Monday, April 11, 2011

The B-Team


Mourinho's Midfield B-Team: Kaka (as 'Face'), Graneo as ('Mad Murdock') and Lass as (Mr. D, er.. Mr. T). Mourinho would be none other than the Man with The Plan: Hannibal Smith.
In his post-match assessment of last week’s loss at the hands of Sporting Gijon, Jose Mourinho concluded that while the league is still ‘mathematically possible’, it is ‘virtually impossible’ to overturn Barcelona’s 8-point lead to win La Liga. This essentially became the clue or rather, the cue from Jose Mourinho that the season’s priorities had shifted away from winning La Liga to winning the 2 Cup Competitions that we were still in with a shout for: The Champions League and the Copa Del Rey.
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And after the 4-0 hammering of Spurs last week, Mourinho also gave us a glimpse of what’s on his mind: that the Champions League tie, no matter the 4-goal difference between us and Harry’s boys was by no means a closed case. And with the prospect of facing Barca looming over the horizon the week after the Copa Del Rey Final (which happens the week after this Wednesday’s match at White Hart Lane)… now was the time to get the priorities straight and act accordingly i.e. to tap up the B-Team for the remaining La Liga games… or at least for the games that are clumped up together with our remaining key Champions League games and the Copa Del Rey Final.
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It is significant to note that Barca is the main stumbling block for the 2 remaining competitions that we’re aspiring to. And while Barca need to REALLY still take things seriously with La Liga knowing that it’s theirs to lose, they also have to keep an eye on the 2 big prizes we’re still eyeing: the difference being that while they have to fight it out with their thin 19-man squad – while we have a(n almost) 25-man team to call upon. The logic seems sound enough: while Barca are fighting it out on 3-fronts and continually depleting their ‘stamina resources’ – we are able to maximize our deeper manpower resources to ensure a fit and a relatively fatigue-free lineup when the key games roll along. There’s also the not-so-small issue of being able to sit players out for the purpose of avoiding picking up that critical booking that can result in untimely suspensions.
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There is another dimension left to all this however: and that is the simple fact that it is still mathematically possible for Real Madrid to win La Liga. And while we’re still technically in it, Barca will still feel compelled to be at their best to win the league. So with the league ‘virtually impossible’ or not: it’s important that we’re still technically in it. Perhaps to place it in a more strategic context: where Barcelona are fighting a war to win on 2 fronts (let’s exclude Copa Del Rey since it’s just one match), Madrid are only competing to win on one front. Remaining competitive on the other front however, to force Barcelona to keep committing its best resources on the ‘lost front’ however, remains a critical part of Madrid’s overall strategy to win the battle in the front their fighting for: The Champions League.
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Taming the Lions of the Den
And that’s exactly what Mourinho did last night – with a little bit of luck of course: as the returning Pipita Higuain and Kaka are finally back from their long-term injuries and have now been given the perfect platform to take their recovery period to its final stages – in real match situations. This also bodes well for other peripheral figures of the team up to this point: Lass, Arbeloa, Raul Albiol and Garay: all of whom were starters against Bilbao last night.
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Sitting key players such as Ronaldo, Adebayor, Marcelo, Carvalho and even Ozil on the bench (even keeping Benzema out of the squad altogether): Mourinho seemed like he wasn’t going balls out on La Liga like he did the week before as I tweeted just minutes before the match. When starting lineups were announced, while it became clear that Pepe would be playing as a defensive midfielder as he does frequently for Portugal, the question that remained was if Mourinho was playing with his familiar 4-2-3-1 (with Kaka or Granero in one wing), or if it was to be a trivote. My gut feeling that it was to be the latter was confirmed as the game started. The truth however is that last night’s trivote looked very much like an Ancelotti-esque Christmas Tree formation (4-3-2-1):
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Christmas in April: We looked very much like an (Milan-era) Ancelotti-eque 4-3-2-1 Last Saturday. It was dull as hell with little passing out of midfield and defense to the front 3: but we were generally solid of Defense
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The outcome of the formation as a dud didn’t matter. It’s resulted in an incredibly boring and dull game: with Athletic unable to show adequate bite when attacking, and Madrid barely able to get out of their own half or midfield to start a decent impression of signature counter-attacking maneuvers that Real Madrid have made their hallmark thus far this season. It has to be noted that clarity was only established in Madrid’s game once Xabi Alonso and Ronaldo were able to come into the game as second half-subs: perhaps as a ‘warm up’ for this Wednesday’s return leg at White Hart Lane.
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Another thing we have to take from this is that while we were essentially very dull and stale during this match in attack, we were also very solid in defense. The combination of Lass and Pepe proved to be an imperious armour to the back 4: especially with  a more subdued-on-attack Ramos and a more discipline Arbeloa manning the fullback positions. And now that we know for a fact that this is indeed a workable combination, it might actually be a viable solution to blunt the Spurs' attack for Wednesday's Champions League tie: a match where Xabi Alonso + a few more are in danger of suspension for. It is after all, a match that will need a 5-0 from spurs to overturn: not even a 5-1 will do.
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Another point to note re: last night's rendition of a 'Christmas Tree' Formation was the fact that Kaka seemed a bit more involved. His ball dristribution as part of the front 3 wasn't bad and he even had a pretty good attempt on goal that was saved. We also saw him attempt to 'turn on the jets' a few times last night. In the end, it was the 2 goals, albeit from penalties that would serve him well. His reaction to his performance also display great sense of level-headed-ness:
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"Those two goals are good for my self-confidence, they are very important goals. I understand the fans (criticism towards him). I hope that with time and with important games I can win over the supporters again. I only ask they give me time...I need to work hard to enjoy football again. The only problem was with my knee, which limited me from playing all out. I have to work hard in this final stretch of the season. I hope to have fun playing football. I feel like I owe it to Real Madrid and the fact that I haven't fulfilled expectations bothers me."
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Words of a man whose head is NOT stuck up his own ass or trapped in the clouds, I must say. Even though he might never be the Kaka of Milan again, highly-competent and solid performances like last night would give us just that huge cushion we need when the 'B-Team' is tapped up to perform.
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Prelude to the Clasico
This week's 'Dead Rubber' to Tottenham Hotspur should serve as the calm before the storm: before the battery of matches against Barcelona. It's time for Mourinho and his men to be ready to show their best. Time to prepare ourselves to be the team that's left standing holding up (at least) 2 trophies when the dust settles... perhaps it's also time to learn a bit from Kaka's level-headedness.

1 comment:

  1. He he, grat job with the B-Team poster.

    In that League full of corruption our main concern should be to make some usual bench usuers feel important. They're good players and with the approriate motivation they can contribute to achieve or season goals.

    So many matches against our strongest rivals in so little time, forces us to have a large squad.

    Read you at

    http://mibufanda.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete