Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What A Game!

EUPHORIA: Kaka's goal, Real's 4th, giving us a 2-goal cushion - meant that all hope was lost for the sunken Yellow Submarine and that the 3 points were all ours.
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Real Madrid 4 – Villarreal 2. What a match! There are very few matches that get people to talk up the possibility of having an attractive and utterly competitive game and actually live up to it: Last Night’s encounter was one of those few times. The match was an epic-multi-layered story whose expected blockbuster appeal was further outdone by the depth of its storyline.
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Pitting La Liga’s 2nd and 3rd best teams against each other – many did view THIS Villarreal as a side that just might have the stuff to not only break their duck to notch their first win against Madrid at the Bernabeu but also hand Jose Mourinho his first home loss in 800 years. Boasting the likes of The Rossi + Nilmar show (unfornately for them, the latter was out injured), The Yellow Submarine showed off a wonderful but dying breed of attacking players – the double striker combination. Behind them, they were backed up by a magnificent piece midfield playmaking machinery – a throwback 4-4-2 formation: or rather, a rendition of the supposedly Brazilian ‘wingless’ 4-2-2-2 formation. A unique system I’d have to say – in the age of the now ubiquitous 4-2-3-1.
I still remember the days when the 4-4-2 using interiores (i.e. the 4-2-2-2) was attacked relentlessly in the days of Wanderlei Luxemburgo’s doomed coaching stint at Madrid (and Brazil’s ill-fated World Cup 2006 Campaign). It is incidentally the system instituted by ex-Real Madrid and ex-Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini (also now unreasonably reviled by certain quarters among the Real Madrid fanbase, particularly Marca’s Eduardo Inda and his ilk) – and now carried on by the menacing Javier Garrido (I swear – he looks like a New York City cop from those crime shows on TV or the basis of Bullet Tooth Tony’s character from the Guy Ritchie film ‘Snatch’).
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Tactics: The Magic Square vs. The Double Pivot
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Villarreal's narrow 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2 if you will), combined with their workrate and passing precision, and further combined with only Di Maria helping out at midfield, resulted in us being overrun at the center of the pitch. Their fullbacks provided them with width - which was why Marcelo created so much danger against them. 
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It was a game of the Magic Square (Villarreal’s 4-2-2-2) vs. the Double Pivot (Madrid’s 4-2-3-1). And during the first half: Villarreal showed us just how devastating the system can be when played the right way. The Yellow Submarine, made use of their interiores Cani and Cazorla, to tuck into the midfield. and with strikers Rossi and Ruben taking turns to drop deep to keep the chains of triangular passes going – Villarreal assembled a dizzying barrage of passing sequences that overran Real Madrid’s midfield and filtered effortlessly beyond the defense.
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There were a few critical points that led to this being so:
1.)     Villarreal’s positional flexibility and workrate: Cani, Cazorla and Borja were all over the pitch while strikers also dropped deep, ran wide and kept their offensive play fluid – a tricky system to defend against as seen during our El Clasico drubbing and when Getafe turned their midnfield engines on after Parejo’s goal.
2.)     Madrid’s application of the 4-2-3-1: Marcelo playing Dani Alves-style to capitalize on their vulnerability at the flanks with their fullbacks pushed up to provide width to their attack. To make things worse, only Di Maria, was helping out Xabi Alonso and Lass contain their midfield-on-steroids. It was their ‘2-2-2 =  6’ vs. our 3, fighting it out at midfield.
3.)     Borja Valero. Like Dani Parejo, he doesn’t have Xabi Alonso’s passing range. But when the 2 are both on, they control the midfield with their metronomic passing and by constantly making themselves available for an outlet pass to their teammates. Granero has this quality too… as does the unfortunately-retired-to-soon De La Red. They’ve all got a nifty long range shot from distance in their arsenals to boot as well. Seems like Valbebebas, and not just La Masia has been producing some top quality Xavi-esque players too.
4.)     Lassana Diarra. In a game against teams eager to keep their shape out of fear for Madrid’s offensive onslaught, Lass’ pitbull-style works well. Having him chase down opposing players and use his signature-physical tackling abilities becomes a show in itself. Yet against teams that run on fluidity and movement in possession – his pitbull style becomes a weakness. With his tendency to chase the man in possession (the bait), he ends up leaving his position and renders the team shape mangled. Last Sunday night was a classic case. I suspect that the Getafe match was the same too – but his yellow card proved to be the perfect excuse for Mourinho to yank him and play the positionally disciplined workhorse Khedira. Last Sunday however, with no legit excuse, Mourinho had no choice but to confess that the Frenchman wasn’t up to it. And by the way, he should get fined for his postgame pouty antics too!
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Perhaps the only weak point with Villarreal’s shape was that it really did render their flanks vulnerable as their fullbacks were their only source of width – leaving acres of space for speed demon wingbacks like Marcelo to wreak havoc and initiate counter attacks. With that exception, we were totally dominated by Villarreal and were indeed lucky to head into halftime at 2-2 – with only the interplay between Benzema, Ozil and Ronaldo the source of joy. I’d have to say hwoever that Ronaldo’s second goal was something to be truly thankful for – given his usually insistence to take free kicks. In this instance where the angle was tight for him to shoot however, Xabi Alonso’s looping delivery found his head in his display of his qualities as a ‘9’.
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It's impossible not to contemplate how critical Ronaldo's second goal was: it was arguably the goal that completely broke the will of Villarreal. It was as if to tell them that no matter how well they played: they still wouldn't be able to beat us - that they were up against some force of nature that had the complete power to impose it's will on them, no matter what they did. Logic would tell us of course that it was merely a case of poor defending, combined with Ronaldo's natural instincts as a goalscorer... and of course - a good dose of luck.
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Tactics: Mourinho’s Shock and Awe plan works, sending Garrido’s men into retreat.

Mourinho’s statements after the match prove how well he understands his current predicament in La Liga: that winning it boils down to winning everything plus the next Clasico: a slip up is not possible. It was with this in his mind that he confessed to deciding to roll the dice much earlier that he would normally would have done in Portugal, England or Italy.
Out came the pouty perpetually loosely-positioned Lass and in came the more positionally disciplined Khedira.
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Along with what was a presumably good scolding for his team to wake up after delivering what was probably an unwitting psychological death blow to Villarreal with Ronaldo’s equalizing goal to make it 2-2 by halftime, Mourinho rolled the dice on a move I never thought I’d see him do. Still with a view to securing the back line especially in areas where the pace of the likes of Cazorla and Rossi can harm Madrid, ‘Mou’ altered the team shape to what looked to me like a formation I only get to see / use when I play FIFA 2011 on my PSP: a 3-5-2:
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Football Fans Know Better
Mourinho's Offensive: Marcelo and Di Maria push up to render Villarreal's fullbacks as offensive non-factors in the second half. A tired and demoralized Villarreal midfield drowned without support from their flanks.
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With Ramos switching to a Left-sided Central role, he essentially parked a 3-man center ‘wall’ to cover Casillas. He then had Marcelo push further up the pitch in a role he was placed in during the Juande Ramos days: as left-sided midfielder aligned alongside Di Maria. It was a move that neutralized Villarreal’s ability to play an expansive game as their fullbacks, particularly Angel had to worry about Ronaldo and Marcelo being in more advanced positions. Doing this also tilted the numbers game at midfield to our favor: 5 Real Madrid Midfielders to 4 Villarreal midfielders with no outlet to wider positions because of their fullbacks’ new predicament. The strikers also now didn’t have it so easy as it was also a 3 vs. 2 matchup with Ramos joining the fray. The plan worked brilliantly: forcing Garrido to admit that all there was left for him to play for was a draw – who sent a defender on to salvage the point…. Only for Mourinho to turn the screw further – sending Kaka on for Albiol and turning Khedira into a makeshift defender. It was the kind of positive thinking that Madridisimo wanted to see – that it worked out brilliantly is the stuff that gets Madridisimo to worship the coach.
Up front, we also saw a more active Benzema who put in a good number of shifts in the second half in pressing Villarreal’s defense when they won the ball. So despite the criticism leveled at the Frenchman for his performance last Sunday, I’d have to say that to me he wasn’t actually too bad.  
His performance of course was overshadowed by the display of Real Madrid’s very own firestorm-in-football-boots: Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger/striker was Villarreal’s hellbringer: scoring his 4th hat trick of the season and bringing his goal tally to a ridiculous 22 goals in 18 league games and 30 goals in 27 matches this season. His monstrous numbers in his short Real Madrid career thus far are even more staggering: 63 goals in 62 appearances. He’s on course for me to forget that he cost 96m Euros. What a game. What a player.
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And what a game. An Epic game – starting out in a manner that suggested Madrid’s doom only for a stroke of carelessness (or luck?) to allow Madrid back in with a shout. And as with every epic, the outcome is decided by a bold leader and a fearless hero.
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Bravo Mourinho
Bravo Ronaldo

8 comments:

  1. An epic game maybe. Not an epic performance though. We were sliced open and outplayed. True we pulled it back in the second half, thnaks to Mourinho's tactical switches and sheer bloody mindedness. But that won't do against top class opposition. What is most depressing is that it doesnt appear that we learned anything from the Barca game. The fragile double pivot needs to go. We need to find a way to pack the midfield.

    Evolve or die.

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  2. The problem with the current double pivot is the gap between the front and the back 6 when we don't have the ball. Only Di Maria tracks back when we don't have the ball.

    You are right though that Mourinho should consider employing a different system when facing tougher opposition.

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  3. @caracoleo

    This was pretty much 'top class opposition', as far as La Liga goes at least.

    Good write up, MM (always a pleasure reading your thoughts, btw). I remember during the interval thinking, this is the test. This is the test for Mourinho to prove he is as good as his reputation and to prove he's learned from the Barcelona game. I have to say I ended up pleasantly surprised. Bravo Mourinho!!

    I'll have to look out for your point about the tracking back of our forwards. I never really notice it, but if you're correct then hopefully that is something we can improve on. Because Inter last season really had everyone helping out in defense, bar Milito and it really helped them.

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  4. Dude AMAZING ANALYSIS. I would have to agree though, Mourinho worked his magic and made it happen for us. However, do you have any ideas for the next clasico? I have no idea how Mourinho is going to prep for that one.

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  5. @ Anonymous#2:
    1.) Please Leave your name so I can address you :)

    2.) I wish I knew how we could cope with Barca in in the next clasico - As I'm not entirely sure if Mourinho's 2nd half plan vs. Villarreal can work from the start of a match. I do suppose that if I did figure out what the correct game plan was, then I'd have to be some tactical genius which I'm not. :) In any case, let's just hope Mou's got more magic tricks for the coming Clasico!

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  6. Really enjoy reading your post- match analyses (esp those cute diagrams - did you make those?). Agree that it was an exciting match to watch and that this match has shown our ability to make a comeback (twice, even!).
    But I also don't think we have the answer to El Clasico II yet :S (which increases my worry almost on a daily basis!). One thing I really wish we did more is pressing. I've come to realise (forgive me if my analysis/observations aren't great as I don't have any technical knowledge on football other than watching countless footie matches!) - we never seem to do that consistently in games (well, I guess there is no need for some of our weaker opposition), but that does seem to be the key to win back the ball in the midfield. Our high line of defence was so badly exploited in the first half that I nearly switched off the TV expecting a repeat of El Clasico I! Nonetheless, we pulled through, but it also doesn't lessen my worry...
    Anyway, enough ranting - awesome blog - and really applaud you waking up at the wee hours of mornings to catch these matches (I'm from Msia but am working in the UK so I totally understand your pain!).

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  7. Hi GG-Gal - I use the website this11.com to make the diagrams :).

    Thanks for popping by to read the blog and drop your comments. I agree with you that the big worry about Real Madrid now is how to cope with teams who can outpass them and require them to press.

    The fact that Madrid hasn't been able to do this all season (vs. Barca, & Getafe when they switched on) is why the response against Villarreal last Sunday is important. Madrid must now take the next step and learn to start matches with both the mentality (the players) and the tactical setup (Mourinho) to do this. I find that the key players here are Ozil and the lethargic Benzema (As Pipita did do his fair bit of pressing).

    It's logical that we free Ronaldo of this duty as he's the one-man wrecking crew for us on the other end.

    With regards to Ozil however, I do believe that part of it is his level of fitness or stamina. He has yet to play a full 90 minutes of impressive football (he's known to tire out quickly) so perhaps this is having Kaka as an alternative becomes useful. A tired Ozil can be replaced by a fresh Kaka later in the match.

    Do keep dropping by and sharing your thoughts :)

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  8. The whole Ozil thing is tremendously worrying for me. Everyone has been singing his praises - but in my view he is a luxury we can ill afford. It is so crucial that he forms a triangle with Kedira / Lassana and Alonso when we need to press the opposition. But he leaves them stranded and the team is cut in half. Benzema cannot be expected to defend more than Ozil, as he is our centre forward! Nevertheless, he is still often seen dropping deep, pressurising opposing defenders. But that isnt the real problem, which is further down the pitch. Maybe Ozil / Kaka should only be regarded as game changers coming off the bench. Maybe what we really need is a box to box specialist.

    Fabregas?

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