Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Character

2 Critical wins in 2 matches: 1 in the Champions League, 1 in La Liga: puts us right into the thick of things and still be  in contention for 3 titles this season. An amazing display of man management by the coach, avoidance of interference by management... and above all CHARACTER by the team. If only the supporters would get in line too...
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Slaying the Black Beast of the Champions League
Lyon President Jean-Marie Aulas said we'd go for the 0-0 as if he was taunting us. Mourinho's teasing and clever reply was 'why not? A 0-0 would get us through.' And to it turned out to be 3-0 in our favor.
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The Portuguese Coach's naughty reply was of course duly followed by a Real Madrid seige in the early exchanges of the Lyon game. Despite the seige being 'fruitless' (i.e. without producing a goal) - it was nevertheless an exchange that perhaps baffled Lyon somewhat: Are Real Madrid going for our throats to get the early goal and put this thing to bed? They're playing at home after all... Or are they gonna sit back and hit us on the counter? Needless to say, Mourinho's words were probably ringing in their ears anyway: keep the aggregate score at 1-1 and you guys are going home. So Lyon duly responded with their own attacks.
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And this was Mourinho's cue. The timing of Real Madrid's hammer blow of an opening goal was perfect: it came at a time just when Lyon were getting settled into the game: taking charge of ball possession and beginning to wiggle their way through Madrid's midfield and on to our defense.
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Player No. 12
The Bernabeu have a long way to go before they can consistently match the atmosphere in football's legendary grounds like Liverpool's Anfield or even Bilbao's San Mames.
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The unlikely goalscorer and Man-of-the-Match was player No. 12. No, it was NOT the Santiago Bernabeu Crowd, whose Prawn Sandwich Brigade tendencies were still there despite the cheesy marketing campaign launched by the club weeks before. Mourinho hilariously gave them a 'uhm... not bad... they didn't put in a 90-minute performance... but I suppose they can improve in the next round' (as if to say nevermind you ass clowns, my boys did the job already anyways!).
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Player No. 12 was Marcelo. And he's got the jersey to prove it! The usually-maligned Brazilian whose improvement this season had been Mourinho's first great achievement, put in a performance of a lifetime that will make everyone think twice about snickering the next time he is compared to fellow Brazilian, fellow Left Back and Real Madrid legend + icon: Roberto Carlos - whose place he now occupies.
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Marcelo, with his now-improved sense of anticipation functions to intercept balls (using his pace) moreso than win balls once the opposing winger / fullback is in possession and bombing through. On the flipside, in the attacking front, it has not been lost on astute tactical pundits such as The Guardian and CNNSI's Jonathan Wilson and Zonal Marking's Michael Cox that the Brazilian was the major difference in Real Madrid's play between the 2 legs: where the more convervative Arbeloa played in the first leg and the attack-minded Marcelo in the second.

Players No. 14 and 24
Credit for our wonderful performance against Lyon should of course also go to players no. 14 and 24: our midfield line of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. The disgusting thing though is that while the tireless Xabi Alonso who 'conducted' the operation against Lyon was duly recognized for the 11.4+ km. of ground covered, poor Sami Khedira, whom I thought did a great job in his 'utility midfield function' was panned despite his similar effort of 11.2 km. To put their efforts into context, Man-of-the-match Marcelo covered 9+ km.
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To Atletico Fans: Same Shit, Different Day
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And while Real Madrid spend midweek last week breaking the curse of Lyon and the curse of the Championls League last 16... here come our neighbors, the Mattress Makers (Colchoneros) still unable to break their own curse: 21 games and still unable to beat Real Madrid. An interesting fact is that they've yet to beat us in the 21st Century.
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Last Saturday, they had the perfect opportunity to do so and they blew it yet again. With Real Madrid still reeling from the physical and emotional fatigue brought about by the Lyon clash, Atletico not only had the physical / fitness advantage over us, they also had the benefit of an extremely hostile Vicente Calderon hurling down disgusting insults of the 'Die Ronaldo, Die!' and 'Marcelo Monkey' sort... the kind of insults that merit some form or warning / reprimand from the RFEF - but predictably didn't result in any action.
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Madrid of course were evidently tired despite the trivote... and Mourinho admitted it too 'I'm tired too...' he said... '...and I'm not even playing.' - or something to that effect as he explained his decision to opt for the much-maligned 'trivote'. Last Saturday's 'trivote' of featured Khedira and Lass in their now-familiar carrillero postions - shuttling the ball forward to the attacking 3: explaining Khedira and Lass' unusual -yet-frequent involvement in attacking moves during last Saturday's encounter. Predictably, it had to take Khedira and Lass' frequent invovlement in attacking plays for the Madrid press to give the German and the Frenchman some positive reviews.
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The opening goal just had to come from one of these forays from the Madrid carrilleros... Khedira making one of runs towards the box where he makes a Guti-esque pass to Benzema. The Frenchman, simmering with confidence used the outside of his boot to poke it over De Gea. The second goal would come in from a more typical Madrid attack: a blitzkrieg attacking move from Madrid's leftside put away by the team's second Martian, Mesut Ozil (the first one being Pepe).
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Lass' physical play vs. Atletico Madrid made him look more like a wrestler than a footballer last Saturday
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The ultimate objective of Mourinho's Trivote however was to give Madrid defensive solidity: to force Atleti's attacks down Madrid's flanks instead of through the middle where 1-2 combinations from Aguero and Forlan could hurt us. The plan worked to a Tee: not just because of Forlan's limp performance yet again (what's happened to him???) but also because Lass Diarra mistook the Calderon pitch for a wrestling ring. In the end, much of the attacking play from Atleti was coming through the flanks via ex-Real Madrid player Jose Antonio Reyes... but successfully scoring a goal via crosses from the wings to a 5'9 Aguero was really NOT going to work.
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Let me just say however, what a damn fine player Aguero is. For large portions of the match, it really did look like he was the only Atleti player who was trying... or good enough to have a try against Real Madrid at least. But who could blame Atleti with with Iker Casillas having one of those nights where the he made the Colchoneros feel completely inadequate with his 'there's-a-forcefield-in-the-Real-Madrid-goal-named-Iker' performance?
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Looking forward
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Thanks to the team's impressive display of character, we've finally managed to not only get to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League, but we've also been able to maintain the 5-point gap against Barca on a weekend where fatigue (not Atleti) could've been the banana skin that would almost push us completely out of the league title race. It's been an impressive display of character from the team.
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Perhaps we've also been rewarded by a bit of luck with our Champions League draw: with the Spurs of Tottenham next up. They're no Schalke (the easiest of the pickings) but they aren't Barca, Inter or Chelsea either. I'd have wanted to face another 'ghost from the past' (teams who've eliminated us in recent years) like Arsenal, Roma or Bayern... but they're all out of the picture by now. I'd have fancied our chances against the now-half-strength Manchester United too, not to mention Shahktar Donetsk - but what the hell, let's let Fergie and the Blues cancel each other out in the Quarters to at least ensure that only 1 English team makes the Semis should we eliminate Spurs (lest we hear that horrifyingly boring rhetoric about how oh-so-good the EPL is). Shaktar on the other hand, while being the weakest side in the last 8 on paper, might actually fancy themselves to have a go at Barcelona as they are the only team I know who can boast of 2 wins in their last 5 encounters with Barca. It'll be a sort of homecoming for Rafa Van Der Vaart, who deserves a respectful applause from the Bernabeu from the time he's spent for us. Let's hope he doesn't stick a dagger into our hearts though...
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So it's looking like we're headed for one of those dreadfully boring weekends of International Friendlies. Yuck. Perhaps if there's any consolation, it would be that we can have the injured Cristiano Ronaldo nurse his injury. It's a hilarious coincidence that he should find himself declared 'unfit' to play just as Madrid's string of big games have taken a break. I don't expect to see him play against Sporting next, next week, but I sure as hell won't be surprised to see him play 90 minutes against Spurs in the Champions League.
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Either way, break or no break, I think I speak for everyone when I say that the last week's matches have certainly given us plenty to look forward to... and plenty to hope for.

2 comments:

  1. I agree with you about the "prawn sandwich brigade". Bernabéu used to be, in big European nights, a stadium with a terrible atmosphere for the rivals.

    But since seats were placed in the whole stadium in 1998 the thing has been worse every year.

    Wednesdey, at last, they shouted a little. In Spain we call "piperos" ("seed-eaters") this kind of fans, because they are interested in lots of things (as criticize) but supporting the team when it needs it.

    Read you at

    http://mibufanda.blogspot.com

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  2. It's sad that such a beautiful stadium has such a dull crowd. I do get what you mean with 'seed-eaters' because they probably snack (or they used to?) on 'watermelon seeds' at the Bernabeu? I'd imagine they serve swankier things nowadays over there though... either way, you get the picture...

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