!’, Mourinho, stunned us all with his humility. It was however a calculated exercise in humility as he likely knew that he was still some way from getting this type of result and performance from almost every game… he also probably understood the circumstances that unfolded during the course of last Sunday’s game that made it seem to be convincing. His reaction also sends a message to Madridisimo: don’t be too euphoric about this win; we won’t always win this way.
.
So was this Mourinho’s prophecy? I think not. And I think he knows it too…

4 comments:

  1. One interesting thing to note: in that game, we conceded the 2nd goal in this season. Looking at the 2 goals we conceded... they came off both wings & an unanticipated header. Both are actually similar set-ups, only that one came off a play, the other from a FK. So, if there is one thing to improve in the defense, perhaps it's crossing anticipations.

    In the Real Sociedad game, it came after we conceded a FK off Marcelo's wing, after Di Maria tried to cover for him. In the Depor game, it was off Ramos' wing. But during those instances, I think they already managed to get many men at the back.

    But I completely agree w/ Mourinho's philosophy. A great team must know how to defend well. It has been proven time & again... that if we are to pick only either of supreme attack or defense, defense is the more important. That's the not-so-pretty truth, and that's why coaches like Capello could immediately make an impact - bringing the La Liga titles in both instances he coached us. Another simple example is the Barca-Inter game in this year's UCL semis.

    Defense isn't everything, but it is the fundamentals upon which a great team must be built upon.

    For the attack, I do think there are still much to work on:
    1. Di Maria's passing & shooting.
    2. Ozil perhaps playing a little father from the front... giving the link between midfield & attack.
    3. Ozil's stamina. I noticed when he played as a starter, he had to be replaced around 60-70th minute & looked very exhausted.
    4. More intelligent off-the-ball movements.
    5. Perhaps try a different FK taker? It was always CR7 the last few games & it always bumped into the wall.

    There are more... but these are what comes to mind right now.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi MBF (Mourinho Big Fan): it seems the tactics of today have made the fullback position extremely important as they determine the potency of an attack and the solidity of a defense at the same time.

    It is no surprise then that Mourinho's first request last summer was for a fullback (Maicon)... and of course it's a great relief to see that the biggest improvement for the team has been at fullback too: Marcelo.

    From the goals we've conceded however, it's clear that we're not quite the finished article in that department yet... much less the rest of the team.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi MM,

    It was actually a good thing we didn't sign Maicon. Apparently his form has dropped so far. Whether it's temporary or long term, it remains to be seen. But I suspect it's the latter, looking back at most of full backs' careers at similar ages at the time.

    Carvalho was a better and far cheaper signing. One problem w/ him is his age. Perhaps physically he's already in decline. So, we have to find a replacement for him in the next yr or two. But I guess we'll never know. Nesta is 34 but still playing well.

    Another problem we have is the issue w/ Pepe. If he's declined a rise, he may leave. He's one of the best in that position... although one may argue he's injured or get carded/sent off far too often.

    The thing is I don't really know young and exceptional centre backs these days, besides maybe Pique. Most of the prolific ones are in their 30s or near that. I just hope that Mou & Carvalho can make world-class centre backs out of what we currently have (Albiol, Garay).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi MBF, I was actually never comfortable with the idea of signing Maicon given his age and Inter's asking price. Carvalho is really just a short term solution. If we can get 2 good years out of him (i.e. Same level of performances as we've seen so far) then his signing would be considered a massive success. I think that re-signing Pepe is important for the future. At his age, he's got at least another 4-5 years of top level play for us. My hope is that Mourinho can convince Florentino to up his offer. I don't think he deserves the 5m / season that he's reportedly asking for... But he does deserve a good pay raise.

    ReplyDelete