Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Still Pretenders

We now know what happened in this ridiculously hyped-up duel. It wasn't even close. Mourinho failed and failed miserably on this one. He's NOT Harry Potter. He's either a mere human.... or worse... Voldermort (meaning Pep is Harry?).

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The La Liga table now says Barcelona 34 Points, Real Madrid 32 Points. El Clasico ends Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0. I’ve heard that such scorelines did take place in the days of betamax, but I never thought I’d live to watch one myself – with Madrid on the losing end. I’d never thought I’d be made to feel this awful about a football match.
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Once again, Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score against Barcelona. Once again, Lionel Messi fails to score against a team of Jose Mourinho. But most importantly, once again, Real Madrid are unable to beat Barcelona – for the fifth straight time. And that’s the part that really hurts. Thus far, no sacking of Bernd Schuster, no emergency hiring of Juande Ramos, no triumphant return of Florentino Perez, No arrival of any player whomever to Real Madrid has been able to stop this Barcelona Juggernaut from crushing us. That they did so in such spectacular fashion tonight with all their biggest Real Madrid figures of hate present (Ronaldo & Mourinho) makes it so much sweeter and more glorious for them.

Those who called this a Messi vs. Ronaldo duel got it wrong. Really Wrong.
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It’s not the loss that bothers me. It’s how spectacularly we failed that does.
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Tactics
I thought about writing on one of the several thousand pieces to breakdown Real Madrid’s keys to victory prior to the match but decided not to after reading one too many of them. Some were very good, while some awful (those of the ‘We will win because we have Mourinho!’-type). My keys to a Real Madrid victory were very simple:
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Point #1: Don’t let Barca do their passing at your third of the pitch: Let them go to town with it at their 3rd or at midfield (forget about having majority possession of the ball), but not in front of Iker’s goal: that’s just asking for it.
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Point #2: Win the ball at midfield and use the pace of Di Maria, Ozil, Cristiano & Pipita to hit Barca on the counter. The parked-at-the-halfway-line Alves & slow-footed Puyol will be vulnerable.
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Pont #3: Points #1 & #2 are dependent of each other. Because holding Barca to a fixed zone can only be done by a combination of relentless pressing and by winning the ball. If you let them have it for long enough on that third of the pitch, they will INEVITABLY move it forward… and closer and closer to your goal.
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What Happened?
Not having Pipita around didn’t make much of a difference in my opinion. I thought Benzema was ok. Not great, but not the frustrating Benzema we all grew to hate this season. So I’m not even going to buy the argument that Pipita’s absence made such a big difference.
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Point #4 One odd thing that Mourinho seems to have done for this game was opt to use Ronaldo and Di Maria as an outside right and outside left, respectively instead of using them as inverted wingers as we’ve seen for most of the season. I can only hypothesize 2 reasons for this:
-Benzema’s tendency to drift to the left. (as opposed to Pipita’s tendency to drift to the right side)
-By positioning Ronaldo and Di Maria in a manner that gave them the tendency to drift wide instead of the center, it allowed Madrid to stretch the field wider to spread Barca’s players across the entire pitch when they pressed Madrid while we had the ball and in a way, give a lag time period for them to ‘contract’ back together again to play their close-range passing game if/when they did win the ball back.
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The First 2 Goals


Xavi was spectacular for Barca. We stopped Messi but we didn't stop him. Messi's an unstoppable player. But he makes Barcelona an unstoppable team.

Ultimately, neither factor made much of a difference as Barcelona was allowed to do what my Point #1 was all about: play their passing game at our third of the pitch. We also happened to concede the goal in the same manner that we conceded out goals for most of the season. A pass / cross from our right side to our left side, being defended by the defensively-shorthanded Marcelo. The second goal, scored by Pedro was something similar, albeit a rebound (also being defended by Marcelo) instead of a shot.
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Our opportunity to get back into the game did come when Barca began to fall back after going 2-0 up (happy and comfortable perhaps?). Cristiano had a legitimate claim to a penalty and had a free kick that wasn’t far from going in as well. Point #4 Comes to mind:
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- Somehow though, my theory about our effectiveness increasing when Ronaldo and Di Maria are used as inverted wingers comes to the fore as both our wingers drifting to the touchline meant longer passes to interplay with Ozil & Benzema – which are easier to intercept and win back for a Barca team very adept at pressing.
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-Cristiano Ronaldo was made to face a defensively stronger Eric Abidal rather than the attack-minded Alves (whom he could have pinned back as well with his presence).
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Ultimately, the closing 15-20 minutes of the first half was an opportunity lost. A goal to make it 2-1 before halftime would’ve changed the face of the game entirely. But it was not to be.
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In my opinion, Point #4 backfired for us.
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2nd Half – The ‘Trivote’ Fails Twice and it’s Game Over
Mourinho did what many thought he’d do in the 2nd half: Stiffen up the midfield by adding Lass into the mix at the expense of Ozil. Despite what looked to be promising signs of keeping things contained within the midfield 3rd of the pitch, eventually our failure to win the ball and do something with it effectively cost us: Barcelona eventually got very comfortable with their possession and used it to generate the momentum to break forward. When David Villa scored the 3rd, I tweeted that only Divine intervention could save us. When Villa scored their Fourth, I knew which side God was on. (Barcelona had fully broken our team’s will by then)… And when Jeffren made it 5-0 despite Mourinho sending in Arbeloa for Marcelo to keep the score respectable… I started to feel like God really wanted to give Mourinho and Madridismo a good whack in the head.
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Keep Your Head, Shut Up & Learn
To add insult to much injury, Sergio Ramos was sent off with a straight Red for his actions in taking his frustrations out (perhaps for being responsible for Jeffren’s goal) on Messi’s leg. These are not the actions of a Real Madrid Vice-Captain. You’ve lost. Keep your head, swallow your pride, watch the game tape and learn.
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Mourinho's failure is so spectacular that not even Juande’s 2-6, Luxemburgo’s 3-0 and Pellegrini’s 1-0 and 2-0 can come close (nevermind the loser Schuster’s 1-0 and 4-1 wins) can match it in its failure.
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He goes on to mention his worry about the psychological impact of such a game on the team and he’s right to worry: getting raped (figuratively of course) by your eternal rival in front of 98,000 of their rabid supporters and in front of several billion people watching it on TV and reading about it for the next few weeks / months will screw your head up pretty good. His pre-game message to his players and to Madridisimo was right on too: tomorrow is still going to be Tuesday, win or lose.
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Losing and losing this way however means there’s a VERY LONG WAY to go for Real Madrid and that things between us and Barcelona are still not quite as close. I can now find myself recalling a discussion in last season’s podcast with Corey Fiske (of Real Madrid – The Offside) where he disagreed with my statement that I was happy to win La Liga even if we failed to beat Barca (he felt that it would have been an ‘empty’ title). I totally get what he means now… This is why Mourinho’s caution of ‘The last time I lost here, I was on my way to the Champions League final.’ is empty to me. Because after a loss like this… Until we beat THIS Barca… We’re all still just Pretenders.

3 comments:

  1. Well said man. I don't know about the "pretender" thing, but it's surely a bad week for madridistas everywhere. And to make things worse, UEFA( which happens to be a sorry excuse for an organization) has fined ramos, alonso, casillas, dudek, mourinho and even the club itself. To add to that, they even banned Mourinho for two games. Pathetic
    I like your work though. I should really visit your blog more often.

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  2. Thanks muna. Happy to see you drop by and leave a comment. You are officially the first source for me to find out about the suspension and fines. I was really afraid this would happen... Given that we're chronic chokers in the champions league, this is now a real worry. In one week, Mourinho now has to pay dearly for all these 'tactical miscalculations'. This is awful

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  3. It's an awful week for madrid. Honestly, it couldn't get any worse. I've listened to your podcasts with folks from la liga weekly. they're awesome. Let's just stay strong and live through these unbelievably hard times.

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