Friday, December 24, 2010

2010-12-22: Real Madrid 8 - Levante 0



Real Madrid's Christmas gift to its fans all over the world: their 8-0 hammering of Levante.

I've gone back to my hometown of Manila, Philippines to celebrate christmas and the coming new year, so I'll be taking a break from the blog till Madrid's next match vs. Getafe early next year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you guys out there!

Hala Madrid!

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.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hello Kitty and The Wolfpack

From Eggs and Omelettes to Cats and Dogs
Mourinho waxes lyrical about Eggs and Omelettes
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In a throwback moment to his days of poetry: waxing lyrical about eggs and omelettes in the lead up to his self-proclaimed title as the ‘Special One’, Mourinho got the press abuzz this time with his metaphor on cats and dogs: "You hunt with a dog; with a cat you hunt, but less so."
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Sinama said he was going to eat the grass. He was probably smoking them before the match too, judging from his performance.
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Marca’slikely still basking in the glory of their positively hilarious 'BenzeMAN' cover tribute to Benzema (for the Frenchman’s hat trick) then decided to run with this analogy, interpreting Mourinho’s statements as a critique the aloof Benzema as a supposedly less effective striker. All of this was happening of course as Zaragoza’s Sinama Pongolle was doing his best cattle impression by posing as if ready to shove some grass in his mouth in the newspaper. What a bizarre prelude to last night’s match: as if it was going to happen in some countryside instead of La Romareda, as if I was going to watch it in the Nat Geo Channel instead of my cable TV provider’s ‘Football Channel’. Cats, Dogs… Cattle. It was all going insane! (Real Madrid TV’s lovely Kay Murray explains Sinama’s ‘Cattle’ episode nicely on her website)
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In any case, the game started off with what Mourinho later on explained as his ‘Dog Formation’ i.e. his now familiar 4-2-3-1 (as opposed to the ‘Cat Formation’ otherwise known as the ‘Trivote’ or his 4-3-3, I wonder what he calls his 'Rombo'): No surprises: Benzema was on for the injured Higuain and Lass was on for the suspended Khedira. Arbeloa’s place at right back however had a bit of a twist to it. Along with the pat in the back he publicly received from Jose Mourinho for his perpetually great attitude regardless of his place in the starting XI or on the bench, Mourinho also went on to say that Arbeloa’s presence in the starting XI was also a separate matter from Ramos’ injury: meaning to say that the Canterano might actually have won the job from the 27m-Euro Vice Captain who hasn’t exactly been playing to the level we all expect from him. Next season’s tussle for spots on the defensive starting line will be an interesting one for sure.
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Prey
Zaragoza started the game brightly – giving Real Madrid a glimpse of their we’ll ‘Eat the Grass’ Spirit in the early exchanges. Since we’re all in the mood for metaphors, I suppose this would be the reaction of some poor antelope or deer (you may choose to imagine you’re preferred prey) when trapped, in an enclosed area (the stadium) with a predator (Real Madrid): a show of its horns and some form of aggressive posturing in the hopes of intimidating its predator away. Zaragoza took possession of the ball, had a few excursions into the Madrid third of the pitch and actually looked organized in the early exchanges when Madrid got the ball back: as 2 clear banks of 4 (defense) and 5 (midfield) looked ready to receive Madrid’s attack.
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Much like most predators however, Madrid’s opening act of aggression did not come from an excruciating exchange of aggression between predator and prey, but through a brilliant streak of attacking instinct that catches Zaragoza off guard: their now-signature lightning-quick counter attack. Real Madrid’s opening goal came off a counter-attacking blitzkrieg that completely carved Zaragoza open. Like a pack of rabid wolves, Ronaldo, Marcelo, and Ozil combined with blinding speed, catching Zaragoza flat-footed and leaving ex-Atleti keeper (and thus a favorite victim for Real Madrid) Leo Franco completely at the mercy of Ozil. Last night, the German went a long way to erase the impression that he doesn’t thrive away from the Bernabeu (he’ll need a few opponents of better quality than Zaragoza to completely do that).
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Ozil’s opening goal, was then followed by a spectacular display of effective attacking and relentless pressing every time they lost the ball (if only we did this against Barca at the Camp Nou). Marcelo was single-handedly destroying them on the left flank (with a relatively subdued Ronaldo!) while Lassana Diarra put on a performance that was as good as pounding his fist on the table of Mourinho’s office as if to say: I deserve to start! The little Frenchman with the Sperm-Whale-shaped head put his full range of skills to use: pressing and wrestling his opponents when they had the ball, showcasing his close-quarter dribbling ability, combined with his teammates, performing American-Football-style bodychecks to beat off Zaragoza players from his teammates who had the ball… and even almost scoring a goal himself. It was a hands-down man-of-the-match performance for him.
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In the midst of the little Frenchman’s superb midfield display was also Cristiano Ronaldo’s thunderous freekick that was as close to a heat-seeking missle as I’ve ever seen on a football pitch. Angel Di Maria’s goal from Xabi Alonso’s looping pass made us all pretty sure that the only thing that was still in question would be the extent of Madrid’s win.
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Wolf or Kitten?

Benzema needs to sharpen up his killer instinct and get his mind off cutie-pie kittens if he wants to run with this pack of Wolves.
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Despite yet another convincing win for Real Madrid, Madridisimo’s eyes however were all still-fixated upon mid-week hat trick hero Karim Benzema. Fresh off such an impressive performance against Auxerre, was the French striker going to stamp his authority in this match to show that he deserved his place in the team? Despite putting in a decent effort, I’d have to say unfortunately however, that he should have done better. I felt that he was a bit off the pace, relative to his teammates (this time with the lighting quick Ozil as Di Maria). Some chances that came along could have been better dealt with too (including the one that seemed to have had Mourinho going ‘use your bloody elbows!’). Sevilla and Levante await us to cap off 2010: and Benzema better prove himself a Wolf rather than a Kitten.
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A bright spot shone on the striking department last night though: after Pablo Sarabia’s debut in the Champions League, Alvaro Morata had his last night: coming on in the dying minutes of the game. It didn’t matter to the young canterano however as he was clearly keen to show off the fire in his belly: several times, looking like he might be able to score the goal that Benzema couldn’t manage. It is quite possible that the last time we sent on a young Canterano to his debut at the La Romareda, he became one of the true legends of the club… a fellow by the name of Raul… remember him? I hope it’s a good premonition. Morata might likely go on to take his place as a substitute for the remaining games this year (I hope)… and I do hope to see him open his goal-scoring account and perform well enough to get the directors of the club, along with Mourinho to decide that we’ve got the striking department all sorted out.
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Looking Forward



Football Fans Know Better
My preferred XI vs. Sevilla. Some might prefer to keep Lass at midfield after how he played last night. But would the slow-footed Albiol be able to cope with the likes of Capel / Navas / Perrotti?
Up next for us are Sevilla. They were expected to thrive this season yet they’re shockingly performing below par under the guidance of last season’s standout manager Gregorio Manzano. They still boast of a nasty frontline (Luis Fabiano, Fredi Kanoute and Alvaro Negredo): and a couple of wingers capable of giving anyone a heart attack (Capel, Navas and Perrotti). It will be a match without Marcelo, Xabi Alonso (suspended) and Sergio Ramos (injured). Do we keep Lass at midfield after such a great performance these last 2 games? Or do we slot him in at RB to cope with Sevilla’s speedy wingers instead of the slow-footed Albiol who has played at RB at times too? Who comes on for Xabi Alonso to sit beside Khedira if Lass plays RB? Diarra V1.0? Granero?
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Lemme know what you think.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Waiting to Vanquish the Ghosts of Champions Leagues-Past


'Forget about Dzeko: I'm here.' That's what Karim Benzema told Madridismo last Wednesday with his performance
So it was supposed to be a meaningless dead rubber between guaranteed group leaders Real Madrid and group bottom-feeders Auxerre last Wednesday… regardless of that, I still got up at 3:45am Singapore time to see the match (Damn Singtel’s Mio TV for not showing it! You guys wasted my money last Wednesday – thank God for streaming), nevermind that I had to lumber about like a zombie during the morning till I managed to scurry over to a Starbucks to get a Venti. I’m happy to say that the performance was worth the interrupted sleep.
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Real Madrid played pretty much an entire Second Team last Wednesday, complete with 2nd-in-command Aitor Karanka in the dugout. The selection was probably still done by Mourinho: which was disappointing for me given Ronaldo’s place in the starting XI. Being one yellow card away from suspension, it was also not worth risking injury to our 96m man in a dead rubber match in my opinion: giving an opportunity to the likes of Morata and Sarabia (who thankfully managed to get his debut) would have been the better option. Carvalho and Marcelo’s inclusion in the starting XI was a letdown for me too: I’d have liked to see our ageing CB alonng with our only real Left Back given a rest in favor of Garay and Mateos (with Albiol or Lass at RB).
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Sarabia made his debut. Despite his clear technical ability, I thought his first touch was a tad lacking in finesse. Maybe it was just the nerves.
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The star of the show last Wednesday of course would have to be Hat-Trick hero Karim Benzema. 10,160 meters run (according to AS) , 3 goals – one from each foot, and another from the head. Granted that it was against a weaker opponent, the hat trick will nevertheless give him a much needed boost to his confidence. Perhaps the game could also serve as a great example for him that more effort out there on the pitch usually yields good results for him.
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The unsung heroes of the Auxerre game would have to be the 2 Diarras. Diarra v1.0 controlled the game well and his presence in covering ground as well as keeping play simple and clear was a huge help for the team. Lass on the other hand, turned in a vintage display with his physical brand of ball-winning and pressure to keep the midfield in check. The icing on the cake for him of course had to have been his long looping assist for Benzema’s 2nd goal.
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For the other second string starters, while Arbeloa turned in his typical solid display, I did feel that Albiol and Carvalho looked a bit shaky in the few times that Auxerre managed to create something (including what looked to me like a legitimate penalty claim for Auxerre that was denied by the referee). Pedro Leon started brightly but faded late on: I do think that he’d be a far more effective player if only we managed to bring in a real ‘9’ striker for him to send those crosses to. Granero on the other hand had some tidy touches, but was largely unspectacular.
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At 37 years old, he's won a Champions League title (as a hero of the final) and a La Liga title. It's time I think for Dudek to hang up his gloves and let a Canterano take his place as Iker's backup.
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Perhaps the last subplot for the match would be poor Jerzy Dudek’s injury. The 37-year old played only his 11th game for Real Madrid in 4 years (his participation in our disastrous Copa Del Rey campaigns in recent past are of course to blame for this). The Pole, despite his numerous shaky moments in the past did out on an Iker-like performance in the first half, only to smash and fracture his jaw late in the first half. It was great to see his performance get a reward from the Bernabeu though: with the fans chanting his name upon his substitution for Antonio Adan, who managed to get his Champions League debut.
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Boss(que) of the Year?
The Italian Press are reporting that World-Cup winning coach Vicente Del Bosque is going to be awarded the inaugural FIFA coach of the year award: besting the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
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I’m pretty sure that Mourinho, the self-proclaimed favorite for the trophy will be let down because of this. I’m pretty comfortable about Pep not getting the award this year given that his Barcelona went down in both the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey last season. He would have deserved it the year before when Barca won its treble - he'll likely spend the next couple of years dogfighting Mourinho for this anyway. 
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The Mourinho-Del Bosque debate is a tough one given the fact that Mourinho won everything there was for him to win last season: a Scudetto, the Copa Italia and the Champions League: reviving the careers of the likes of poor Balon D’ Or snubees Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito – turning them from ‘good players’ into world class ones. Del Bosque on the other hand managed to win the world’s most hard-to-win trophy: the World Cup, following a massively successful qualification campaign. Del Bosque’s accomplishment is no joke given that the World Cup is a tournament where the smallest of mistakes usually means an early plane ticket home. Unless Del Bosque can carry on to win Euro 2012, winning this might be his last chance.
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As for Mourinho, deserving of the award this season or not, I’m pretty sure that he will win it at some point in time in his still-young career. In fact, deserving as he may be, I’d rather see Mourinho win it for his accomplishments as Real Madrid manager rather than for what he has accomplished with the Nerrazuri.
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And Now on to our Annual Deathtrap


AS' Probability Study of the possible Last 16 Champions League Matchups

Now that match day 6 of the Champions League group stage has finally concluded, we can now look forward to our potential Champions League executioner in our annual European stumbling block. The potential rivals for the next round are: Inter, Arsenal (supposedly the biggest possibility), Roma, Lyon, Marseille and Copenhagen. Italian romanticists would probably prefer to see a Real Madrid-Inter matchup, and Real Madrid pragmatists would prefer Copenhagen.
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I on the other hand would prefer Arsenal, Roma or Lyon. I wish to revisit the ghosts of Champions Leagues past to be given the opportunity to vanquish them. I can still remember the dagger Thierry Henry stuck into Madridisimo’s heart many years back in the Bernabeu… Roma’s poor but winning display at the Stadio Olimpico that gave us hope to recover the tie only to be further humiliated at the Bernabeu… and the anguish caused by Lyon’s Miralem Pjanic last season. My heart yearns for revenge. And though my mind urges caution at the cost of a second humiliation, I have reason to believe that the work of the Dark Wizard Jose Mourinho can get us through and purge these demons once and for all. It'd be nice if Schalke07 can draw one of them and Raul to destroy them with goals to take his tally as European Club Football's greatest goalscorer - that would make for some beautiful poetic justice. If it is at all possible, I’d like Bayern after that so I can finally have the opportunity to gloat at Marc Van Bommel and his ilk (after all, we no longer have Roberto Carlos to lose the ball and concede a goal in a matter of minutes).
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Let Barca take care of the likes of Man U, Chelsea and Spurs. Let them show those stupid English pundits how delusional they really are about the ‘power’ of their English playerless-English Football. A few 5-0s should do the job. I'm sure we'd be perfectly capable of repeating the feat next season anyway.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Strikers, Golden Balls and Guinea Pigs…

Cristiano vs. Messi… Again!?!??!
This whole Messi vs. Ronaldo business being propagated by the Madrid Press is pathetic. Didn't Messi put this debate to bed during the last El Clasico?
It looked to me like last week’s El Clasico has so convincingly proven that Lionel Messi’s current level is currently in another planet compared to any other player here on Earth. I remember being asked by my wife the night of the El Clasico over dinner who I considered to be the better player. I remember stuttering, struggling to explain my answer which in the end turned out to be something along the lines of:
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‘They can’t really be compared because they’re not the same… Messi is this good because he’s played within the Barca system all his life. So if things don’t go well, his instinct will be to play within the Barca system whereas Ronaldo is more individualistic. But Ronaldo’s an aerial threat (someone you can know the ball up to) and he’s got that nasty free kick too… blah, blah, blah...’
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Last week, Messi put the whole discussion to bed not by adding to his Real Madrid hitlist total, but by demonstrating yet another dimension to his game that many a Madridista (including this one) failed to give him credit for: his capabilities as a playmaker: to drop deep and mix it up with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets to Tiki-Taka their opponents to death.
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Yet pathetically, yesterday’s AS has re-cranked up the whole Messi-vs.-Ronaldo debate yet again. As if to say ‘Messi might be the better player, but Ronaldo’s the better goalscorer! Heh!’, they gloated over how Ronaldo bites right back at Messi every time the little Argentine threatened his goalscoring record: matching hat trick with a hat trick, a brace with a brace and so on. This has gotten really pathetic… and has also gotten me to question this whole notion of the Madrid press helping the team out. It’s not helping you idiots: you guys are only goading CR7 to reverting back to his go-for-personal-glory-at-all-costs mentality… something we’ve been seeing less and less of because of the work of Mourinho.
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Pipita Opts to not have surgery
Reports indicate that Pipita has decided not to go for surgery and should be back in 4 weeks. With only a handful of games to go this year (a dead rubber vs. Auxerre, away to strugglers Zaragoza, at home to tricky Sevilla and a Copa Del Rey Clash vs. Levante) + Spain’s famous winter break, the timing may actually not be so bad. Sevilla will be the only tricky prospect while using the likes of Auxerre, Zaragoza & Levante as gunea pigs to test the mettle of the likes of Benzema, Morata or even Jesse wouldn’t be very risky. I hope.
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Speaking of risks, there is still some degree of risk from this idea of sitting the injury out to let it heal… as it might turn out be a potential perpetual problem until surgery is employed to sort it out. Looking at the fixture list, I’m now hoping that Pipita and even Kaka can be ready come the weekend of 9 January when Villarreal pay us a visit.
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Dzeko, Milito, Morata?
From all accounts, Dzeko seems to be the Real Deal = but at 40m? I'm pretty sure that you can get significantly less for Fernando Llorente after you bargain down his 36m buyout. Did I mention that he's Spanish too? And proven in La Liga? All you need to do is wait till the summer
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The Real Madrid press, really can’t get their head out of their ass on this one eh? With Pipita out for a month, they’ve cranked up the rumor mill once again. The flavor of the week is of course Wolfsburg’s Serbian Striker Edin Dzeko. Bereft of Champions League football this season while adrift at 13th place in the Bundesliga, the Big ‘9’, who also fits Mourinho’s supposed-type for a striker. While signing him does make sense on some levels, bringing him in would certainly raise plenty of questions re: the current squad:
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-Are we really giving up on Benzema?
-What happens when Pipita’s recovered? We’ll have 50m-worth of striking talent sitting on the bench? (75m if Dzeko leaves for his supposed 40m valuation + Benzema at 35m are sitting)
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As frustrating as Benzema has been this season (and the last), I really do think that he should be given the rest of the season to prove himself to us: injured Pipita or not. And even without Pipita, I do believe that some tinkering of the team shape (Trivote, Rombo, etc.) should offer us enough options especially when the not-exactly-goal-shy Kaka returns. Then of course, there’s also the matter of having Cantera Boys Morata and even Jesse getting a ‘trial run’.
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There are some other even more ridiculous rumors: such as Diego Milito or Hugo Almeida. Both are cup tied, so signing them would be an act of stupidity that can only be matched by Mijatovic. Besides, I’m not really sure that Almeida is Real Madrid material. As for Milito, I actually quite fancied the idea of brining him in during the striker-injury crisis 2 seasons ago when he was still at Genoa. They said at the time that it was impossible. Nevermind that Mourinho managed to bring him to Inter eventually and win the Champions League with his 2 goals. Mijatovic instead chose to buy the supposedly-not cup-tied Huntelaar. We all know how that went down. Uff.
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The Barca’lon D’ Or
The first ever FIFA Balon D’ Or shortlist is out: and lookey-lookey: it’s an all-La Masia affair with Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta out. All three are deserving in my opinion. I’m NOT going to join the outcry of injustice that’s been coming out of a lot of pro-Real Madrid outlets though: expressing outrage at the exclusion of Wesley Sneijder.
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While I do believe that Wesley Sneijder deserves to be in the final 3, having LED Inter to a Coppa Italia, a Scudetto and a Champions League title in one season plus a World Cup final appearance after scoring a tournament-high 5 goals… I do believe that his exclusion, while disappointing and questionable is not cause for outrage or calls of scandal and bias.
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Despite being the best player on the planet, Messi did play below his own standard in the WC, and by virtue of that, my vote doesn’t go to him.
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Could Barca and Spain have won La Liga and the WC without Iniesta? It would have been extremely difficult but not impossible.
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Could Barca and Spain have won La Liga and the WC without Xavi? Impossible. Xavi gets my vote (if it ever counted, hahaha).
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Guti
Gone Guti Gone... Canterano or Not, with this behavior, I'm happy he's gone.

Thank God Guti No longer plays for Real Madrid. Click on this link to read some more. ‘Nuff Said.
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Auxerre Experiment
Football Fans Know Better
I totally wouldn't mind seeing this 'experiment' tomorrow. What the heck, give 'em a shot right?
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As a prelude to tomorrow’s Champions League match vs. Auxerre, UEFA has given us a ‘discount’ from the punishment meted out to us for Jose Mourinho’s yellow card Black Jack antics. The money isn’t so much of a worry given Real Madrid’s deep pockets. I initially worried about the 2nd of Mourinho’s 2 game suspension too. It turns out that it wasn’t something to worry about given that the 2nd one was a suspended sentence (i.e. be a good boy for the next 3 years or we won’t lay this down on you). So by and large, it was a pretty irrelevant ‘discount’.
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Tomorrow, we host Auxerre for a match so meaningless that Jose Mourinho is said to be willing to give Jerzy Dudek his first minutes for the season. I’m hoping to see a lineup that will put to full use our largely untapped team of first team substitutes & reserves: Mateos, Arbeloa, Albiol, Garay, the 2 Diarras, Granero, Pedro Leon, Benzema & even Morata. That already looks like a starting XI!. Should they be chosen to play, they should play not as if they were guinea pigs being tested for competence by Mourinho but that Auxerre are the guinea pigs being tested for competence by this 2nd-string Real Madrid.
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Either way, I’m looking forward to see it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Trivote? Or a Diamond?

2 Goals for Ronaldo who kept himself 2 Goals ahead of Messi in the Pichihi Rankings. He played like Monday never happened.
"The most important thing for us tonight was to win a complicated match following a the terrible result we earned in our previous encounter."
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"It was more important not to suffer at the start of the game than to attack too much given that we lacked some confidence and self-esteem. That's why I changed the lineup. Conceding a goal could have destroyed the confidence and self-esteem we had left. That's why I decided to use a fuller, more pressurising and defensively stronger midfield. It wasn't the day to play a great game or score many goals."
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From Jose Mourinho’s post-game quotes, following last night’s win vs. Valencia at the Bernabeu, he was still employing his skills as a Sports Psychologist. Employing the much-criticized ‘trivote’ (by the Madrid press at least) against Valencia both as a psychological tool (opting to win the game in the 2nd half or by ‘safer means’ even if the lead is obtained in the first half) and as a response to the loss of Gonzalo Higuain. I suppose this also (directly or indirectly) allows Mourinho to express to Karim Benzema how he feels about him at this point.
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With regards to the absences we had on defense, Carvalho’s suspension from Yellow Card accumulation and Ramos’ suspension from his moment of madness (something he duly apologized for later on in the week – for which I applaud him) wasn’t too much of a worry. This Real Madrid squad is stacked with talent when it comes to the defenders: the ‘poly-valent’ Arbeloa can seamlessly slot in either fullback role (who filled in for Ramos) while we also have 2 La Liga starting XI-calibre Central Defenders. Raul Albiol stepped in last night to renew last season’s defensive partnership with Pepe while Garay also finally made the squad list for the first time since going down with an injury this seasion. The defense was of course not something that neither Madridisimo nor Mourinho really had to worry about:
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"I wasn't worried about having to use Albiol and Arbeloa in the starting eleven. They are very important players. They are both very good, serious and true team workers. They work to the fullest and they've always played well this season. This was Albiol's first league game as a starter in the present campaign and he was fantastic. It wasn't a problem for us not to have Ramos and Carvalho. I knew Albiol and Arbeloa would respond well."
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The Trivote – Defensively Solid yet Offensively Incisive

The Key to Last Night's Trivote was Ozil at the Center of the Front 3, and Dropping Deep to Connect with, and be protected by the 2 Bodyguards he shared with Xabi Alondo: 'Carilleros' Lass & Khedira
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Contrary to naively popular opinion, the ‘Trivote’, or rather, this Trivote by Mourinho is NOT Defensive. Mourinho, reverting to the midfield he used away to Auxerre in the Champions League, employed a line of 3 in front of his defensive line: consisting of Xabi Alonso, Lass & Khedira. Width on the pitch was provided by having 2 natural wingers up front (Ronaldo and Di Maria + Ozil who has a tendency to drift wide too) along with the fullbacks (Marcelo & Arbeloa) who freely bombed forward throughout the match.
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With 3 midfielders, including 2 hyper-active ball-winners (Lass and Khedira), the battle at the center of the pitch wasn’t going to be a worry, despite the fact that Unai Emery chose to employ a lone-striker formation to add yet another chapter to should-I-use-1-striker-or-2-striker-system to his ongoing public conundrum. Aside from the center of the pitch, the Trivote also helps in considerably in protecting the flanks as any space left vulnerable from counterattacks (left behind by the fullbacks) can allow one of the midfield 3 to seal it up while still keeping 2 CMs at the center of the pitch.
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The Auxerre Trivote vs. the Valencia Trivote

Football Fans Know Better
Last Night, the Trivote became a Narrow Diamond
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The interesting point that ‘s come out of last night’s execution of the Trivote however was how it behaved as an offensive system. Against Auxerre, a forward line consisting of Benzema, Higuain & Ronaldo was used (see diagram in this older post) – with Ozil going to the bench. Last night, without Higuain, the front line comprised of Ronaldo, Ozil & Di Maria. Despite the media’s starting XI showing Ronaldo as the central, striker, it was actually Ozil who mostly took the central position, but dropping deeper (see diagram above), filling up the ‘hole’ left between the forward line and the Carilleros that we had the last time we used the Trivote against Auxerre (see diagram below):




The Trivote used against Auxerre: Ozil was on the bench and with the forward line tending to drift wide rather than drop deep, there was a 'hole' between the carilleros and the forward line which needed the presence of a white shirt to keep things linked up in forward positions.
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The result was a narrow midfield Diamond with Xabi Alonso as the deep-lying playmaking pivot while Lass and Khedira’s work-rate was employed to full use as Carilleros. With Ozil dropping deep from the forward line, it not only allowed him to play his favored ‘10’ position, but it also allowed him to do so under the protection of Xabi Alonso’s 2 Bodyguards: the Carilleros (Khedira & Lass). In effect, the system allows both Xabi Alonso AND Ozil, the team’s 2 main passing ‘hinges’ to perform their role while ‘under protection’. With Ozil dropping deep, offensive passing combinations are increased considerably and created quite a number of goal-scoring chances (including a couple for Khedira!): albeit none of them were converted. In other words, the one unfortunate thing that happened last night was that last night’s goals happened with the reversion back to the 4-2-3-1 after Benzema came on for Khedira and after Abelda’s sending off. In truth however, I’d have to say that this Trivote, or rather, this narrow diamond midfield actually has a lot of potential.
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A Window for Other Possibilities
The potential of this Trivote / Narrow-Diamond reveals plenty of possibilities for us given the characteristics of the current squad: with 2 Diarras, Gago and Granero as midfield options for the team (as viable substitutes for the members of the ‘Trivote’). Once available, the glut of attacking midfielders that we have can also be deployed for this (Kaka, Ozil & Canales). On the striking department, in the absence of Higuain, permutations between Ronaldo, Di Maria, Benzema and even Pedro Leon can be used for this (with the Ronaldo + Di Maria being the most potent option in the absence of Pipita). Last night was perhaps a very good demonstration that there are ways to move on without having to spend 40m Eurose on Edin Dzeko even if the trust on Morata isn’t there yet.
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Ronaldo keeps up with Messi
The game will of course be remembered for Ronaldo’s 2 strikes. The first comes off what is now becoming a classic move: Real Madrid’s lighting counterattack with Ronaldo scoring off yet another assist from Mesut Ozil. The second came off an impressive ball-winning sequence from Lass who decided to make an American-Football-style run to literally physically clear-out the path for Ronaldo to run and score… he was clearly not interested to score as evidenced from Ronaldo’s baffled look when Lass opted to not run into space into the box: a hilarious goal! Ronaldo’s 2 goals keeps him ahead of Messi in the Pichichi standings. It’s all we can settle for in the meantime with Barca now ahead of us by 2 points.
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In the final analysis, perhaps the most critical aspect of last night’s win was the team’s recovery despite all that has happened this past week. And it’s been a LOT: the 5-0 against Barcelona, Ramos & Carvalho’s Suspension and Pipita’s injury… all under the spotlight of the World Media. Against a Valencia side who have been proving themselves worthy of a place in Europe, Mourinho’s men reacted brilliantly have gone some way to put the 5-0 battering at Barca’s hands behind them. With 24 matches and 72 points to play for, there’s plenty of time to make up the lost points. To do that however, the team needs to get back on track INSPITE of the suspensions, the injuries, the shenanigans, and the pressure from the world or even from the manangement. Last night’s win gave us 3 points and +2 goals in the Goal Difference Chart (and Ronaldo’s personal stats)… in the bigger scheme of things however, it was worth much more than that.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Knee-Jerk Reactions


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In the wake of last Monday’s humiliation (Yes Jose, it was a humiliation, if it wasn’t to you, it was to Madridisimo), I sought solace with fellow Madridistas to ponder the loss at my favorite Real Madrid Blog – The Offiside. It’s a great place for a level-headed, humble discussion about Real Madrid. It’s not a hotspot for hate-filled extremist bigots (though inevitably some of them do drop by to incite things)…
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Sometimes, things do happen that change you in a way that you’re never quite the same after they happen. Last Monday’s catastrophe may actually be one such event. And as we wake up to this new day, Madridisimo must fight on and ensure that we know how to take last Monday’s catastrophe the right way. We must learn to engage with what has happened in the proper way so that we may move forward in the right direction: reacting the wrong way by letting our kneejerk reactions take a hold of us from what has happened will only send us into the kind of downward spiral the club was in the Dark Days of Florentino’s last couple of years in charge during his first term. It is with this where I find myself pondering some of the thoughts of many a panicking Madridista that has come out in the blogosphere. Here are some of them:
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Let’s Fire Mourinho and let the Coaching Carousel start up again
This is the kind of idiocy and madness that got us here in the first place. After killing the first team’s only coaching link to Real Madrid’s rich heritage by firing Vicente Del Bosque, we ended up hiring pretender-type coaches who couldn’t manage to bring us titles. Soon enough we did manage to get ourselves a real title-winning coach whom we hired out of desperation for silverware, only to fire him for his unattractive football later on (Capello). And after putting some pretty good (Juande & Pellegrini) and pretty awful (Schuster) coaches into the pressure cooker that is the coach’s seat with the expectation to 1.) win & 2.) play beautifully and see them fail… we now finally have Jose Mourinho. At first he appeared to be a Capello-esque hiring with his reputation for 1-0 wins and extensive list of titles. After 12 La Liga, 5 Champions League & 2 Copa Del Rey matches, the self-dubbed Special One has indeed turned Real Madrid into quite a Special team: winning one game after another, while developing a machine-like ability to be a hell-on-a-pitch personified for their opponents… until Barca came along.
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Handed a 4 year contract, Mourinho has taken Real Madrid not by storm, but has shaken it down to its foundations even: affecting change not just in the usual way a coach controls the first team but also beyond: controlling relations with the media, the physical infrastructure, and even casting a close eye on the Cantera. He is bringing a kind of change into Real Madrid that not even Florentino imagined: the kind of change that we need so badly… the kind of changes and overall outlook and direction for this club that’s been missing for so long… the kind of changes we need to set the club back on track in setting the foundations for what can be an almost Barca-like direction to the club’s football identity.
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Firing Mourinho would cost a lot of money, finding a replacement of such caliber is impossible. And all in all, it would just be galactically stupid.
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The Foreigners of the team don’t understand what the badge means, Let’s get rid of them and replace them with Canteranos!
Football Fans Know Better
Valdebebas vs. La Masia: Would we have been better off this way?
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This second bit has been something that’s been echoed by many Madridistas for quite sometime now. It is a sentiment that lives within the heart and soul of every Madridista. The feeling is made that much more compelling of course when Madrid fans looks eastward and find that cross-country eternal rivals Barcelona have assembled a team almost completely comprised of their own Canteranos… the same players who comprised the core of Spain’s World Cup winning team and the same players who tore our team apart at the Camp Nou last Monday.
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Here’s the thing about Canteras and Canteranos though: A good Cantera can almost guarantee a stream of good graduates. A great Cantera however, cannot guarantee a stream of GREAT graduates. Barcelona and Real Madrid are both more than 100 years old. For Barca, it has taken them more than a century to produce this golden generation. It might take another century, for their next to come. If you're waiting for Real Madrid's next Goden Generation - maybe you'll need to wait 100 years too. Actually, we did have a Golden Generation sometime back: we called them Quinta Del Buitre (5 consecutive La Liga titles). Manchester United once had a Golden Generation too: their legacy stretches to this very day: with the likes of Scholes, Giggs and Gary Neville still the soul of their club, while the likes of Phil Neville remains a mainstay at Everton… and of course David Beckham, once a galactico, is now carrying the sport of ‘Soccer’ in the US.
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Golden Generations come and go. They come at the will of God, not as policy of a club. Laporta, fortunate enough to be president of Barca during this Golden Generation, of course sold it as Barca’s ‘club policy’. I urge both Cules and Madridistas to look back 100 years and find themselves another Barca team capable of the feats of this batch that’s comprised primarily of Canteranos..
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I once heard Frederic Hermel (the French Journalist who writes for AS) say: “Real Madrid are no longer just the club of Madrid… it is no longer just the club of Spain. Real Madrid are the club of the world.” It is true. Real Madrid are the first club to embrace the notion of being the club of the world. To boast a team that won the European Cup 5 times while led by a core of the best players from all over the world (Di Stefano – Argentina / Colombia / Spain, Puksas – Hungary, Kopa – France, etc.) is a legacy invented and propagated by Real Madrid: BEFORE any other club in the world.
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Every now and then though, we find jewels in our midst who we then groom and develop as the pillars of the team. Canteranos like Raul & Casillas have grown as emblems of the club and now take their place in the Pantheon of the Blancos’ Football Gods. Real Madrid is 108 years old – and is the biggest club in the world. It would be silly to ‘box it in’ to this almost self-made myth that its true backbone is its Cantera.
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Granted that it’s true that the team played like a deer caught in the headlights, I totally do not buy the angle that ‘we would’ve been better off fielding our Canteranos because they understand better what it means to wear the white shirt and play against Barcelona.’ Really? To test out this ‘theory’ out, I cobbled together in my mind my best all-Cantera Real Madrid XI we can cobble together at the moment to pit against an all-Barcelona Squad. Would this lineup (see diagram above) have really made us better off last monday? I doubt it (you'd have to consider an Etoo bereft of his Barca and Inter years and TODAY's Raul).
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Despite the fact that the outcome of last Monday’s El Clasico is one that has clearly shaken Madridisimo right down to its core… it doesn’t necessarily mean that we should just light up a stick of dynamite and chuck it at this current team and at the ones who are running it. The second coming of Florentino Perez so far suggests that we are establishing a far clearer direction for the club beyond signing big name players. As much a cliché as it does sound, Mourinho is right: the team is indeed still under construction. It is clear enough that we pretty much have the right people in the right places at the club right now. They haven’t been there long enough yet but so far looks to me like they are steering us towards the right direction as a club. Our duty as supporters during this difficult time is be calm and allow them to carry out their work.
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Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. Now is the time to do the simplest yet seemingly most difficult thing to do of all: to keep our heads down and allow those in charge the necessary space and time to carry out their work and affect the needed change. The players need to do the same: to channel the reactions from the events of last Monday against Valencia this Saturday.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Aftershocks


UEFA technically have no Evidence. But if this does happen, our Champions League Campaign will be in Technically a LOT of Danger.
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Playing Cards And Going Bust
Checking my e-mail while half-asleep this morning, I discovered through Muna’s comments in my previous post that UEFA has fired their salt salvo and landed it right smack at the center of Real Madrid’s open wound: Mourinho, for his late-game, yellow-card inducing antics will be suspended for the next 2 Champions League games for Real Madrid. Casillas, Dudek, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos, along with the club were given fines too. The most painful punishment for the club would of course be Mourinho’s 2-game suspension as I’m sure that the fines can be easily taken care of by the fat paychecks of the players.
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This 2-game ban (which will likely be a Stadium Ban, not the joke of a “suspension” Mourinho received for his Copa Del Rey tussle with the referee) will include, apart from the meaningless Auxerre clash, the first leg of the Round of 16 match: the away leg. After the match and Mourinho’s Card-Playing antics, I worried:
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“...In the end, this clearly-obvious plan to ‘complete the cycle’ can backfire against Mourinho and the club as all it takes is an attention-seeking, self-righteous clown with some clout to come forward and insist on a retrospective punishment for the 'guilty'...”
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UEFA has (cleverly) hit us where it really hurts, denying us the chance for the manager to be present at the exact part of the Champions League where we have chronically failed miserably at for as long as I can remember. Their justification makes perfect sense too: if Mourinho did this because he felt that the Auxerre match was academic, then suspending him for that would’ve made no sense: making the 2-match ban logical.
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I’m not sure what strings can be pulled in the appeal process (we’ve got 3 Days) to get a ‘discount’ but we all (including Mourinho!) better pray we can get it. The ramifications could be fatal: because while many of us are level-headed enough not to expect to raise La Decima this season, we all expect (and rightly so) to get past the last 16.
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Yellow Cards and Red Cards are not Playing Cards. Mourinho tried to play Black Jack with them and now we’ve gone bust. Shit.
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Pipita’s Injury
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Football Fans Know Better
Are We Really Comfortable with This? (Benzema as our Main Striker)
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And just when getting raped 5-0 at the Camp Nou and getting Mourinho a 2-match Champions League Ban was bad enough, here comes more: Reports are now indicating that Gonzalo ‘Pipita’ Higuain might not just be niggled, but that he may need surgery and will miss a huge chunk of the season.
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With the not-yet-up-to-par Benzema as our only striking alternative, we face the prospect of going a long distance this season with only 1 striker… one who happens to still be a project.
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Football Fans Know Better
The much-criticized 'Trivote' (used away against Auxerre) yielded an 0-1 win for Madrid. I do think it's got much potential in making us an effective offensive team as well. (we can use Granero in Lass' place too for a more attack-minded approach)
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Mourinho will now need to show us his true powers (the same ones that went missing last Monday) to make the neither-living-nor-dead (i.e. Zombie) Karim Benzema come back to life and show us the player that made many of us (including me) fantasize about seeing him in a Real Madrid shirt, when he strutted his stuff during his glory days for Lyon. Otherwise, Mourinho might have to look to his bench in search for alternatives (i.e. CR7 up front): Pedro Leon as a winger to keep the 4-2-3-1? Granero behind CR7 with Ozil moving to the wing (to prove me wrong that he’s really flexible)? Or a 4-3-3 with Lass at midfield?

Football Fans Know Better
Will Mourinho give them a chance? The young Canales and the talented Granero are both talented enough to be in the starting XI. They are short of confidence though and Mourinho seems short on confidence on the both of them too
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A Pipita injury might also mean that Madrid might need to consider their options in the winter transfer window. With a month to go before it opens, it would be prudent to explore the options, however limited they might be at this time of the year (AS has even mooted the possibility of brining Werder Bremen's Hugo Almeida in... he's cup tied by the way).
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Sometimes, when things go wrong, they REALLY go wrong.
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Facing Valencia
Given all of this, we face Valencia on Saturday amid much pondering on how the Bernabeu will respond to our team… or an even more pertinent question: how will the team respond to the Bernabeu and against a Valencia side, who have shown some pretty good mettle thus far in La Liga. They also will have 2 players who would be happy to stab our hearts with goals for allowing them to slip out of the cantera: Juan Mata and Roberto Soldado.
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We will be facing Los Che’s eager attacking players without the suspended Ricardo Carvalho (yellow card accumulation) and Sergio Ramos (insanity). Luckily, our defensive line, unlike our forward line, is stocked nicely with capable subs with the more-than-capable Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa ready to step in.
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Here’s another Card-alert to note however: Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira are both on 4 yellow cards.
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Waxing Lyrical, Waxing Philosophical
Despite the fact that last Monday was probably Mourinho’s most catastrophic failure as an on-the-pitch tactician, much of his post-match statements made sense and seemed to lay the ground work for the way out of the grave that we’ve dug ourselves into:
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"… It wasn’t one of those defeats that leave a bad taste in your mouth because we didn’t deserve to lose or because the referee performed badly or because the ball hit the post. One team played as well as it could and the other played badly. It is a deserving win and a deserving defeat, which makes it easy to swallow."
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Living in an EPL-crazy town, I’ve watched Mourinho wax lyrical about how fabulously his team played even after a loss or after an utterly unconvincing 1-0 win. His post-match statements however surprised me in its humility, and peaceful acceptace of how poor we were and how great Barca was… despite the rest of the world preferring to focus on his ‘we were not humiliated’ statement and mindlessly called it denial.
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"I hope this does not affect the players psychologically. I told them exactly that. That the championship didn’t end today. Who knows if we will return to this stadium again this season? Last year I lost here with Inter and a few months later we returned, qualified for the Champions League final and they got stuck at home watching it on television. We must have character. I always tell players that they have reason to cry with joy after winning important matches. You cannot cry when you concede four or five goals. You must be anxious to return to work and win the next match… "
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Mourinho, known for his ability to get into the minds of his players to set their heads straight will have a dressing room filled with players whose brains have been turned into mashed potato following last Monday’s massacre. That the players are all very young, is also a huge factor as it is likely that much of these youngsters’ confidence has been sucked out of them. Mourinho will have to do his best work in the coming weeks to recover the team’s ‘lost innocence’… and will need to spend the weeks after turning this group of weeping puppies into a pack of depraved, blood-thirsty wolves.
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And by the way… to do that… he needs us (Madridistimo) too.