Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monster or Machine?

Carvalho literally bled for his team. 8 million Euros is a cheap price for the security he gives us every game and the maturity he brings into the dressing room. 2 Goals so far in 10 La Liga games, that's a BIG bonus too.
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Last Sunday was supposed to be Real Madrid's first test against a legitimately 'good' side. It is true that Real Madrid have the easier schedule. But it's very true as well that Real Madrid have made very good use of the hand that was dealt to them: using the likes of Depor and Racing as 'target practice' before moving onto title pretenders like Atleti and Milan before ultimately having to face up to the mighty Barcelona. Up against cross-town rivals Atletico, they were supposedly facing their first true challenge after romping through the La Liga minnows. The result however, was same old, same old.
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It wasn't just same-old same-old because we had beaten Atleti yet again... But because just like our previous 'conquests', the mattress makers were put to bed within a short spell in the first half. It was actually very similar to Madrid's victory against Milan in the Bernabeu edition of their Champions League group stage clash. 2 quick goals, and good night - thanks for coming.
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Pippo Inzaghi Returns to his Birthplace: Offside
Nevermind that the match could've turned into the San Siro version of our Milan performance: where after going up, we happily surrendered the initiative to the other team, content to hit them on the counter. Too bad for Atleti however that Diego Forlan is no Pippo Inzaghi: neither a perpetually a goal threat nor born offside.
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Singing for the Unsung Heroes
Looking back, we now find ourselves pondering the fact that this game was won by our 8m euro, 33-year old center half whom many in London deemed dispensable. I can only wonder now how Chelsea would have coped last Sunday night with him on their side: would they have been able to stop ex-Colchonero Torres (what a coincidence) from exploding with his 2 goal performance? (No need to ponder the reverse possibility of Torres vs. Real Madrid as we all know he chokes when he plays against us). The belief in this EPL-mad country that I’ve lived in for almost 7 years now, is that John Terry is the finest Center back on the planet. I’ve now awakened to the fact that what made him look so good was his curly-haired-yet-balding Portuguese ex-partner and Mourinho-loyalist: Ricardo Carvalho. Last Sunday night, we all saw what runs through Carvalho’s head when he makes those foraging runs from his position at the heart of the defense and right into the opposition penalty box. I’ve seen Lucio do it for Brazil but never thought I’d see Mourinho allow such things from his Center backs (I’m sure it’s now clear to all that I didn’t watch Mourinho’s Inter). He did it all last Sunday: intercepted, tackled, pressed, ran and even scored. It was a true Man-of-the-Match Performance.
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It was indeed a fitting outcome that Jose Mourinho dubbed him, along with the team’s midfield workhorse (Khedira), the top Real Madrid performers of the night. And in this world where the Real Madrid press is only keen to talk about the likes of Ronaldo, it is great that the personality of a coach so revered and worshipped by the Madrid press can call attention to the efforts and performances of such blue-collar yet 5-star-performances.
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This win was earned not through multi-goal performances by the likes of Ronaldo and Higuain and instead won through the tireless efforts of the guys at the ‘back of the house’ (i.e. Khedira & Carvalho). It announces to the world, during Madrid’s first La Liga game against a non-minnow team that Mourinho’s Madrid is not merely the monster hydra whose biggest head has had too much hair gel… but that it’s actually quite a sophisticated and efficient machine. And it was this machine that allowed us to hold on for the win when the Mattress makers decided to get off their Mattresses and have a go at us.
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A Dead Ball Kills the Game – Pun intented

A Self-Confessed Barcelona Fan, Ozil tells the Bernabeu that he's converted.
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Our second goal then had quite the unusual source: Mesut Ozil. The German has until that point only been allowed to take free kicks if the ball was to be placed 50 yards away from the goal or if ‘Ronaldo feels like letting others take a crack at it: this would be why the free kick usually turns out to be a delivery into the box where guys like Ramos, Pepe and Ronaldo can get it in the air. Ozil of course shares this role with Xabi Alonso. We all of course also know that Xabi Alonso and Ozil split corner kick duties.
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Now, Free kick takers and free kick-taking techniques has been the subject of conversation here in this blog some posts back. Given that I don’t play the sport (only played it when I was very little but I don’t even play on a recreational level nowadays), I’m not keen to discuss the technical issues that come into play in an attempt to explain why Ronaldo’s free kicks have for the most part, failed to clear the wall thus far this season. My stance on the team’s free kick taking has always been with hope that not every free kick is used as a shot attempt by Ronaldo (however devastating his freekicks can be)… given that a looping delivery or a shot from another player whose favored foot would give the team a better advantage is at times, a better choice.

Casillas shows De Gea how it's done
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I’m thus happy that wisdom prevailed Ronaldo to let Ozil take the shot. Perhaps the reason why Ronaldo happily surrendered the free kick-opportunity (which he won by going down like a sack of potatoes with the most meaningless contact) was because of the odd angle (it was in a way almost a corner kick). In the end, it was an unexpected but perfectly placed shot by Ozil that gave us the second goal. I’m watching a replay of the match as I type this now and Ozil’s goal just came on: De Gea totally didn’t expect the shot: he just stood there frozen in shock like a teenager whose parents walked in on him watching porn for the first time. De Gea is a wonderful ‘keeper (‘ive got him on my fantasy team) and seems on track to be the heir to Casillas’ throne: he’ll need to grow up a bit more and watch his cross-town opposite number a little closer to get there though.
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Looking Forward
The Camp Nou beckons at the end of the month with a few ‘training matches’ lying ahead: a trip to El Molinon, one of the tougher grounds in Spain and home of Sporting Guijon, then we host the powerful Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez’s Athletic Bilbao the week after. Leading up to the following weekend, we then fly to Amsterdam in the Champions league, a match Mourinho can use to either ‘drill’ the team to face Barca, or give playing time to his fringe players given that we’ve already qualified for the round of 16.
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Before all that however, let’s all get behind the team in its quest to end the Copa Del Rey Curse when Murcia visit us tonight – it’s no practice match for the Barca game as Derby heroes Carvalho, Khedira and Ozil will be sitting this one out. Tonight will be a match for the likes of Benzema, Canales, Pedro Leon, Granero and Albiol to give Mourinho a selection headache… and get us into the next round of the Copa Del Rey: where hopefully, we can turn around our wretched fortunes.

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