Monday, December 20, 2010

1-0, 12-2

The Ugly Pepe, who saved Real Madrid's Skin countless times last night was my Madrid Man of the Match in what was an even Uglier Game. (Photo from AS.com)
Real Madrid 1 – Sevilla 0. Yellow Cards 12 – Red Cards 2. Was that even a match last night? Mourinho’s Real Madrid were expected to turn in their fair share of ugly games given the Portuguese Manager’s history for theatrics and creating volatile situations. Last night’s case however, was simply a case of the referee being out of his depth in controlling a game filled with loose tempers. His terrible decisions in making the right calls during play, coupled by his inability to control flaring tempers (through the simple means of better communication) turned this annual ‘match to watch’ into a showpiece of his own incompetence.
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Iker’s Golden Glove
The Golden Glove: I've never seen such an Ugly Trophy in my life. Giving this to Iker was a premonition to how ugly the game turned out to be
Perhaps the prelude to the match was the ultimate telltale sign of the ugliness that was to take place last night. Iker Casillas ‘presented’ his Golden Glove award for his World Cup Exploits (as the tournament’s best goalkeeper) to the Bernabeu. My pregnant wife laughed so hard he tummy ached a bit when she saw the trophy ceremony’s highlights at Eurosport ‘It’s REALLY a glove!’ she said laughing so hard. I suppose that it was not just that the trophy was LITERALLY a glove – it was that the glove was so grotesque in its proportion that it was probably made to be worn by an Ogre, rather than Spain’s #1.
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Tactics and Absences
Football Fans Know Better
Without Xabi Alonso's Passing and Marcelo's runs, Lass and Khedira were jetting back and forth to move the ball forward - leaving space for Sevilla to Counter. In front, Di Maria and Ronaldo (who switched wings frequently last night)  had to drop deep to collect the ball frequently too - allowing Sevilla to set up their defense. For some reason, Ozil didn't drop deep enough. As for Benzema... mmm... well, nevermind.
I’d rather choose to interpret Mourinho’s post-match theatrics as a means to divert attention from what was a poorly played game by Real Madrid. The game was poorly played as a result of 2 basic reasons:
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1. The absence of Xabi Alonso, Marcelo AND Higuain.
2. The strategy employed to deal with their absences
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I find it amazing to consider my pre-match sentiment of ‘Ramos is playing so we don’t have to see Albiol or Lass at RB… we’ll be alright’ after seeing what happened during the match.
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Let’s be clear and honest with ourselves here. Real Madrid are a team that create chances from counter-attacking situations. Though not exactly a counter-attacking team, Real Madrid create on-field situations similar to counter-attacking situations to open up teams and score their goals using their Ronaldo-Ozil-Di Maria-Pipita Blitzkrieg. The 2 main generators for these situations are Xabi Alonso’s vision and near-unlimited passing range and the fullbacks: rampaging Ramos (or Arbeloa) (to a lesser extent for both RBs) and the motor Marcelo who rattle midfielders and defenses alike as they zip forward at pace with the ball to start the attacking move.
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Last Night, Real Madrid was without 2 of these sources of play. Instead, we played with Lass and Khedira: both of whom possess neither Xabi’s vision nor his passing ability. What they did do (or try to do) was shuttle the ball forward Carillero-style, leaving gaps behind them for Sevilla’s counterattacking to take advantage of (Sevilla’s script for the evening). And during such situations, Carvalho’s weakness begins to be clear: just as he suffered against the hulking Fernando Llorente against Bilbao, so did he against the physically imposing ex-canterano Alvaro Negredo. We can only be thankful that Negredo’s finishing was abysmal last night.
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And while Ronaldo and Di Maria did drop deep to assist in linking midfield and attack, Ozil didn’t do it as much as he needed to do so (a fact not lost on AS’ Pedro San Martin, or Real – The Offside’s Bassam).
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The problem with the ploy however was that sending the likes of Di Maria and Ronaldo deep to collect the ball (instead of a Xabi pass or a Marcelo run-and-pass into space) is that it allows Sevilla’s defense to set themselves up for the assault: resulting in Ronaldo, Di Maria, Ozil and the hapless Benzema to find a fully setup defense outnumbering them, lying in wait. This was the story of the first 60 minutes.
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Perhaps Granero’s passing ability in the ‘Double Pivot’ would have helped more. Xabi Alonso’s substitute has long been the subject of conversation and the sad reality is that the reason why he’s so important (and was so expensive) is that there is no one like him in the first place! The reality (or horror) of it is that apart from Granero, our only alternative to Xabi Alonso’s midfield passing is the VERY POOR MAN’s Xabi Alonso: Lady Gago himself (who’s injured anyway).
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Without Xabi Alonso and Marcelo, this might have been a game more suited to the ‘Cat Formation’ (Mourinho’s now infamous 4-3-3 or ‘semi-rombo’: 4-3-1-2) at the expense of Karim Benzema who played in a manner that suggested that he was playing at a totally different pace to his teammates. In light of this performance from Benzema, my hope is that this Wednesday, Mourinho will give the young Morata the opportunity to prove himself after a good showing vs. Zaragoza… and if young Morata’s ‘trial’ doesn’t pan out, then I’m totally willing to see Madrid play with ‘The Cat’ especially with the return of Kaka.
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Refereeing
In a word, it was abysmal. Referees are supposed to keep the game under control by imposing order through communication with players, and if necessary, handing out the cards to keep them in order. Clos (more like Clown) Gomez did neither. He hardly listened to anyone on the pitch, choosing instead to use his last resort to impose order (the yellow cards) to worsen the situation further: by indiscriminately handing them out to even the likes of Iker Casillas, who was trying to keep his teammates’ heads in the game. And when it came to the basics, they got it all wrong: how many times did he and his assistants call an offside on Ozil & Di Maria (who count their ability to beat the offside trap as their own and the team’s foremost offensive weapon) when they were in fact onside (seems the linesmen were in too much of a festive mood to do their jobs last night). And of course, they also missed out on some very critical calls, particularly Escude’s rendition of a Grecko-Roman Wreslting move: the Suplex (I haven’t seen in a long time given that I’ve stopped watching the WWE) on Granero in the penalty box.
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Di Maria shows Palop his 'Shake and Bake' Maneuver.
In the end, the game’s actual FOOTBALL highlights were the short moments of brilliant goalkeeping of Andres Palop… erasing most of the danger created by the Madrid counterattacks by his runouts to smother balls into space before Madrid’s attackers could get to them. Thankfully, it was El Fideo Angel Di Maria whose cheeky maneuver at the left flank, that decided the game: using a basketball ‘crossover / shake and bake’ move to open a narrow gap between Palop and his near post for his goal.
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I was tweeting while the game was taking place. Not long after it went 1-0, Real Madrid Talk’s Adam Bader (now of Real Madrid TV fame) put it nicely: Angel scores from a tight Angel.
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p.s. Raul Scored his second Hat Trick for Schalke 07. I miss the Captain.

2 comments:

  1. Great review. Marcelo's absence was the one I noticed more. Arbeloa is perfectly balanced in defence and in attack but he is spectacular in neither. Marcelo's attacking runs were really lacking in the game. There were exactly three times i counted when Arbeloa launched counter-attacks and made the wrong passes in my opinion. In the past two league games marcelo has made the same exact assists that were needed on all occasions. In the valencia game to ronaldo and in the zaragoza game to Ozil. However, Arbeloa just played the ball to the next forward player rather than try to switch to the other side of the pitch to Ozil or Di Maria who were calling for the pass. Until yesterday, I never knew how much we relied on marcelo's attacking ability and decision making and yet i've always been a critique of his defensive abilities.

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  2. We're all finding out now why Mourinho wanted Maicon last summer but didn't ask to replace Marcelo. He's using Marrcelo in a very similar role as Ashley Cole in Chelsea and Maicon at Inter

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