Sunday, April 17, 2011

ATTN: Barca, We Now Know How to Beat You

The atmosphere at the Bernabeu Last Night was Fantastic
Last night was Game 1 of the ‘World Series’ of Football… Real Madrid vs. Barcelona. It ended 1-1 on penalties scored both by Messi and Ronaldo. Both broke their respective jinxes: Messi finally able to score against a Jose Mourinho-coached team and Ronaldo finally able to score against Barca. The key factor of course was the fact that Messi’s goal, scored after being awarded for Albiol’s Rubgy-style takedown of David Villa – resulting in El Churo’s sending off and Madrid playing the bulk of the match 10 vs. 11.
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The fact that the match ended 10 vs. 11 in Barca’s favor was Mourinho’s ‘I always end up playing with 10 against Barca’ prophecy come true – as if the boogie man that he’s always talked about has really did prove itself true… giving credence to his conspiracy theory and perhaps giving the good refs of the RFEF some food for thought: especially once they look back at the decision not to send Dani Alves off for the penalty that Marcelo won. Did the Portuguese tactician just mould the terrain for the next battle (the one for the Copa Del Rey?)
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Let’s call a spade a spade: David Villa did deserve a penalty for Iker’s takedown on him during the first half (and Iker did perhaps deserve even a card for it). And Albiol’s takedown of David Villa did merit a penalty… but that was NOT a STRAIGHT red to me. A penalty and perhaps a yellow would’ve done it. Alves however, deserved a second yellow for that tackle on Marcelo that won us the penalty. So to put things into perspective, to play 10 vs. 11 till Alves’ foul on Marcelo was fair. To go on at 10 vs. 11 after that however might actually have deprived us of the win which looked very much within out grasp: It was clear that Mourinho really did prepare to play with 10 and Guardiola didn’t: an Alves-less Barca, post Puyol’s pullout from the game and with all of Barca’s substitutions used up, would’ve meant a heavily unbalanced Barca side with 10 against Mourinho’s 10 that looked very much comfortable under their skins.
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Mourinho earns his Pay
If there was ever a situation where we could call match a psychological victory even after a draw, it would have to be this one. And we’ve got Mourinho to thank for that. Because while the Cules will delight at the fact that the draw essentially sews up the La Liga campaign for them, Madridistas like myself will be delighted by the fact that we can now all say “Attention Barcelona: WE NOW KNOW HOW TO BEAT YOU”. And that above all is what we should all be thankful to Mourinho for.
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His legend continued last night. Because last night, it is as if last November’s 5-0 thrashing at the Camp Nou was like sending his starry-eyed team out as bait for this World Series: a chance for him to figure out ‘the enemy’. And just as he did with Inter last season, he did manage to figure out Barca – and we all saw that last night.
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Riling the Bernabeu up to rise up against Spurs and deeming the Bernabeu’s ‘performance’ against the North Londoners ‘inconsistent’ (as if he was critiquing one of his players), we saw the Madrid crows respond with loud cheers at the return leg in White Hart lane where we were all stunned to hear ‘Oles!’ and ‘Jose Mourinho, Jose Mourinho, Jose Mourinho’ amidst the occasional wall of sound that we would hear from the North London Crowd. Last Night, the crowd was fantastic and performed well enough to win words of praise from Mourinho himself.

ON the pitch, the key tactical move was not just the switch to the Trivote, but in using Pepe in its deployment (as opposed to Lass). Granted that Lass was injured for this one, I’m pretty sure Pepe would still have gotten the nod. And of course we saw it ‘tested’ out at the San Mames last weekend too. The outcome last night however was different from last weekend.
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Pepe was the Difference-Making Madrid Midfield Monster Last Night
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Last Night, while we saw Barca rattle off their usual impressive numbers in terms of ball possession and passes completed. However, it cannot be denied that we still saw a largely different Barca team: unable to impose their will in the middle of the park and merely relegated to funneling their attacks around the flanks instead of through the middle. The difference was Pepe. Giving us an aggressive and quick physical presence in the middle prevented Xavi and Iniesta + Messi from romping through the middle of the park. And with Ramos and Marcelo’s newfound positional discipline, the flanks weren’t too much in danger last night either. Barca looked largely trapped in their own half lots of times with most of their incursions largely drifting wide rather than through the center even as Messi dropped deep to help start things up.
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Cristiano notably started on the right with Di Maria on the left as the 2 key targets for our balls out to start the counters while Benzema helped press Barca every time their midfield crossed the halfway line – compressing the Barca midfield’s operating space.
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Our 20-30% ball possession, however limited still actually produced a decent number of dangerous incursions into Barca’s goal, resulting in a good number of corners and dead ball situations including a couple of Ronaldo Free Kicks that could’ve given us the lead. The plan was of course quite simple: use Xabi Alonso’s ball distribution to reach Di Maria and Ronaldo who had the space behind Barca’s fullbacks to exploit. Benzema, rejoining the attack after his pressing duties on defense would then make a late run to help the 2 wingers. Secondary were Sami Khedira’s runs towards Barca’s defense in a box-to-box role which even saw him take a shot that almost gave us the lead in the second half.
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10 vs. 11
The key characteristic of the match however would have to be the challenge that had been posed to Madrid when it became a game of 10 vs. 11. And on the basis of Mourinho’s 1st substitution, I was worried: with Ozil coming on for Benzema – pushing Pepe back to his more familiar but less dynamic-for-the-game role as a Centerback. We of course were relieved yet still puzzled to see Pepe return to his role in the midfield as Arbeloa and Adebayor came on for Xabi Alonso and Di Maria – substitutions that had me thinking that perhaps the pragmatic Mourinho had in fact given up on the game. Who knew however that this was his 10 vs. 11 lineup? It was a lineup that was grounded on mobility as personified by Ozil and Marcelo who all of a sudden seemed to have been given the license to burst forward.
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The move obviously paid off as it didn’t take long before Marcelo won the penalty that allowed us to tie the game… followed by a siege on the Barcelona goal that hasn’t been seen in quite some time – much less in a 10 vs. 11 situation.
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The Battles will Rage On
Let’s be reminded that this is merely Round 1 of our 4-Round Bout with this mighty Barca team. And the signs thus far are promising. Let’s all be remember that it wasn’t only Jose Mourinho who hid an ace up his sleeve for last night’s match. Guardiola too tried to pull a fast one with the sudden appearance of long term injury victim Carles Puyol. It seems to have backfired on them though as Puyol pulled out of the game last night (looks like a hamstring problem) and looks to be unavailable for Wednesday’s Copa Del Rey Bout. Mourinho’s challenge in dealing with Albiol’s suspension is a far simpler task: as Arbeloa can take up the Right Back position and Ramos can play as a Centerback, apart from the availability of Garay as a direct replacement – both solutions that can keep Pepe in his Anti-Barca Midfield role.
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Johan Cruyff was right when he said Barca only needs to win ‘Rounds 2 and 4’ – Mourinho is very much aware of that too. Round 2 is up next and from what we’ve seen last night, there’s reason to be optimistic.
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p.s. Note to Florentino, Valdano, Pardeza and Jose Angel Sanchez: Renew Pepe's Contract. ASAP

3 comments:

  1. We played against Barcelona the way you have to play to win them: destroying their midfield.

    I liked very much Pepe's new ubicaton, how he played and his attitude, they fear him.

    As Mou, I'm tired of these referee decisions that know always which team have to help.

    I'm sure that our coach has still many secrets to surprise as in the final.

    Read you at

    http://mibufanda.blogspot.com

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  2. You have a very well written article here!

    I think Mourinho coached a heck of a game. Being down one man to one of the best - if not, the best - teams in the world is a whole lot. Real Madrid needed this draw. I am looking forward to the 27th of the month for another excellent match!

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  3. Mourinho got his tactics right last Saturday - and I was very pleased to see it. This Wednesday's game will REALLY count though and I'm optimistic we can execute even better then.

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