Monday, April 19, 2010

2010-04-18: Real Madrid 2 - Valencia 0


I'd also like to add the main Real Madrid excerpt in Phil Ball's latest article in ESPN Soccernet:
It's absolutely wodnerfully enlightening stuff...! Read on below:

"... Then again, the tabloid 'Marca' has been insisting since the 'clasico' that Pellegrini will not be at Real Madrid next season, and took this week to simply stating this as a fact, printing the list of possible managers who are lining up to come to the Bernabéu. Interesting this, since Jorge Valdano, presumably the man in charge of such matters, has not said a word on the issue.
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This means that the actual Director of Football at Real Madrid is a chap called Eduardo Inda, and he answers to the job description of Marca's Director. Inda likes to give the nation his two penn'orth, and fantasises nightly of what it must be like to really pull the strings at the Bernabeu. Inda doesn't like Pellegrini, and hasn't liked him since last June, and one suspects that Pellegrini isn't too keen on Inda either - but he's far too nice too say so. Inda wants Mourinho, and thinks that he fits the profile of Real Madrid because he's a 'winner' - which is true. What Inda doesn't realise is that Mourinho will have taken note of what John Toshack once said about managing Real Madrid, basically that 'It isn't the results in the end, ask Jupp Heynckes. It's how you get on with the Madrid press.' Toshack didn't take any crap from them, and neither would Mourinho - but that doesn't mean he's the man for the job. And his dog is happy in Milan.
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Actually, I agree with Inda. Mourinho would be fantastic for Madrid, but Pellegrini ain't going anywhere, as far as I understand it. Inda also says that Michel isn't ready yet, and that Benitez's idea of football doesn't quite fit the profile. Must be true then. Inda has also said (there's no escaping this guy) that the season has been 'un fracaso total' for Real Madrid (a total failure).
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Well I'm not so sure about that. I watched the clásico in a hotel in Cairo (I was on holiday with my family), and at the end of Al Jazeera's excellent coverage I was left with the distinct feeling that everything has to be considered in relation to Barcelona. Madrid played ok in the first half, pressurised Barcelona where they needed to, but it wasn't enough. Barca were just too good, too efficient, without ever being spectacular. In a more muted way, it was as potentially damaging as last season's 6-2 defeat at home, but this Real Madrid strike me as being made of sterner stuff, despite the flaws that still exist. They've bounced back, and are once again within a point of their rivals, after the latter slipped up and drew at Espanyol. And even if Barcelona take the Champions League trophy at the Bernabeu, and even if they win the league too, Madrid's season is only a 'total failure' in relation to the expectations that you harboured at the beginning.
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What did Eduardo Inda think was going to happen? That a practically new side would mould itself into a winning unit immediately, and sweep all before it? If they had, it would have been a dark day for football, an endorsement of the power of spending over the power of longer-term planning. Madrid have played some good stuff this season, have entertained and have stayed with Barcelona all the way - which is a virtue in itself. It's not Pellegrini's fault that he's come into the job at the precise moment when the Catalans have one of their greatest sides ever. Madrid have entertained, which is more than can be said of them last season. The failure resides in their institutional make-up. The players and manager make their beds and sign their contracts, but should then be granted the minimal right to objective analysis. But that has never been the strong point of 'Marca', and less so now with its power-mad head honcho.
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Where they have failed on the pitch has been at the crucial moments - the two clásicos, and the games against Lyon. But they're human. Pellegrini's main fault has been a lack of charisma, and a lack of boldness perhaps - but his hands have been tied. 'Marca' accused him last week of seven deadly sins, one of them being his lack of interest in the cantera (the youth system) - criticising him for not giving opportunities to the younger players. But how can he? Even in pre-season, Florentino Perez let it be known that he was less than happy because Kaka had been left on the bench for the first half. Obliged to field the galacticos because, like Everest, they're there, and then keep your Gutis, Graneros, Rauls and Van der Vaarts happy - what was he supposed to do with the cantera? And of course, it wasn't Pellegrini who transferred Wesley Sneijder. It was Valdano, desperate to balance the books because Perez was breathing down his neck. To keep Gago, Diarra and Van der Vaart and to transfer Sneijder makes little sense. Mourinho couldn't believe his luck.
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Lots of things have gone right. Ronaldo has been, in the main, magnificent, and Xabi Alonso has proved beyond doubt that he is the best in the world in his position. Kaka has been disappointing, but again, he wasn't Pellegrini's signing. He might still come good, as might Benzema, as long as he doesn't go to Man Utd. A lack of a wide player has been a manifest weakeness, but they have signed Canales and may well get Ribery. The latter player would make a lot of difference, as will David Silva if Valencia finally let him go. Pellegrini has also had the courage to finally bench Raul, and if Valdano asks him in June who he would like to see leave the club, he wouldn't go far wrong if he simply replied 'Raul and Guti'. It's true that Guti has still come up with some fantastic stuff, but surely, like Raul, his brooding presence in the club is a constant challenge to the manager's authority. Pellegrini is not the first one to have suffered this. It's time to sweep them out, and to remove their oppressive presence from the club, great servants though they have been. You can't have a new project with those two hanging around. Send them to Qatar. They'll be happy there. "
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More thoughts (my own) in the coming days...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2010-04-15: Almeria 1 - Real Madrid 2



Looks like our efforts midwweek to put Almeria down are not for naught. Barcelona dropped points against Espanyol last night and they still face matches against Sevilla & Villarreal while juggling their thinned out squad (which will now EX-clude Andres Iniesta for a month) between La Liga and their upcoming Champions League tie against Inter.
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A beautiful possibility looms for Real Madrid tonight: to sleep with 3 points won against Valencia and be one point away from Barca. All of this while Benzema is steadily getting himself match-fit again and with Kaka's possible return possibly next week... Here's to hoping they return with their form too! Let's go Blancos!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making Sense of it All.. Trying to, at least.

Barca taught us a lesson on how to be the Best Team in the World as Messi taught Ronaldo how to be the best player in the world
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It's hard to describe the emotions one feels after a painful loss like last Saturday night's to Barca. It's the same kind of feeling as getting eliminated by Lyon from the Champions League or even last season's 2-6. The emotions within you steer so strongly that it results in the state I'm partly-in (and struggling so hard to snap out of) right now: an emotionally and mentally constipated zombie: devoid of thought and emotion. I gasping into thing air at the moment figuring out a way to feel something... because at this moment, I feel nothing. Not even hurt or an adequate sense of sadness. With no emotion, I feel like a black hole: empty and numb. So I guess that I'm here writing this blog entry in the hopes of snapping myself out of it.
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Barcelona's win against us at the Bernabeu puts them in the driver's seat to retain the La Liga title and puts us in a position to face the horrifying and seemingly-inevitable prospect of going for a second straight season without a title. They will need to catch a very, very bad / unlucky streak of poor results to allow Real Madrid to catch up to them: a scenario that is highly unlikely despite the fact that they still have aspirations for the Champions League. This is a Barca team that is luck-proof. With that, what worries me now is the possibility of this season ending in a similar fashion as the previous one: with a losing streak. I fear very deeply that an out of focus, unmotivated Real Madrid with their considerable point advantage over the third placers would sleepwalk towards the end of the season especially with the World Cup so close. Real Madrid and its fans deserved better from the team last season in the way they played and I certainly hope that this season, despite the now-poor odds for the possibility of a La Liga title, that the team can still maintain the right concentration and that fighting spirit to play for 3 well-won points in the remaining  7 matches of the season.
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Barcelona's win against us will also count as yet another example of our inability to win matches against top level sides:  a disturbing sign of the team's lack of character; or worse, a symptom of the kind of arrogant complacency we saw with the Galacticos v1.0 that ended in infamy. 
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I for one don't think we played bad at all. "Actually, Madrid played better, they created more, they just didn't take their chances..." said a friend of mine (who doesn't watch football regularly) who watched the match at my place. It was a very astute observation. We closed their spaces down and used our pace to run at them to create our chances. We had them on the backfoot for good parts of the game as evidenced on their inability camp out on our side of the pitch the way they did against Arsenal. The 'Theo Walcott lesson' learned in the Arsenal Champions League ties was clearly picked up on as well with the pacy Marcelo and Cristiano getting clear chances to run at Barca's defense... sadly however, we too had picked up on the Gunners' failures: the lack of confidence and decisiveness near the Barca goal and most of all, the lack of the killer instinct to take precise shots to test the keeper when the fates gave us our chances. I'm not talking about being in cotnrol of the game from the possession point of view: I'm merely referring what we had achieved in terms of not allowing them to squeeze and crush us into our own half and blitz our goal.
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Regardless of what happened however, it was still clear that Barcelona were the better team over the course of 90 minutes and deserved all of the 3 points they walked out with from the Bernabeu.
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There are those who have questioned Manuel Pellegrini's choice of players particularly the selection of Gago in the midfield: a choice that I understand. This is given Lass' poor form as of late (as well as his alleged bitch-fits). Diarra V1.0 on the other hand, despite playing well against Racing Santander doesn't have enough games yet under his belt. Ditto for Granero who has clearly not taken advantage of the opportunities given to him by Pellegrini. I also support the decision to field Marcelo as a midfielder: he offered exactly what we had hoped for: pace to make his darting runs forward with the ball (he was my Real Madrid Man-of-the Match). We didn't have much of a choice with regards to Rafa Van Der Vaart due to Kaka's injury. The striking combination of Ronaldo-Higuain was of course a no-brainier given the duo's impressive scoring record this season.
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Finally, let me state a very painful yet obvious fact... a fact that, the sooner we accept it fully in our hearts, the easier it will be to move on... and the more effective we will be in undoing this fact: At this very moment, Barcelona, or rather, THIS Barcelona is better than Real Madrid. There... I said it. There is no shame in calling a spade a spade or in making this statement that I consider to be a fact (for now). After all, Barcelona are the Club Best Football Team in the world at the moment. They have weaknesses for sure and they can be beaten for sure as well, just like every great team has. They are now on their way to their 2nd consecutive La Liga title and their 2nd consecutive Champions League Title. Their team is anchored on a batch of young players who will all likely remain in the club for the next 5 years, nevermind for the rest of their careers: Messi, Iniesta, Pique... with more in the pipeline (Pedrito, Bojan, etc.). Let us also be honest with ourselves on the inevitability of Cesc Fabregas' arrival at Barcelona. Our pre-recording session for last week's podcast had The Own Goal Network's Kevin Walker state the horrific possibility that with Cesc at Barca to combine with their current young core, they stand to have the chance to dominate World Football in the next several years. It drew a stunned silence from me and Adam Bader and surely a sinister smile for our Cule-panelist Isaiah Cambron. Such a scenario could actually possibly replicate the type of European dominance that Di Stefano and Co. achieved in decades past (with Messi quite possibly becoming Barca's Di Stefano). Oh the horror...
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In any case, enough blabber for now.... I feel miserable enough as it is.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2010-04-07: Real Madrid Talk Podcast + a Great Pre-El Clasico Article on Soccernet.



To supplement the podcast, I'd like to call everyone's attention to an article posted on ESPN Soccernet. It's posted below with the original article here:
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Clasico cliches: Are Barca really better than Madrid?
By Didac Peyret
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It is not unusual to resort to clichés or cling to stereotypes in an attempt to explain something we do not understand, or in order to create a more comfortable reality. If you simplify the reality, then it creates fewer questions; the world of football is no exception.
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For example, in Spain, a country that will be gripped by El Clasico this weekend, there is a prevailing theory that Barcelona play better football than Real Madrid but that their rivals from the capital are more effective.
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It is an opinion that through force of repetition has turned into a convention; a truth accepted by the majority. It is also a perspective that has been used in Barcelona to discredit Madrid.
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To address this preconception, firstly it would be pertinent to agree that it is not the same to play good football and to play attractive football, even if both concepts are often taken hand-in-hand. If you have a model, your own recognisable style, good play consists of making this philosophy as concrete as possible on the field.
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So then if we compare the paths of both teams in La Liga this season, it is very bold to declare that Barcelona have been playing better. Actually, Madrid have strived to find a very good balance with a fast back-four playing a high line to reduce space, a midfield that mixes a good distributor of the ball, a holding midfielder and a more creative element, and one mobile player in behind two strikers.
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Their game is faster than Barcelona's, with fewer breaks in play but with as much rhythm and intensity. Barcelona have another plan: go on the attack, dominate the game and avoid the threat of the counter-attack, retaining the ball and playing an elaborate and expansive game.
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Barca are a tantric team, Madrid achieve their climax via quicker means.
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But Barcelona have not been playing at a similar level to last season, except in some divine moments such as at the Emirates when they eviscerated Arsenal in the first half.
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Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez have not performed at their peak and while Lionel Messi, Eric Abidal and Victor Valdes have maintained, and in some cases surpassed, their level of performance, the rest of the squad have lowered their level.
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It is a situation that in many ways is natural. It is very hard to maintain the same attitude, the same passion and the same commitment after winning six trophies in a calendar year.
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Examining from another angle the topic of whether Madrid play inferior football but to a more effective level, it is interesting to observe certain statistics from La Liga.
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Firstly, no team has scored as many goals as Real Madrid. There is also no other player who needs fewer minutes to score a goal than Gonzalo Higuain. But it is equally true that Madrid are the team that have enjoyed the most chances.
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To put this another way, Madrid have had less success in front of goal than Barcelona in percentage terms. Madrid have had 620 shots to Barcelona's 471 - perhaps explained by the fact they boast more players who take on long-range shots, Cristiano Ronaldo for example.
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Furthermore, the claim that Madrid are less creative is also undermined. Madrid have generated more opportunities, which actually speaks volumes for the collective game of the team. Madrid have 20 shots per game whereas Barcelona average around 15.
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Does that mean Real play better than Barcelona? Not necessarily, but it certainly questions the myth that Madrid's success is founded on efficiency.
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Another interesting topic is that of pressure, and determination. Pep Guardiola's successful Barcelona side last season were one of the best in regaining possession. The onus started with Eto'o, who inspired his team-mates to be equally as dedicated in chasing the ball.
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This season, though, Madrid have recovered possession on 1,782 occasions while Barcelona have managed 1,702. This is another example of how cold, hard facts can dismantle first impressions.
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This Saturday, when two of the greatest clubs in world football do battle, the millions watching around the world will have another chance to draw their own conclusions and contrast prevailing stereotypes with reality.

2010-04-04: Racing Santander 0 - Real Madrid 2



A Boring win for Real Madrid...
Apologies to all for the lack of posts this past well. Work has just been hell.