Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So This is What Losing Feels Like

Things would've turned out VERY differently had Ronaldo scored in the couple of chances he had in the first half
It’s one thing to lose to team like Barca (regardless of the score), much less THIS Barca…
or losing a Champions League tie to a team with some form of European Pedigree…
or getting eliminated in the Copa Del Rey after trying to cheekily play a second-string team laden with Castilla hopefuls…
… it’s quite another thing to see Real Madrid get beaten the way it was done in last Sunday: with a starting XI chosen from the best available players and drilled by the serious-as-hell Jose Mourinho who is not one to lose for the lack of ferocity or cleverness.
What can I say? I guess we all found out that not even the great Jose Mourinho is immune to the curse of the Reyno De Navarre. I would have to say (and I think Mourinho agrees with me) that it was a competently put-together and executed strategy by ex-Madridista and crotch-grabber Jose Camacho. They were organized on defense and were able to get themselves constantly ready to receive our attacks even as we essentially dominated possession of the ball, they offered themselves very well going forward too: especially Castilla-graduate Aranda who conducted a clinic on the inner workings of the ‘9’s’ role on the field of play. Above all, they executed during the game’s most crucial moment for them: capitalizing perfectly on the one clear chance that opened for them in the game. And given the number of similar chances that Real Madrid had in the game (as well as the 2 dozen games played thus far during this season)… which they failed to put away… then perhaps they did deserve to lose.
The Other F Word – Flu.
There is a very simple yet irritatingly obvious and all-too-familiar reason for Real Madrid’s inability to re-create the form and state of grace which they eventually reached after our early-season: fatigue. In last week’s 1-0 win vs. Copa Del Rey win vs. Sevilla, I was of the opinion Jose Mourinho’s team selection was absolutely brilliant: cleverly altering the formation not just to respond to the difficulty of playing at the Sanchez Pizjuan, but also to give his key players a rest (playing a ‘trivote’ with Arbeloa at Left Back to give the clearly-tiring Di Maria and overused Marcelo a rest). It was conservative yet effective and even showed the way by which we will probably see Real Madrid treat matches in the Champions League or even against teams like Barca.

It looked like a Straight Forward Swap: Lass for Xabi Alonso and Arbeloa for Marcelo (plus a defensive Shuffle)
Last Sunday however, Jose Mourinho not only had to deal with the fatigue issues that was clearly taking its toll on his team: but also the flu which had struck down Marcelo and Xabi Alonso. And while the latter was still fit enough to be available for selection, perhaps Mourinho opted to give the Basque midfielder a rest as well – resulting in the midfield to be comprised of his 2 ‘usual partners’: Lass and Khedira. While on Defense, the motor-on-the-left Marcelo was thus replaced by Arbeloa, sending Ramos to his familiar Right Back Position, while goal-line-saving hero Raul Albiol from midweek got rewarded with a start. It seemed simple enough. Seemed.
A ‘Concealed Trivote?’
The first half formation looked slightly different to me though. As I watched and tweeted while the first half went by, Mourinho’s formation actually looked like shifting between the 4-2-3-1 and a ‘trivote’ with Ozil performing the role as the third Midfielder. I can only suspect that this was done to achieve a few objectives:
1.)     To relieve Di Maria of his role as the ‘Third Midfielder’, with the Argentine, (who usually performs this role) looking tired for the past few weeks.
2.)   To replicate Marcelo’s Motor-on-the-Left side role on the left side of the Madrid attack.
The change, thus, though seemingly subtle, was in fact quite critical in my opinion: as it takes Ozil out of his familiar role as the man behind the striker and into a deeper position from midfield. This also pushed the often-positionally naïve Lass Diarra right smack to the center of the midfield.

Ozil oddly dropped much deeper to form a kind of 'Trivote' during most parts of the First Half last Sunday: vacating his familiar place between the midfield and attack.
Despite our past misfortunes at the Reyno De Navarre in the recent past however, I’m not so sure why Mourinho would want to alter the previous system of having a combination of distributor + utility man (Xabi Alonso + Lass/Khedira) into one that employs 2 Utility Men while giving the ‘10’ an additional role to perform both on defense (as the third midfielder) and on attack (in the Marcelo role). Why couldn’t he have just decided to send either of Granero or even Gago to pair up with Lass / Khedira to replicate the Distributor + Utility man combination that we normally have in the Double Pivot.
Losing this game in my opinion was simply a result of not being able to score in the first half. So if I were to point a finger at what went wrong in this match, it would have to be this subtle, yet critical adjustment.
Adebayor Makes his Debut
Adebayor, once he gains match-fitness will expand Real Madrid's attacking game in different dimension
Upon going down 1-0 at about the 70th minute, Mourinho rolled the dice the way we knew he would: playing with 3 at the back as he sent in Kaka, Xabi Alonso and finally, Adebayor. It was not just a statement to Florentino and Valdano to validate his initial call for a more traditional ‘9’, but also a vote of confidence in favor of the 6’3 Togolose Striker (whom I sure greeted this past week’s rumors of Mourinho’s supposed decision to make his stay permanent – with a huge smile). Though clearly still lacking in match-fitness, Adebayor showed a few touches that gave some clear glimpses of what his game offered. Holding the ball up with his back to the goal and serving as a target man in the box, Adebayor allowed his teammates to play in a manner that gave an extra dimension to Real Madrid’s attacking game.
Though it wasn’t to be a fairytale debut in the white shirt (perhaps wearing a Defensive Midfielder/ Centerback’s ‘6’ was a premonition)… his inclusion to the squad offers a few possibilities for Madrid’s attack. He allows Madrid not just a different ‘take’ to their now familiar 4-2-3-1 in the lone striker role or in their alternate formation (the ‘trivote’ 4-3-3). Today, Real Madrid is now able to even play a classic English-style 4-4-2 where his skills would be a perfect complement to Benzema’s.
Whether or not the endgame involves Adebayor joining us permanently or not, what’s ultimately left for Madridisimo to hope that the remaining months of the season is able to demonstrate to us how truly beneficial having classic ‘9’ is to the team.
Dealing with a 7-point Gap
So here we are in February still in 3 Competitions but trailing Barca by 7 points. To put things into context, we were adrift about 4 points (I think) same time last season but with our Copa Del Rey Campaign long since finished. So perhaps in the bigger scheme of things all is not lost. What is important however is that we must all be honest with ourselves in assessing Real Madrid’s current season thus far: to have our current La Liga record be on the cusp of our first Copa Del Rey Final in a decade, and still have positive prospects in La Liga is a pretty good place to be in. It just so happened though that we are facing a super-human Barcelona at the moment. Whether or not they choose to prove that they are human of course is something we have yet to see thus far this season. What is critical however is as Valdano has said so eloquently, that “When Barca wake up from this dream of theirs… Real Madrid will be there.”


  1. Another excellent analysis. Many people have already commented on how crucial Alonso is to this team. I still think the trivote is the way to go - with Alonso or Granero when he is not available. As you rightly say, Ozil is a floating second striker, that finds his qualities negated playing in midfield. Granero might have been able to link the play between the midfield and Ozil - but Mourinho brought on Kaka instead. The substitutions backfired, and our hopes went up in smoke.

  2. Hi Caracoleo, it wasn't his 2nd half substitutions that disturbed me. I think that sending Kaka in as an impact sub for 20 minutes is not a bad idea. And at midfield, he essentially reverted to the Distributor + Utility Man combination of Xabi + Khedira so I personally didn't have a problem with them.

    What I did find problematic was him not giving the Granero a chance in the Alonso role. The Canterano not only deserved it, but more importantly he was the best man in the squad to play the Alonso role apart from Alonso himself.

  3. Mark you dont get the credit you deserve. Great review as usual.

    I thought both the starting line up and the subs were questionable. Khedira + Lass in the middle is a tactical suicide as you lose the passing engine in the squad.

    I wrote a long long long extended post on the offside about the formations and how they fail. Go check it out and i would love to get your take on it.

    Keep up the good work.