Monday, January 25, 2010

Gameblog: Real Madrid vs. Malaga





Pre-Match:
-Ruud Van Nistelorooy is takes his bow in front of the Benabeu to recieve an ovation from the crowd. Let me say that it was an absolutely classy move from Florentino Perez amd Jorge Valdano to arange this for an absolute Class Act of a player. Happy Hunting in Hamburg Van Gol!
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-Carlos Sanz, 2010 Dakar takes the the honorary Kickoff. I'm not really a fan of motorsports so I can't comment much on this
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-A Minute Silence for presumably the victims of the Haiti Earthquake. My thoughts and prayers go to them.
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The starting XI is as shown above. It's worthy to note however that a Canterano in the form of Mosquera is on the bench. The first canterano to make his debut straight from Valdebebas to the pitch with the first team under the watch of Pellegrini, perhaps? I hope the chance comes to him.
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Guti's the surprise member of the starting XI... maybe NOT that big a surprise as AS had published regarding his possible inclusion to the lineup this past week in Real Madrid’s clear need for a creative passer to open up the stubborn defences we’ve been facing so far this 2010. This is done at the expense of Marcelo. Let's hope it works out for Madrid.
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2:35 - Play from the kickoff it still rough and tumble ending with Kaka losing with the ball and the announcer talking AGAIN about Cristiano Ronaldo' scoring drought (400+ minutes without a goal... not enough Castrol I suppose).
4:58 - Ramos crosses the ball in: ending with a foul by Benzema
5:44 - Caicedeo shoots. Casillas saves comfortably only to release it for an early counter:
6:43 - Duda ALMOST beats Garay to the ball. The Argentinean luckily beats him to it. At least he showed some degree of footspeed
7:36 - Uff! Duda's cross hits Xabi Alonso's head and onto the crossbar! ALMOST... and I repeat... ALMOST a freak goal right there!
9:21 - Nice exchange from Madrid it nded though with Malaga intercepting Benzema's layoff for Kaka.
11:06 - A series of chances for Madrid: ending with Benzema laying off for Guti who shoots into a wall of Malaga legs.
11:25- Benzema works an opening but his dink past 3 Malaga defenders is to strong... he loses it. Good move from the Frenchman though.
13:13 - Corner for Malaga. Concentration alert for us. A Foul on Garay is called.
14:05 - Good Pressuring work by Real Madrid on Malaga's half.
14:35 - What a Volley from Guti! Saved by he keeper though! Uff!
16:34 - Argh! Kaka misses a shot after a great Real Madrid exchange pins Malaga in their own box
19:40 – A pass from Guti to Kaka is intercepted and starts a possible Malaga counter which is thwarted by a crunching tackle.
23:06 - Here we are again...  we're now past the first half of the first half and it's still 0-0 and we're struggling to break down a bus parked in front of an opponent's goal. It's been sloppy passing galore thus far. Hoping it will change soon.
24:06 - Ronaldo deliver a cross that's headed away by Malaga.
27:00 - Those irritating whistles from the Bernabeu are coming out. I perhaps will never see the day the Bernabeu crowd will show themselves as true loving fans the way the Anfield-types do so... but I continue to pray.
27:58 - Chaos at the back from Casillas who comes out of his box to clear a threat and has to head away again after Malaga tries again with him still caught out. Wow! Our Goalkeeper showing some Centerback Skills too. I'd be screaming at him if I was Pellegrini though...
28:44 - Uff! A header off a corner for Malaga. Out.
29:34 - Cristiano shoots at someone at the rafters yet again.
33:13 - Uff! Sergio Ramos rampages through the Malaga right flank, only to be tackled inside the box as he looks to make his cross in.
35:08 - Gooooool! Benzema releases Kaka... who crosses in for a streaking Cristiano Ronaldo, who shows us all that his Castrol is running perfectly. Nice to see the 3 signings collaborate for the goal.
37:55 - Wow...1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 outfield Malaga players behind the ball. This is not a bus parked at their goal mouth... it's a fricking subway coach!
38:25 - GOOOOOL! Castrol Boy Again! from the edge of the Penalty Box! Assist from Guti! Golazo!!!! Marcelo likes it so much that he's banging the ceiling of the dugout. Hahaha!
40:03 - Now we're seeing the Real Madrid of late-2009 who are pinning their opponents down in their half and creating perpetual danger for them.
42:36 - Guti's passing hasn't always been effective so far... but he's been playing puppet master from the Madrid midfield which is a good sign. When we play with a Guti and Xabi Alonso on song, I'm not sure even Barca can match us. Not today though... just a short fantasy thought...
43:10 - Free Kick to Real Madrid. RPG Alert.... saved by the keeper. Uff! Albiol's follow up sails over.
46:10 - First Half ends.

Halftime thoughts: unless we fuck it up big time, this one's in the bag. Now... if only Benzema can score.

45:00 - Real Madrid start the 2nd half with Marcelo at left back. Is Garay Hurt?
50:30 - Real Madrid are playing the ball really well in their buildup to attack.
51:20 - Great streaking run by Kaka only to lose it. That looked like the Kaka we all loved... if only just for a while. Such vintage Kaka moments usually end with a great assist or a goal though...
52:20 - Shit! Ramos' goal is ruled out after a good move from Benzema keeping the ball depsite being swarmed by 2 Malaga defenders. C'mon Benz! Score a goal! We all wanna see it!
56:40 - The Madrid dragnet seems to have dropped slightly deeper as the pressure on Malaga only seems to start upon their crossing of the halfway line. Signs of complaceny: this is NOT good.
58:08 - Shit! A great potential for a counter is wasted as Benzema's layoff is intercepted.
62:53 - Lass shoots from distance. Saved comfortably.
64:51 - A Pass from Guti ends with Ronaldo getting beaten to it. Let me just say that Ronaldo is probably enjoying his time on the pitch with the '14' seems to be finding the '9' a lot in this match.
67:15 - Guti comes off for Granero.... who starts his match with a DANGEROUS cross.... cleared away though.
69:32 - What that fuck!?!??!?!? Cristiano Ronaldo just got sent off! Replays show that it's for an elbow.... or a series of them onto his defenders' (who was trying to drag his shirt) face. This is bad news! We are heading to the Riazor next week without Pipita & Castrol Boy: our 2 leading goal scorers! SHIT!!!!!!
72:19 - Is this a chance for Malaga? An extra man on the pitch with Real Madrid's best player off it.
72:57 - UFFFFF! A perfect chance for Xabi Alondo is sent to the stands! Great cross from ex-Liverpool teammate Alvaro Arbeloa.
76:50 - Real Madrid are still are in control. They're definitely not looking like the're playing with a man down.
78:44 - Raul comes on for Kaka. I have to say this: I miss seeing the Captain score.
80:17 - Oh Gawwd! Benzema totally blows his shot as he's met with whistled by parts of the crowd. Come on man!
82:16 - Granero is fouled at the edge of the box. he loks funny with his hair cut so short. Albiol heads over.
87:35 - Raul Albiol is fouled as he tries to carry the ball form his half to the Malaga half. The ex-Valencia Centerback's had a good ga:me I'd have say.
88:43 - Granero!!!!!! What a shot! Saved! You gotta love El Pirata's audacity.

Match ends after 3 minutes of extra time... comfy in for us... more in the next few days.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Tribute to a Hero of Madridisimo



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Ruud Van Gol bids the Santiago Bernabeu goodbye tonight following confirmation that his free transfer to Hamburg has gone through. It's an interesting choice of destination for the Dutchman given the supposed wooing he recieved from a host of Premiership clubs including the likes of Tottenham Hotspurs.
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Perhaps it's down to the promise of time in the starting XI to him as soon as he's fit or perhaps it's down to his loyalties to Manchester United (ala David Beckham promising to never wear another English Club's jersey except the one of the Red Devils. Judging from the way he left Manchester though, I'd say it's more down to the first possibility (Playing Time).
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Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored 64 goals in his stint with Real Madrid, carrying the entire team on the back of his Pichichi Opening Season to win us La Liga title #30. Though the bulk of his second season was spent in the treatment room, he still managed to put in 16-goal season: an impressive tally considering the number of games he played.
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Ruud gave us a lot of goals, won us plenty of matches and was an all-around great professional playing in White. It was an honor to have seen him and followed him play in his years in Real Madrid.
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Here's to the quintessential 'Goleador'!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010-01-20: Gramozi Erseke 1 - Real Madrid 2




Real Madrid went on a Money-making expedition to Albania last Wednesday, winning 2-1 in a dull match marked by a city-wide 90 minute blackout.
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I missed out on the recording of the latest installment of the Real Madrid Talk Podcast and the great chance for a sitdown with our guest.... do listen still though!
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Fantastic Article by Sid Lowe at The Guardian


Written by Sid Lowe. Original Article can be found here
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Real Madrid repelled as Gorka Iraizoz emulates the Squid
If Athletic Bilbao beat Madrid partly thanks to Fernando Llorente, they mainly won thanks to the goalkeeper in the midfielder's kit

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Black is the new black. Not yellow, not red, not blue, not green and definitely not grey. Black. Proper black. Black black. All black. The way it used to be; the way it ought to be. Just ask this weekend's La Liga hero, Gorka Iraizoz; he won't wear anything else. When Athletic Bilbao reached the Copa del Rey semi-final last season, Gorka ditched his goalkeeper's shirt and, fishing around in the bargain bin at the club shop, chose an out-of-date, short-sleeved black outfield shirt instead, turtle-neck top underneath, home-made white lettering hastily emblazoned on the back: Iraizoz, 1. A heroic performance later and Athletic had reached their first final for 20 years; two weeks later and, with the improvised ensemble banned by the RFEF, Athletic arranged for the persistent portero to wear a special commemorative black shirt for their biggest night in two decades.

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This time it didn't work but while Gorka was left in tears he was not for turning. When new suppliers Umbro unveiled Athletic's official kit this season, neither of the goalkeeper shirts were black. Luckily, the team's third, outfield kit was, so he wore that instead. In short, black is an obsession. Not because Gorka is a Goth – he's Zubizarreta's successor, not Zapatero's daughter – but because his fixation with black is a fixation with the man in black. Iraizoz wanted to honour the man who wore black because of Lev Yashin, the man they call Txopo, the Squid – Athletic Bilbao's legendary goalkeeper for 18 years, José Angel Iribar.
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Born in Pamplona, the Basque-speaking Gorka supported Athletic and began his career there as a kid, later returning via Espanyol. He lived in Guernica – the town whose oak tree stands as a Basque symbol and was famously bombed in 1937 by Hitler's Condor Legion on behalf of Franco – and Iribar was his idol. Saturday night was more than just a football match, Iribar was more than just a footballer – the Athletic captain who joined the Real Sociedad captain Inaxio Kortabarria in carrying the still-banned Basque flag, the Ikurriña, on to the pitch before the derby two weeks after Franco's death and later became the Basque "national team" coach. Small wonder Gorka sought to emulate him.
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This weekend, he did. And on the best possible stage: Athletic Bilbao versus Real Madrid at San Mamés, the Cathedral. A game between two of the three sides that have spent their entire history in the First Division, one packed with political and historical significance. A clash of cultures and ideologies. A match that Iraizoz says "really turns me on". Much of it is nonsense, of course; much of it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. But that doesn't prevent it being portrayed as the unofficial Basque national team versus the representatives of centralised Spain, the state that represses the nation played out on the football field. A wet, lush football field, cramped up against steep, noisy, ramshackle stands; decked in red and white and screaming blue murder.
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The cliché says that San Mamés is a hard place to go. It is, they say, the most English of arenas. Hostile, aggressive, looming up at the end of calle Pozas, every balcony en route bearing an Athletic flag, every doorway a bar. The team is an extension of that, defined by the lion that prowls their directors' box – bearing its teeth and claws. Direct, determined and downright dirty. San Mamés is the kind of place, they say, where big teams – especially Madrid – hide, terrified, whimpering and waiting for it to be over. On Saturday, a reporter approached an Athletic fan. Leaning into the mic he stared at the camera and warned: "Kaká, you're going to crap yourself!"
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Only, in recent years it's Athletic who've crapped themselves; Madrid have won the last 10 matches between the two sides. At least they had until this weekend. This weekend, at last, Athletic beat Madrid. This weekend, as El País, put it, Cristiano Ronaldo played an English-style game: "Argumentative, competitive, physical, mad, and packed with shots. The kind of game that [Steve] McManaman, who always played well in Bilbao, used to like." But with one difference: "Steve McManaman won."
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A Fernando Llorente header gave Athletic the lead after two minutes. The lead was coming – Athletic had already hit the post twice – but so was the equaliser. The difference was that while Athletic scored in two minutes, Madrid couldn't score in '94; the difference was that if the lead came, the equaliser never followed. The difference was Iraizoz; if Athletic partly won thanks to Llorente, who not only opened the scoring but almost added a wonderful second and had a half-decent shout for a penalty, they mainly won thanks to the goalkeeper in the midfielder's kit.
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For 94 minutes, Madrid reeled off shot after shot; by the time the final whistle went on 96 minutes, Gorka had faced 29 of them. Ronaldo alone had 10, battering them in from all angles. It was the kind of onslaught that had hearts in mouths and throats ripped raw, the Chilean army waiting for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But it ended up like a frightened kid opening fire on Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, like a man with a machine gun in his hands but roller skates on his feet. Somehow, they didn't land a direct hit; somehow, the score was still 1-0. Gorka was unbeaten, arms stretching left and right, stopping everything; even bundling him over on the goalline didn't work, a hand reaching up to claw it away. "Madrid couldn't overcome The Wall," ran the cover of Marca. Only once did the ball get past him, and then it came back off the post and into his arms.
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"We couldn't have done any more," sighed Sergio Ramos. "There was only one team on the pitch," insisted Manuel Pellegrini. "Us." Not everyone agreed. Defeat was not entirely coincidental: Madrid have now lost in weeks 6, 12 and 18; more importantly, they've won less than 50% of the points away and trail Barcelona by five. They might have taken almost 30 shots, but they had been largely limited to shooting from the edge of the area; from inside, they had only three more than Athletic.
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But Ramos and Pellegrini had a point; while Athletic battled and fought and threw themselves in front of the bullets, it was Iraizoz who truly stopped them, the final and most impressive of his 14 saves coming in the last minute. Without him, the roar that greeted the final whistle seconds later would have died in Basque throats long before and when it did finally go up, the significance was lost on no one, least of all the goalkeeper himself. "Iraizoz was Iribar," claimed the headline in Marca, "he boasted fists of iron and the reflexes of Superman – the Squid reincarnated." "With his black top, stunning saves and unshakable confidence, Iraizoz could have been Iribar himself," said El Mundo. For Gorka Iraizoz, the likeness was no coincidence; as for the compliment, it was the greatest they could have ever paid.

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Talking points
• Four days after losing their first title under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona won their seventh. And against the same opponents, too. Having been knocked out of the Copa del Rey on away goals by Sevilla, despite producing a fantastic display at the Sánchez Pizjuán, Barcelona hammered them 4-0 at the Camp Nou to go five points clear and guarantee that they will earn the honorary title of Winter Champions. Leo Messi scored twice to take his total to an astonishing 21 in all competitions already this season and 101 in 188 Barcelona games. Being knocked out of the Copa del Rey might actually be good for them.
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• Valencia are just three points behind Real Madrid. Take away the last five minutes of their home games and they'd be a handful of points in front: late blow-ups against Sporting, Atlético and Mallorca have cost them six points this season. With Silva, Villa, Mata and Joaquín (yes, that one) playing brilliantly, maybe, just maybe, they can challenge for second place. Villa is back at the top of the Pichichi chart, alongside Messi. Ever Banega has been superb so far this season and scored a beauty last night.
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• Pennant watch: Real Zaragoza couldn't even beat Xérez but Pennant was named man of the match by El Mundo Deportivo. Came on as a sub and produced two wonderful assists – both of which were completely wasted.
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• Racing Santander drew 1-1. Guess who scored a wonderful chip for their only goal. Go on, guess.
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Now that's a celebration. No poncing about, just mad excitement and pure, mental joy. Ibrahima scored his first ever goal for Atlético Madrid and, taking off his shirt and throwing it 100 feet in the air, ran about the pitch like a lunatic, even booting the ball away in joy when somehow he found himself alongside it once more. Naturally, he was booked. Maybe there is life in Atlético Madrid after all. They beat Sporting Gijón 3-2 and Quique reckons their mentality has changed. "Now at last we believe in ourselves", he said.
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• Mallorca's run just gets better and better and better. At home, at least. They have now won nine out of nine at the Ono Estadi and conceded just three goals. Gregorio Manzano is still a genius. Even if that fact does seem to annoy people at his own club.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting Bitten in the Ass by the Lions




Castrol Boy Tried Hard... but there wasn't enough Castrol I suppose...
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Kevin of the OwnGoalNetwork left me a message on Skype following the match at San Mames: "What a deppressing result."
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0-1 to Athletic Bilbao after a rather good performance is indeed a deppressing result. It was one of those results that made you go 'Well, that's football for you'. Real Madrid managed to put on a good attacking display, creating some great chances to score goals after a match where they pretty much dominated the game (save a few instances). All this after an early blitz from the home team that saw them hit each of Casillas' posts twice before Lion King Fernando Llorente stabbed us in the heart classic Bilbao-style: through a header off a set piece. Replays showed Ezequel Garay at the corner of my TV screen right behind Llorente with a 'Huh? How'd he get there?' look on his face. It wasn't even a 'Noooooo!' expression complete with a failed clearance. It was just a look of absolute helplessness and innocent sense of unawareness. We miss you Pepe. With no left back to get Arbeloa to play right back, and Christoph Metzelder aspiring to become a research guinea pig to showcase through his body to the next generation of doctors the full range of ailments the body can conjure up, we are stuck with Garay. What ever happened to the long legs that supposedly decieved people about his actualy footspeed? Where was the footspeed in the first place when we saw those Athletico coutnerattacks rushing onto San Iker during the second half as he haplessly chased after them a good 5 meters behind?
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Is this now truly the beginning of our defensive conundrum for the season?
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Athletic Bilbao 1 - Real Madrid 0: Garay walked onto the pitch asleep at the wheel.
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Oh, Garay, Garay, Garay... our chances of titles are officially no longer resting on the shoulders of Kaka, Castrol Boy (CR96), Pipita or Benzema...they are now banking on Eze G's allegedly long legs which he claims is the reason he doesn't appear to be a fast sprinter. Now that's a thought to make me so scared that I'll shit my pants. Here's to hoping that the young Argentinean Center Back can show us that he his cojones are about the same size as his compatriot's (Pipita) and show us the character befitting a man who wears Real Madrid white.
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The Lion Hunter?


Until he 'explodes' and shows us what a Good Player we all know he really is, I'm calling Karim our Crash Car Star.
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Prior to last night's match, the Spanish Website Defensa Central had dubbed Karim Benzema as the 'Lion Hunter' perhaps as a bid to boost the confidence of the young Frenchman. The 22-year old did play a birgh frist half, making plenty of Basque hearts skip a beat during the first half, including a shot attempt that had beaten the Athletic keeper Gorka, but ultimately failed to beat the post. By the second half though, Real Madrid's Crash Car Star was out of gas and was hardly existent in the match. It was thus sad to see Castrol Cristiano still trying to get the equalizer to no avail. Perhaps time will come when Benzema will come good for us, it was not to be last night though, the the cold January Bilbao night.
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I also can't help but feel many times last night, as Bilbao's parked bus and strong arms tactics came down hard upon us, how helpful it'd have been to have a genuine, 'battering ram', '9' type of striker out there on the pitch for us. This of course was a pointless exercise, as Ruud Van Gol was probably watching the whole affair from his Madrid mansion (pondering a move to Galatasary perhaps?) and Negredo bore witness to his side's 4-0 demolition at the hands of the Cules whilst wearing a shirt that bore a Sevilla badge on his chest.
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Though we can always choose to look at all this and tell ourselves that we did well enough to merit a pat in the back, the fact remains now that we are 5 points adrift of the Barcelona behemoth that no longer needs to worry about the Copa Del Rey. And while it is true that there are 60 more points to play for, let me also highlight that we face the remaining 20 games of the season without our best Centerback and the next few more without our leading goal scorer (I'm not talking about you Castrol Boy)....
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Here's to hoping for better returns for the remainder of the season...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010-01-14: Real Madrid Talk Podcast #12


Adam, Corey, Kevin & myself talk Pipita (and his untimely injury), Kaka’s return, Gago’s twilight zone, as we look to our prospects at San Mames this weekeng. We also talk rubbish about WAGs, women and how ridiculous Cristiano looks in his new underwear advert (it's always nice to stare at Megan Fox in her undies though...)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

White Storm




A Man-of-the-Match Performance yet AGAIN for Pipita

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For those who were expecting a gameblog to be posted after last sunday night's match: I'd like to offer my apologies. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak: after going to bed at earlier to catch the match at 2am here in Singapore, I consider myself fortunate enough to have been awoken from my slumber just in time to catch Higuain's superb opener (I flicked the TV on about 4 minutes into the match / 4 minutes before his 'golazo').
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I also wanna offer my prayers to the National Football team of Togo following their horrific bout with madness in Angola, which had cost them senseless loss of 2 colleagues. Our prayers go out to their colleague (the backup goalkeeper) who remains in critical condition.
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Now onto the match...
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Last night, we hosted a Mallorca team that were looking to validate themselves and prove to the world that their position among Spain's Top 4 on the table was no fluke. People had forewarned us about how good this Mallorca team was thanks to the brilliance of their manager Gregorio Manzano who has kept his club from the jaws of relegation despite the annual loss of their best players in their ownership's struggle to avert the club's financial meltdown. The people who made such warnings however, had also forgotten to mention that Mallorca's great record, is pretty much down to their very impressive home record and not their 'road warrior' reputation. And that was exactly what Real Madrid showed last night.
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Dealing with the Losses
For 90 minutes ++ last night, Mallorca faced the White Storm on the Bernabeu pitch that consisted of Snow, 53,000+ spectators who braved the cold and Manuel Pellegrini's Men in White. Manuel Pellegrini it seems has completely shrugged off the loss of 2 critical elements to what has been a defensively-efficient unit thus far. Nevermind the loss of Pepe and a mostly unfit Ezequel Garay who skipped training due to injuries for most of the week: the Chilean also had to face the hyper-counterattacking islanders without his midfield pitbull (Lass Diarra due to Card Accumulation), his prototype Diarra V1.0 (African Cup of Nations) and his Defensive Bad Boy Sergio Ramos (Card Accumulation). He nonchalantly switched the back 4 to horrify Madridisimo by reverting Marcelo to Left Back as the solid Arbeloa (who played well yet again) deputized for 'Tarzan'.
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We were also all surprised by Pellegrini when he decided to replace Lass not with Granero, but with Lady Gago, completing the midfield with the just-recovered-from-a-knock Van Der Vaart and the returning Kaka who were the supply line for CR96 and Pipita with a lineup that looked like:
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-----------Casillas-------------
Arbeloa-Albiol-Garay-Marcelo
---Gago-Xabi Alonso-VDV---
------------Kaka--------------
--------CR96-Pipita-----------
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Performances
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The result was a White Blitzkrieg of Mallorca's goal. The islanders faced a White Storm of attack after attack down their gullet as the pacy-Ronaldo and the in-the-mood Pipita went after them with the aid of the just-returned Kaka (who was clearly rusty and needs more games to return to full match fitness). The boys' effort was rewarded very quickly with a stunning left-footed shot from Gonzalo Higuain that found the top corner of Dudu Aouate's goal 8 minutes into the match: it was a shot that oozed the type of class and confidence most Madridistas who saw Pipita as a grow up in front of their eyes craved to see. We are truly, truly seeing the lost boy who ended up in Fabio Capello's squad years ago, turning into a legitimately menacing World-Class Striker. To the Real Madrid management out looking for Bred-in-Madrid Balon D'Or Winner: look VERY closely at this guy. I love David Villa, I like David Silva... but please consider very carefully what happens to our #20 when you guys go shopping this summer. Yet again, Pipita, with his 'golazo', his assist to Granero and overall persistence in attack won him Man of the Match honors in my book.
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We're all wondering however what happened to Cristiano Ronaldo last night (with his slew of blown chances)... perhaps there's a bit of rust or even giddiness from the 96m man: I can't help but recall a commercial that is currently being shown on TV here in Singapore ... and can't help thinking what a load of rubbish he was talking about in that video, especially after seeing him play in 90 minutes strugging to re-calibrate his shooting boots to score...
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I'm more forgiving to the just-returned Kaka, who showed us some moments of brilliance, jetting past defenders with his trademark accelleration, making passes and even taking a few shots. All in all it was a game where he logged in the much-needed game minutes to shake off the accumulated rust from his injuries.
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Pellegrini's gamble to give minutes to the weeping-at-home-when-not-playing Gago also paid off: as we saw none of his ball-tapping routine last night. Instead, together with Xabi Alonso, he pressured Mallorca's midfield and helped a lot in moving the ball around with simple, yet effective and elegant touches. It was a performance that deserved a pat on the back, even for the for-some-time-now non supporter/harsh critic like this one. He played well and reminded us that there's a decent player in there somewhere that might merit the Real Madrid crest on his uniform. The round-after-round of blitzes on the Mallorca goal would also not have been possible without the help of the fullbacks Marcelo and Arbeloa who did their jobs well in pressuring the Mallorca wingers and shuttling up and down the flanks to support the attack by spreading the pitch when going forward and the midfield through their help in pressuring, intercepting and fortifying the Real Madrid dragnet at the center of the pitch: resulting in an almost non-existent Mallorca attack.
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Granero reminds us all what team he plays for

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The Madrid midfield's congratulations came early in the second half as Man of the Match (in my book at least) Pipita Higuain's cross, was met by Esteban Granero's swinging volley to make it 2-0 (his second of the season). It was a goal that I continue to choose to view as a reward or a capping off of what was essentially a great night and a great performance for the midfield. That the goal was from 'El Pirata', who hasn't played regularly since 'Alcorconzo', is also significant to me: as it may mark the beginning to his re-ascent in terms of prominence and importance to the squad (whose previous peak point was as the team's '12th man'.)
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New Check-ins at the Infirmary
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The match leaves us with more worries though. Rafael Van Der Vaart is now cursing his luck as we speak as news of his 3-week hiatus from the game and training pitch puts his little 'road to redemption' in ruins. It has been many months of fighting at the training pitch, playing off the bench to finally getting a few starts (capped off with a 2-goal performance in the 2009-closer) playing his favored role in Real Madrid for the first time. Though we Madridistas scan breathe a sigh of relief at the return of Kaka upon this injury, many of us (including this blogger) lament Rafa's trip to the infirmary after and admirable fight to get his place in the squad. Animo Rafa... Animo.
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Xabi Alonso also left the pitch grimacing in pain, leaving most of Madridisimo worried at the loss of our 'Pass Master' (who did well despite an unusually large number of misplaced passes last Sunday). While Van Der Vaart's injury seems to require time off for a while (3 weeks), the medical report seems to suggest that rest might be enough to allow him to make the next squad list.
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Return of the Divas
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While Guti played well last Sunday, I was more interested in the OTHER Blonde Spanish midfielder who made waves last weekend.

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As the rest of the football world watched with their jaws dropped at how a blonde 18-year old Spanish midfielder managed to tear the mighty Sevilla apart (Sergio Canales), parts of Madridisimo instead paid attention to another blonde Spanish midfiielder who turned 18 a long, long time ago: The eternal promise, Guti. Guti Haz. returned from exile with a generally impressive 10 minute display of calm, precision passing and ball distribution, including a few that had real goal potential. As I am not a Guti fan, and am skeptical about his ability to be a regular player in the squad, I will not make much of it. As a guy who prides himself in calling a spade a spade, I will be bold enough to admit though that the '14' put on a good display during his short stint on.
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It is interesting to note that we ended the match with a 3G midfield (Guti, Granero & Gago): comprising of a Pirate, a Pop Star (Lady Gago) and our resident Diva (Guti).
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Another quick thought: as Upawan suggested in my last blog entry for us (Real Madrid) to quickly get a move on in signing Canales, the imaginations of the boys at the Spanish daily AS came up with an interesting idea... Replacing the eternal promise with someone with REAL promise. Now that's an idea.
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Onto the Lion's Den
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Now we're off to San Mames... with a fit-again (albeit not match-sharp) Kaka and suspension returnees Lass and Sergio Ramos. Here's to hoping we slay the lion yet again!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Playing Drunk




After scoring a bucketload of goals in the last few games, I'm not inclined to give Pipita stick for missing his chance to give us the 1-0 (he didn't really miss, the goalkeeper saved it)
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As I arrived back in Singapore after a 3.5-hour flight from Manila, I was greeted by the wonderful news that Barca had tripped up against Villarreal 1-1 at the El Madrigal, giving Real Madrid the golden opportunity to start 2010 with a bang (i.e. seize the leadership). It wasn't too much of a shocker for me to see Barca slip up. The El Madrigal was always going to be a tough proposition (despite the end of the Pellegrini era in those parts) coupled with the fact that Barca came into the match with:
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A.) Post-Club World Cup+Christmas+New Year hangovers,
B.) A thin squad: something they started the season with...
C.) The squad being further thinned up the the losses of Keita & Yaya Toure to the African Cup of Nations
D.) A squad that will need to be rotated heavily to allow them to balance their players' playing time between the La Liga Campaign and the Copa Del Rey (I write this while pondering my regret over a hunch I had last Monday that it would've been wise to bet $10sgd for Sevilla).
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We came into the match having lost only Diarra V1.0 to the African Cup of Nations, which was of little consequence due to Xabi Alonso's return from suspension. All signs were pointing to a glorious start to 2010 especially after our clinical demolition of Zaragoza to bid 2009 good bye (a match I missed seeing with loads of disappointment). I was among those who believed that Barca's tough 2010 start and the start of our team's gelling process would culminate in a comfortable win at Pamplona and leadership to begin 2010. I was very wrong.
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In at nutshell, the game turned out to be a really dull game. Let’s all not please give them too much credit for being such an organized team on defense (though they were)… or who truly intimidating the Osasuna fans were (let’s please stop being a bunch of cry babies by making a fuss out of the ‘Die Cristiano Die!’ chants and the noise at the team hotel after the match) more than that, we were playing drunk.
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Lass had God-Knows-How-Many passes intercepted last Sunday

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1.) No pressure from the forwards on their midfield, and defense after losing possession (yes I’m talking about you too Pipita…)
2.) Misplaced passes galore all over the midfield (Marcelo & Lass)
3.) No presence in the box.
4.) Lazy clearances of the ball on defense (Garay and Albiol)
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Missing our Alien
As the match ended, I found myself pondering the last point over and over again, mulling the loss of Pepe and my initial voicing of support at the idea of giving Garay the chance to prove himself in that position. A point to ponder however lies in the study of the Pepe-Albiol partnership: where the quicker Pepe was the more advanced in terms of position of the 2, more aggressive in sweeping up threats to Casillas’ goal while the stronger Albiol would usually be in a deeper position sweeping up behind. In the same regard, it was also the more technically-skilled Pepe who was the ball-playing Centerback of the 2 (ala Pique) while the more powerful, and deeply-positioned Albiol was known for his last-gasp clearances. Now, without Pepe, we seem to have 2 Centerbacks of the same type: or rather a Garay, who played a match where he made Albiol redundant far more than he was supposed to play the Pepe role. Thus, while our midfield was playing drunk, starving our strikers of service, we also found our play made even more discombobulated by our 2 Centerbacks who were using the match to try out with the NFL for spots as Field Goal kickers. Uff. We miss you Pepe.
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Welcoming the Islanders with Changes
As the match ended with yellow cards for Sergio Ramos and Lassana Diarra, we now face a scramble to sort out the back four (i.e. ponder the horrors of Marcelo at left back once again) while we look into our midfield and realize that Diarra V1.0 is in another continent and stare down the concept of playing the Mallorcans without a midfield enforcer / pitbull. Latest reports from recent training sessions also suggest an injured Rafa Van Der Vaaart but a healthy Kaka. The sports tabloids are also asking for/suggesting a return to the starting XI for the crashcar king Karim Benzema. Somehow, it’s looking like a lineup of (at least my preference):
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------------Casillas----------------
Arbeloa-Garay-Albiol-Marcelo
-----------Xabi Alonso-----------
------CR96-------Granero-------
--------------Kaka-----------------
--------Pipita-Benzema----------
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A conservative Arbeloa protecting the space behind Cristiano Ronaldo would be a good counterpoint in my opinion to an attack-happy Marcelo having Granero look after his space behind (the clear weakness of the lineup)… A healthy-again Kaka playing behind the pairing of Pipita and Benzema is a prospect I’m eager to see too. Here’s to hoping both of the 2 young strikers manage to get on the scoresheet… and 3 points!
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2009 Balon D’ RealMadridTalk
Real Madrid Talk’s Adam Bader is in search of votes to crown his 2009 Real Madrid player of the year. I’ve cast my vote for Pipita. I highly encourage everyone to drop by his site and vote.