Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Breaking the Code



In reviewing the outcome of Real Madrid's 2-0 victory against Sevilla, Sid Lowe in his recent podcasts last week as well as in his guest spots at Real Madrid TV cleverly pointed out how Real Madrid had essentially ruined their streak of binary-code-like scorelines for the past few games.
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1-1, 0-1, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0... that was until Ozil and Adebayor's goals sealed our place in the Copa Del Rey Final with our 2-0 scoreline.
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And if the midweek spelled the end of the Binary-Code-like scorelines, last Sunday's result totally destroyed the pattern altogether... and along with it, Cristiano Ronaldo's supposed goal-scoring crisis.
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Last Sunday, without the worries of an upcoming midweek match, and only with worries of coping with the aftermath of the just-concluded Copa Del Rey Semi-final against Sevilla, Jose Mourinho was able to field an XI with hardly any restrictions. There were however a few changes that were made to the XI comapred to what we probably would have expected to see considering that we all now know what Jose Mourinho's first choice XI would be.
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At the back, Sergio Ramos' suspension meant the return of Marcelo to Left Back and the automatic choice for the now-Mourinho-favorite Alvaro Arbeloa at Right Back. Mourinho's all-time-favorite Carvalho took his place at the center of defense alongside... wait for it.... Ezequel Garay. As much as this may be a surprise for many, those who have been following the Madrid press probably would have been reminded of an training incident this past week that saw Mourinho give Albiol a good yell over 'being still asleep' in training. I can only speculate that this was the reason Mourinho had for deciding to start with Garay.
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At midfield, Lass made the logical move into the XI in lieu of Khedira's various knocks. The interesting midfield move however had to be Kaka's selection to be the team's '10' while the clearly-fatigued Di Maria took his place on the bench. Taking his place on the right was Ozil while Ronaldo took to his now familiar place on the left side. Up front, I think it's is now very plain to see that Jose Mourinho very much looked forward to using his new '9', Emmanuel Adebayor who played at the expense of Florentino's baby boy: Karim Benzema.
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Though the outcome was of course a very convincing win on the part of Real Madrid, it is still difficult to avoid looking at Real Sociedad and ponder on how poorly they played and they wimpy display they put on at midfield in particular. When you have 1 Rivas having to go toe to toe with Xabi Alonso and Lass, you're only going to have one outcome: the decimation of your midfield. And it is for this reason that La Real failed miserably to put in the type of challenge against Real Madrid that made it so difficult for us to get past them at the Anoeta earlier this season.
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Kaka
Having said that, we shouldn't take away the due credit that Kaka deserves for his performance last Sunday. Playing in Ozil's role behind Adebayor, the long-lost Brazilian midfielder put in an impressive 60-minute shift dropping deep to make himself available for outlet passes and played neat combinations goind forward to his 'running mates' Ozil (on the right side playing in the 'Di Maria role') and buddy Ronaldo on the left.
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It is significant to note however that despite playing a good game for Madrid, Kaka has yet to display his once-signature acceleration in his return. Will we ever see the Kaka that tore Manchester United apart several years ago in the Champions League again? From the looks of it, the answer is no. Maybe it's a matter of confidence or perhaps even apprehension on his part to 'turn the jets on' but I would sadly have to say that if Kaka's once-famous jets are no longer in his legs, then we've pretty much seen the last of his Balon D'Or-calibre days.
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This is not to say however that Kaka is doomed for the scrapheap. When Kaka went straight into the surgeon's table instead of onto Mourinho's training pitch at the beginning of the season, I began to ponder what he would look like after he is done with this whole ordeal (or rather if this ordeal is done with him). And I do remember talking about seeing him play a similar role to that of Frank Lampard in Mourinho's Chelsea. Because even if he loses the 'jets' in his legs to accelerate past defenders, Kaka will always still have the capability to link up play and make sound passes (as seen during his interplay with Ronaldo for Real's 2nd goal - watch how his pass-and-move maneuver drags the attention of a defender away from Ronaldo). He will always have that nifty long range shot too... which is why it didn't surprise me to see him score a Lampard-esque goal last Sunday... recovering a loose ball from a late run into the box to score from just outside the box. No Balon D' Or anymore... but such appearances will prove very handy for Madrid.
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Granted that we've splurged 65m Euros on him... perhaps the consolation would be this: considering Ozil cost us a mere 15m... and Canales 10m. That's 90m for 3 World-Class '10s'... one from the past (Kaka), one for the present and the immediate future (Ozil)... and another for the long term future (Canales - more on him later). That's 30m per player... now it doesn't hurt 'too much.'
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A Different Kind of Double-Pivot
Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 had quite a different look to it last Sunday. Kaka's presence on the pitch and his tendency to drop deeper to link up with Xabi Alonso and Lass (moreso than we've seen from Ozil when he plays this role) gave our rendition of the formation a different flavor. It also tempered the consequences that were normally brought about by a the usually-positionally-loose Lass Diarra. The Brazilian's tendency to release the ball immediately to initiate an interplay of passing (as opposed to Ozil's preference to motor forward with the ball) also gave pretty different look to our play (despite the massive success Ozil had in replicating Di Maria's livewire act on attack and the more familiar free-scoring version CR7 deciding to turn up).
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The biggest difference however came from up front. Mourinho's decision to start with Adebayor gives out a very strong statement as to the kind of football he is keen to play: it also sends out a chilling message to Benzema... and perhaps even Gonzalo Higuain (yikes!) that Mourinho is keen to play with a classic '9' when the choice is available to him. Whether that striker turns out to be Adebayor or Bilbao's Fernando Llorente next season on a more permanent basis is another question altogether (lending credence to my theory that all the recent talk re: Kun Aguero is a load of rubbish). Adebayor, though still not at the level he reached during his best days in Arsenal, showed us that he's not just a brutish '9' from the English game, but also showed some bright touches of the ball, some nifty passing and even displays of pace which seemed to impress the Bernabeu crowd. The 6'3 Togolese striker offers Madrid yet another option in the air (apart from Ronaldo, Ramos and Pepe) and provides us with a Target man to knock the ball up to in the box for him to poach into the goal or bring down to allow the likes of Ronaldo, Di Maria, Ozil and Kaka to latch onto and score.
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I think I pretty much understand Mourinho's fetish about having a more classic '9': someone who is able to embody the pace, technical and finishing ability of Benzema, the manic workrate and never-say-die spirit of Pipita, the poaching ability of Ruud Van Goal wrapped up in a power-packed hulk of a man. This explains his love for Drogba and why he never quite allowed Samuel Etoo to be the '9' of Inter (perhaps a look at what Pipita's role could be in the team once we get Mourinho's desired permanent '9').
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In any case, it's good to be back among the goals... to keep the rumbling press (and the mob it stirs) silent for the meantime. Nevermind that it was against a poor La Real. The formidable Cornelia El Prat beckons us this weekend. Here's to hoping got a sterner test this weekend, yet one we hope to hurdle over with our renewed trend of breaking our Binary Code-like scorelines.

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