Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Presents


Valentine's Day Irony
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How ironic is it that it had to be the man who has declared Jose Mourinho public enemy no.1 in the Spanish Coaching Community who would gift Mourinho such a lovely pre-Valentine’s Day Gift. Marca’s cover last Sunday said it all: a gift of 2 La Liga points from Sporting Gijon Coach and Super-Mario lookalike Manuel Preciado to Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho.
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To be able to fully enjoy this gift however, Mourinho would still have to maneuver his team successfully to victory against our ‘allies’ in Catalunya: RCD Espanyol. It is interesting to note the similarities between our ‘ally’ in Catalunya (Espanyol) and our crosstown rivals who supposedly hate us so much (Atletico): that they both lose to us in our regular La Liga meetings but manage to scalp a few points from our ‘Eternal Rival’ Barcelona.
This season’s annual trip to Barcelona to face our Blue-and-White ‘friends’ however was not going to be so straightforward as the move to their new fortress Cornella El Prat (which has a fort-sounding name too) has brought about the much-needed changes to their club which they have been seeking out for some time. Espanyol are now finally having the ground-breaking season that they wanted to have last season which grandly coincided with their move to their new stadium but also tragically coincided with the death of their Captain Dani Jarque. This was not going to be the cakewalk we had gotten accustomed to over the years.
And of course there was not better indication of it than having to lose Iker Casillas in the 2nd minute of the game. Having to play 90 minutes with 10 men is tall order by any measure. Having to do so without the team’s insurance policy at the back… who happens to be the team’s captain and talisman… that’s another league of trouble altogether. Mourinho had to win this one the hard way. Maybe he was thinking to himself: “I probably should have waited till next weekend to catch Lyon.”
And speaking of ‘allies’ – it just had to be ex-canterano Callejon who would cost us Iker in the game – prompting Mourinho to yank Di Maria out in favor of the untested Antonio Adan. Di Maria’s ‘Me!?! But I haven’t even touched the ball yet!’ look to his face was pretty clear to seen when his number went up.
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Mourinho’s Deft Touch shows in his Team Selection
Not long ago, Jose Mourinho voluntarily explained to the press that Arbeloa’s place in the starting XI was not merely due to Sergio Ramos’ injury but also because he had become impressed with Arbeloa. In a recent interview, he also singled out the Ex-Depor and Liverpool man as one of those who have really impressed him so far in Madrid – praising him for having ‘to face the best attacking players of the opposing team most times and getting them in his pocket.’
Weeks passed where we have seen various defensive combinations: mostly a result of absences due to injuries or suspensions (to the likes of Ramos, Marcelo, Pepe, etc.) – it was this week however where for the first time in a long time, Mourinho had a full roster of defenders to pick from. And it was his choice of backline for this game that in my opinion won us 3 points despite going a man down.
Though Mourinho is not a man who bothers with team or club politics, I’m pretty sure he was nevertheless aware of a ripple effect that may result from the benching of Sergio Ramos. He opted for the more tactically disciplined Arbeloa on the right but still went with Marcelo as his motor-on-the-left (Madrid’s version of Inter’s Maicon and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole) – selections that eventually allowed us to keep our shape with 10 men (Arbeloa) and score the winning goal (Marcelo). 
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Pepe -and Alien born in Brazil - A BraziLIEN
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And while the world is no longer surprised by the fact that Carvalho is the first man on Mourinho’s team sheet, I was certainly surprised by Pepe’s selection into the starting XI without the benefit of ‘warm up minutes’ – and it was ultimately his selection… which was then justified by his man-of-the-match performance that was pivotal in keeping Espanyol at bay and ultimately securing the 3 points.
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Pepe and Ozil would look SO GOOD playing together
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Pepe was at his best last night: using his pace to chase down Espanyol’s running attackers, precisely tackling and winning balls and providing neat exits for the ball to start Madrid’s counters. It was a performance so good that Valdano had no choice but to assure us Madridistas he was hard at work in getting Real Madrid’s first alien-looking player signed to a contract extension and that we shouldn’t worry because Pipita was in a similar situation last year. Might this turn out to be a case of Mourinho getting what he wants yet again?

Up front, Adebayor was chosen to lead the line again – despite Benzema’s heroics vs. Brazil midweek. We all remember of course the couple of sitters that the he missed after being served up those chances by Ronaldo on a silver platter. What me night no have noticed is how he actually managed to match Ronaldo’s pace (without the ball of course) to get himself into position. It all seems to bode well for the Togolese striker then. I do hope however that this doesn’t spell the end for Benzema.
Visitors (a Postscript)
My friend Leandro (an Arsenal fan) dropped by Singapore over the past weekend. And as we sat in my Living Room watching Arsenal create 50,000 scoring opportunities against Wolves but only managing to score 2, he told me with  an utterly serious look on his face ‘I really think we have a chance to beat Barca in the Champions League this time’. It was hard to keep a straight face. But I did reply to him ‘… as long as you guys tire them out’.
But what the hell, if Manolo Preciado managed it, why can’t Arsene?
Here’s to 50,000 goalscoring chances against the cules this week. 

4 comments:

  1. Great review, I must stop by your blog more of ten. Loved the way Madrid kept plugging away and obviously prefer a counter attacking style with great speed from Ade and Ron, who were deep helping the defence the whole game too.

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  2. I LOVE READING YOUR REVIEWS.YOU ARE THE BEST.

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  3. Good review and interesting points. When is the next podcast coming up?

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