Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Aftermath of our 2 Bogey Team Match Dates.

Apologies for not blogging last week. There was that odd feeling of 'bleh' emanating from last week's 2-0 vicotory over Levante that just had me feeling a bit bland. Perhaps it was out of the predictability of the result (a win), but more likely, it was because I was in breathless anticipation for last week's Champions League tie to face Lyon.
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The Levante match had all the forseeable changes we could have all predicted: Benzema starting up front, Xabi Alonso, Adebayor and even Arbeloa rested while Kaka got a run out as well (75 mins.). A predictable victory only made sweeter by Benzema and Carvalho's goals. It is an interesting fact that our starting Central Defender and our second choice striker (who's played a significant enough number of games) BOTH have 3 La Liga goals. But before we malign the cold-fish Frenchman for his defender-like La Liga goalscoring numbers, let us also remember that he has scored a respectable 13 goals (second to CR7) so far this season in all competitions - a respectable number by any standard. With 13 La Liga games to go plus the prospect of further advancement in the Champions League and a Copa Del Rey final to go, I don't see why he can't manage to hit 15-to even 20 goals in all competitions this year - respectable numbers for a 'backup striker'.
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The Beasts of Gaul Haunt Us Yet Again
While it may be viewed as something to be critical of, I personally enjoyed seeing Florentino's very human reaction to Benzema's goal against our CL bogey team Lyon.
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I know that I'm supposed to be 'content' (if that's the correct word) with the 1-1 result at the Stade Gerland last week. We finally managed to score there. Our goal scorer actually turned out to be a guy who had developed a reputation as a big game choker and was turning out to be too much of a cold fish for a Meregue fan's taste. His moment of brilliance and show of character was indeed so compelling that it just had to get our normally poised President Florentino Perez to leap out of his chair in elation. 'My Dad's human' sheepishly explained his daughter a few days later on, apologetically explaining her father's reaction to Madridisimo and the greater footballing world. She probably didn't know seeing Florentino that way actually earned him more fans.
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But Florentino's reaction aside, Gomis' late equalizer after Mourinho eventually decided to 'close shop' by sending Marcelo in (not that Marcelo actually makes for a defensive insurance policy) to give us 5 men at the back, was a real downer. It was like having your boss give you a nice fat bonus for you to  privately do your chicken dance upon hearing the news only to be told later that there was a mistake and you'd only recieve half that amount. Perhaps it was because I REALLY expected a convincing victory with this team coached by Mourinho to vanquish the ghosts of Champions League past? Conceding that late goal really smacked of the team's lack of character, poise and fortitude to protect their lead? Would I feel better if they scored first before Benzema would come on to perform his heroics?
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Don't get me wrong - I am happy (I think). I'm happy with the draw... or as they like to call it... a 'result'... I'm especially happy with the away goal too... and that it was scored by the guy too many people have already adjudged to be a flop or a lost cause. But for reasons I really can't explain - the result stirs me inside the wrong way. If anything, I'm even more dissppointed NOW that as I look back at it, the experience was one which I failed to learn the extremely important lesson on expectations: in setting them and managing them.
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The R(i)azor Cuts Yet Again
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I was among many Madridistas who were thinking that as the month of February rolled along, that fatigue would finally get to Barca after a January filled with midweek Copa Del Rey matches and a bout with Arsenal in the Champions League. With their thin squad, a few tricky matches I thought would do the job in cutting their weekly lead of 7, down to something more manageable by the time we have to face them for the Clasico at the Bernabeu. After all, losing to Arsenal and dropping points against La Liga strugglers Sporting along with a labored 2-1 win against plucky Athletic Bilbao were all signs on the wall.
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The logic wasn't wrong of course... except for the fact that Madridisimo wasn't looking at the mirror when they needed to be. The signs were on the wall for us too. Cristiano Ronaldo's scored one goal in the last few matches. Our human wrecking ball goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo has only managed to score in a mere one game in the last 9 games (despite scoring a brace), plus the fact that we've had a series of binary-code-like scorelines which included a loss and a draw. And while we all loved to talk up how poor Barca have had to settle with a mere 19-man squad (compared to our talent-laden 25-man squad) early in the season, we've also overlooked that within that supposed argument, our very own Jose Mourinho had only opted to make use no more than 15 men among his 25-man-strong squad. If fatigue was going to get to any team, it wasn't just going to be Barca - we were prime candidates too.
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I do still hold on to my opinion that despite juggling only a handful of players in terms of playing time, that Mourinho has thus far done well with his tiny rotation policy - with my only objection being Cristiano Ronaldo playing 90 minutes of every bloody game.
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But here we are, bleeding yet again after a trip to the Riazor, a full season after breaking the curse of this wretched stadium. And judging from what transpired last Saturday, I'm inclined to believe that perhaps there is probably some stupid curse involved in this stadium indeed...
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Mourinho started the game with a few peculiar moves: Benzema up front (possibly to reward him for his performance against Lyon and to 'punish' Adebayor's anonymous performance), and Kaka in for Di Maria - pushing Ozil to the wing. At the center of the pitch, Lass was the logical replacement for the injured Khedira. On defense, Mourinho opted to be gung-ho: opting for Sergio Ramos and Marcelo over Arbeloa, likely to anticipate Depor's 'One Goalkeeper + 10 Defenders' tactical setup.
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Mourinho's flubs on his first Gamble, but not even his Re-adjustments Pay Off
Mouinho's 1st Second Half Switch Flopped: By leaving Xabi Alonso in the middle, our ability in keep possession evaporated - and it even gave Depor a few counterattacking opportunities. This type of 'Diamond' Formation seems to only work in Video Games.
Though the first half was an essentially drab encounter between the 2 sides, it was nonetheless one of the few instances where we saw Depor venture forward. By the 60th minute however, with the game at 0-0, Mourinho lived up to what he always said he would do: gamble to WIN. Sending Di Maria in for Kaka was no surprise (bringing Ozil, not the best of away game performers to his preferred position behind the striker)... the bit of a surprise however wasn't that Adebayor came into the game, but that he came into the game for Lass (I was expecting a direct swap between him and Benzema) - changing Real Madrid's shape from its familiar Double Pivot to a classic 'rombo' - not a 4-3-3-esque Rombo (with the use of Central Midfielders as Carilleros), but one which employed a single defensive midfielder (Xabi Alonso) with true wingers on each side (Ronaldo and Di Maria) and Fantasista in front of him (Ozil). Mourinho also made his first in-game attempt to utilize his 2 very different strikers: a Target Man (Adebayor), and a more mobile, withdrawn striker (Benzema).
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Mourinho's 'ultimate siege formation' - it was amazing to watch it in action. But an utter letdown to see it ultimately fail to getting us that valuable goal last Saturday at the Riazor. I don't think we've seen the last of this - and I really believe it's capable of working wonders in the future. 
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The outcome: a flop. With Xabi Alonso as the only guy able to offer a midfield presence, ball retrieval after an unsuccessful attack became laborious and even resulted in a number of counterattacking situations for Depor who at that point had essentially given up trying to score. It was of course interesting and a massive ego boost to me that not long after I had tweeted to ask Mourinho to send Granero in to help 'hold the midfield', he did exactly just that: this time sacrificing Marcelo in favor of the Canterano. His re-adjustment worked wonders tactically: pushing up the game's area of play exclusively at Depor's third of the pitch.
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It wasn't to be however. Our siege on Arranzubia's goal ultimately proved fruitless - with the Depor goalkeeper reverting to the more familiar role of goal-stopper (as opposed to his historic role as goalscorer last during the last jornada)... with the help of the goal post of course!
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The Ugly Aftermath
Let me say however that the truly ugly aftermath of this game wasn't that we are once again seven points behind Barca (which can stretch up to 10 on weekends where they play first). The ugly part of last Saturday's aftermath firstly from Madrid-press-initiated blame game which has now trained its sights on poor Kaka - insinuating (or more like boldly declaring that there's still plenty of teams out there who would love to take him on especially after he has supposedly pissed Mourinho off and that he's 'beyond salvation'). What ridiculous stuff!
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Equally ridiculous was the 'plot' which Mourinho has chosen to rant about to deflect the attention away form the players: this time graduating from the referee and then towards the RFEF people who tackle the scheduling of matches. It is as interesting and ironic of course that this rant comes ahead of our match against a Malaga side who would have had less days of rest before facing us this Thursday.
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I can only take comfort in the fact that prior to the match, interviews with Florentino Perez, Valdano and even Zidane seem to indicate that the civil war that has waged between the parties mentioned seems to have reached a sort of peace treat - and that with all that's been said, it does seem likely that for the first time in a long time, we will have ourselves a competent manager (i.e. Schuster doesn't count) who can last the summer and start next season anew for the coming league campaign - regardless of the outcome of the current La Liga campaign. Though the possibilities of raising a La Liga trophy are becoming slimmer with each passing match day, if we do reach an offseason and onto the next one whilst still talking about the same 'project' we were all discussing when this season started, given today's times - that too perhaps can be considered something to a title.
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Either way, apart from the Copa Del Rey final and what looks to be a promising Champions League campaign thus far, we're right back to the Capello-era 'all-remaning-matches-are-finals' mode when it comes to La Liga. And I suppose if there's one big comfort about this all - is that if there's one man you'd like to have on the touchline of a final - it's the guy we already have. 

1 comment:

  1. I believe in this team... it reminds me the 1999/2000 season, perhaps we are better than then in the Spanish League but it will be hard to win. Meanwhile, in Champions League I see a Real Madrid without any fear. We can do it, ¡HALA MADRID!

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