Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Slaying the Giant Slayer


It was a TWO-THUMBS-UP Performance for the All-Action Khedira in for his night in Alicante
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According to Greek Mythology, Hercules is the half-man, half-God illegitimate son of Zeus. Known for his superhuman strength, he then became the first ‘Superhero’ of the Ancient World. Today, tasks that are deemed to be near-impossibly difficult are referred to as ‘Herculean.’ It is indeed a pretty romantic fact that a club President should wish to name his club after this Greek Mythological Superhero. And after accomplishing La Liga’s first true Herculean accomplishment: going to the Camp Nou to defeat Barca 2-0, this little club from Alicante finally faced their 2nd Herculean task for this La Liga campaign: to face Mourinho’s Monster: Real Madrid.
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Hercules came into La Liga soaked in scandal over allegations of match-fixing. Dismissed as relegation fodder and the beginning of the season by many critics (myself included), they now lie 14th on the table, proving many wrong with their gritty performances. Before the season kicked off however, they did pull off some great moves in the transfer market: first by shocking the world with their purchase of Juventus’ goal-scoring legend David Trezeguet. Then, they made a brilliant purchase from the German League, bringing in the Paraguayan attacking workhorse Nelson Valdes, and then of course, they managed to snag Royston Drenthe from Real Madrid to give them pace and power on the flanks.
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Mourinho’s Monster on the other hand is an 11-headed Hydra that had ruthlessly slain the likes of Depor, Malaga and Racing for a combined 16 goals. They seemed to look the part only in legend and reputation when the season began, but after a few weeks, Mourinho has finally turned them into the scourge of La Liga. Last Saturday however, for the first time, Real Madrid had to deal with La Liga’s true giant slayers: Hercules.
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I had predicted that the match was NOT going to be a washout as I rate Hercules as THAT small team with big balls who aren’t afraid to get under your nose and get one over you by sheer guts, cleverness and tenacity. Their cleverness showed when Marcelo gets beaten AGAIN from the wing, where a looping cross to the far post found the head of David Trezequet to make the score 1-0 for Hercules. From then, it no longer mattered that Marcelo’s new hairstyle makes him look less like a junkie from the 70s, that Iker is trying to look like a member of Shrek’s family (with his fully coordinated all-green outfit) or that Cristiano is trying to be Cristina again with his leopard-print boots. It was a first half where Hercules’ fight kept us from controlling the game. A few exits of the ball from midfield would find Ozil, who found too little space to make incisive passes. Passes that found Di Maria and CR7 would lead to some form of dribble to beat their man, and cross into the box where Alicante’s army of defenders awaited. It was the frustrating scenario we all dreaded to see. The first half ended 1-0 with leadership at stake. Jose Mourinho doesn’t like to play this way, but Real Madrid had no choice: they had to pull off their favorite cliché script from the book: they had to do a Remontada.
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The Second Half – the midfield begins to work again.
The 2nd half team that took the pitch in white last Saturday finally did look like Mourinho’s team. They controlled the match from midfield: recovering the ball effectively, keeping possession and keeping it adequately circulated to find openings in front. Xabi Alonso had finally kicked into gear, finally matching Khedira to make the Whites’ engine room begin to hum again. Khedira was my Madridista-of-the-Match (apparently, he was also Mourinho’s)… he was all effort, all running, all-action: the one guy who kept his performance and effort on the pitch at Real Madrid-standard for 90 minutes. I'm really happy that finally the Madrid press are giving him some of the due attention and credit owed to him. In the end, it was the typically goal-hungry Ronaldo who cracked the Hercules defense open: with a long range shot that forced the Alicante ‘keeper to parry to the oncoming Di Maria who was finally rewarded for his selflessly effective and brilliant performance from the Racing game.
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Mourinho’s Rolls the Dice… and Wins

Interesting Fact: Of Ronaldo's Last 6 Goals, 5 were 'Poacher's Goals' and 1 was a Penalty. All he needs to learn now is how to defend and save shots and he'll be able to play all positions in the field.
It was Jose Mourinho, the ruthless, sinister brain of the Madrid Monster that made the gamble that made the difference for Madrid. He had said it many times: he was going to take risks if the price to play for was victory. And risk he did, sending in the much-maligned Karim Benzema for Pepe (culpable for Hercules’ opening goal) in a PSP-esque 3-5-2 formation that looked like:
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--------- Casillas -----------
Ramos-Carvalho-Marcelo
-- Xabi Alonso-Khedira --
- Di Maria-Ozil-Ronaldo -
----Higuain-Benzema -----
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Or even a 2-2-3-3:
--------- Casillas -----------
----- Ramos-Carvalho ----
-- Xabi Alonso-Khedira --
- Di Maria-Ozil-Marcelo -
--Higuain-Benzema-CR--
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Who would’ve thought that it was going to be the much-maligned French wannabe-flop Benzema who’d be they key to give Ronaldo his next 2 goals (to make it 38 goals in 38 La Liga games)? The players all sang the same song in unison after the game too: We’re happy for Benzema, he did really great. It was fairytale stuff from then on…. Not for the hero giant slayer though: but for Mourinho’s Monster.
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Post-Script (Other Results):
“There are other teams who have other play¬ers who have cost a lot of money and have not got¬ten enough goals.” said Mourinho before the match.
“I heard you” said David Villa right back after his 2-goal performance in Barca’s mashing of Sevilla. It’s Madrid-Barca at 1-2 in La Liga all over again.
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What has happened to all these teams whom we’ve talked up so much? Valencia draws, Atleti look like their old Jekyll-and-Hyde selves again and Villarreal escape with a point by the skin of their teeth.
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Depor also won… and scored 3 goals too. A volcano in Indonesia erupts. What the hell is happening to this World?

4 comments:

  1. Great stuff. In the match I noticed something about ronaldo. I was wondering whether or not he still could actually take free kicks or not. Its turns out he can. When he chooses to, he can sacrifice a bit of power in order for the ball to go over the wall. He usually likes to use power and precision but that depends on it going through the wall or over (if he's lucky). Now all i'm wondering is why the hell he is so bloody stubborn that he couldn't change his approach one or two times in the past during this season.

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  2. Hi Awwal,

    I actually wonder about the same thing, too. Virtually all of the goal-threat FKs are taken by him, and just about all of them were very straight hit the wall... and that's including the FK goal against Milan, only in that case the wall had a big hole.

    Is he a potent FK taker? I believe he is, or at least was. He showed how he did it last season. He had many FK goals and those FKs comfortably passed the walls & curled. Here's the compilation of his goals last season:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxZC0cxMJb4

    What went wrong this season? I suspect it's about the ball. To my impression, the WC produced so few FK goals (I have no stats to support this, but I feel that way & I think I'm quite accurate about this). The only FK goals I recalled were by Forlan, a Chilean & some Asian players. Many players complained about the Jabulani ball, most of them complained the trajectory is hard to control & unpredictable. Not good for goals. The WC 2010 had one of the fewest number of goals in the WC history.

    I'm wondering, can his new Aguilera boots give him more control over the ball trajectory like he once had? I kind of doubt it but who knows.

    Perhaps you can chime in on this too, Mac?

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  3. There are free kick scenarios that have immediate goal-potential and there are those with none.

    I think that if the FK situation has goal potential, then we should never turn down the chance to score and the best person for that is CR7. If the deadball situation is on the right side of the pitch however, a left-footed player might be more deadly so I think that Ozil should be given a crack in those situations.

    The problem I have with Real Madrid's FKs is that CR takes them and goes fro goal even if the situation doesn't warrant it. Mourinho I think needs to step in and sort this out.

    As for issues like the ball, boots, etc. I think that it's a mere matter of adjustment on the players' part. It's the decision-making (on who takes them or if we go for goal or not) that's peeved me so far.

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  4. Hi MM,

    My main concern w/ CR's FK is the trajectory of the ball. He just couldn't lift it up these days. Whether it's from the left, right or center... the ball couldn't lift & pass the wall. It invariably hits the wall & the trajectory looked to be very straight. Compare that to last season where he did all those with ease (the goal clip I showed in last post).

    I watched tennis quite a bit in the past. The game is way different from it was in the 1980s, or even 1990s. These days, the players can place huge amounts of topspin on the ball. This kind of thing practically killed netplays we used to see in old-school tennis. The racket technology & ball design made it possible: so that points can be longer fought (mainly from baseline), making it more exciting (or so they thought).

    I still have my suspicions on the Jabulani ball being the culprit behind the poor trajectory of CR's FK. Some players may have different techniques, making them easier/more difficult to adjust. Judging by the number of FKs he's taken so far & how every single one of them went straight into the wall, I think CR is finding it very difficult to adjust.

    Perhaps his original technique worked very well w/ the older ball, while this technique is incompatible w/ Jabulani.

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