Thursday, May 5, 2011

11 vs. 11, 1-1

Some quick game summaries of 2011’s El Clasicos:
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El Clasico 1 – 2011-04-16, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Raul Albiol was sent off for takedown of David Villa. Barca the played their favorite brand of football: 10 vs. 11 for most of the 2nd half. We fought back with our 10 men though, Marcelo wins a penalty but Alves is not sent off for his dangerous lunging tackle
Result: 1-1 Draw
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El Clasico 2 – 2010-04-20, Estadio Mestalla, Valencia
It was 11 vs. 11 for almost the entire game (Di Maria sent off late in the game with the match outcome pretty much decided so I’ll still count is as 11 vs. 11). Madrid overwhelm Barca in the 1st half, Barca overwhelm Madrid in the early 2nd half. Madrid regain control late 2nd half and during Extra Time.
Result: 1-0 Madrid Win
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El Clasico 3 – 2011-04-27, Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Barca had the ball but not the territory – until Pepe was sent off. It was 10 vs. 11 and they managed to score 2 goals against a yellow card-burdened team. Mourinho was also sent off for making a sarcastic gesture.
Result: 0-2 Barcelona Win
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El Clasico 3 – 2011-05-03, Camp Nou, Barcelona
It was 11 vs. 11 throughout. Barca controlled the game, but Madrid had their chances.
Result: 1-1 Draw
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The outcome of the 4 matches brings me to a few conclusions:
1.) This is no longer the team that was massacred 5-0 at the Camp Nou last November
2.) 11 against 11, this team was not beaten by Barca – and can in fact beat them.
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It’s been 5 months since that embarrassing 5-0 drubbing at the Camp Nou and I’m happy to see that after the dust settles on this epic round of Clasicos, that Real Madrid have grown and developed in leaps and bounds. This is no longer just a group of footballers that’s stocked in talent, but a real functioning team capable of doing big things.
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However saddening it might be for the competition to end for Real Madrid, we can all take heart from the fact that we didn’t stumble out of the tournament with our tails between our legs in the last 16– having been beaten by some team who would be unfancied to beat us. Instead, we went all the way to the semi-final and faced Barcelona’s greatest ever side (some say the best club side in the history of the game). We took this oh-so-great Barcelona head on… and it had to take the intervention of a referee (in Pepe’s Red Card) and the non-intervention of a referee (in the case of Higuain’s goal) for us to bow out.
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The Double Pivot Works against Barca… sort of.
My hilarious attempt to pretend to be a coach was put to the backburner when Mourinho not only fielded Kaka and Higuain in place of Ozil and Benzema (as I predicted), but he also opted for a Double Pivot instead of my proposed ‘modified trivote’. Based on the outcome, one cannot dismiss it as a failure. It did after all get us a score draw with an away goal that might have sent us to the final if it weren’t for Wolfgang Stark.
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Madrid came at Barca at the referee’s whistle blitzing Barca’s midfield and defense with their relentless pressing that looked to have rattled the normally calm Barca boys. Despite having only 2 dedicated men manning the heart of the midfield, Madrid managed to trouble Barca as even the likes of Di Maria, Kaka, Higuain and Ronaldo no less were helping out. It didn’t take long though before Barca started to get their bearings back and took control of the game in the first half – resulting in attempts at goal, some of which got Iker to perform his heroic ‘forcefield mode’ on goal. As the referee blew for halftime, the double pivot formation had barely been able to contain Barca for a full 45 minutes.
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Our Supposed Opening Goal
We came flying out of the traps at them once again to start the second half only to have Pipita’s goal annulled by the referee. I’ve seen something similar before which is why I’m not yelling ‘Highway Robbery’ like most. Having said that, I do believe that the arguments are there for the goal to have stood: Pique’s push on Ronaldo was clear and deserved a free kick which under normal circumstances would have been let go of to allow Madrid to play the advantage. What was called instead was Ronaldo’s foul FOR TUMBLING into Mascherano’s foot. It was outrageous I agree but I won’t be making a meal out of it. Within 2 games, poor refereeing has cost Madrid a player unfairly sent off and a legitimate goal disallowed. And while I won’t go as far as saying that there is a Barca-favoring conspiracy, I will call out the referees on such idiotic decision making.
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The opening goal instead came from an absolutely wonderful through ball from Iniesta – piercing the Real Madrid defense for Pedro who made it 1-0 for them. It was a beautifully created goal that I as a Madridista will applaud. Less elegant, but with its own merit in terms of attractiveness of course was Madrid’s equalizer: created out of a clever yet-frantic-anger care of Di Maria who was at that point starting to get some unfair criticism (in my opinion) on twitter a vicious shot that hit the post which he then laid out beautifully for Marcelo to strike home.
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Flops
The big surprise of the night also turned out to be the biggest flop: Kaka. Real Madrid TV’s Adam Bader and the guys at Real – The Offside starting giving Kaka stick even before halftime. I wouldn’t have had him to start for the simple reason that I don’t think he’s fit enough for this type of match. His energy levels dipped at about the 20’ in the first half and that duly coincided with Barca taking the match by the scruff of the neck.
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Also a flop in my opinion was the Double Piivot. Though Lass was my Real Madrid Man of the Match, it’s compelling to note that Madrid’s ability to get at Barca is unable to last beyond 15 minutes while using a Double Pivot (we could last up to 45 mins with a Trivote). In both halves of the game, Barca took the initiative after about 15 minutes when we could no longer sustain the pressure with 2 central midfielders. Pepe and Khedira were both missed sorely. I can only speculate if Di Maria (as I proposed) or Granero could have done better.
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A last anecdote from the game: Good to see Eric Abidal back on the pitch. He belongs there, not on a hospital bed.
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The European Adventure ends FOR NOW
Now that our European adventure has finally ended, it is important to frame the goings on of these last few months in the proper context. This is especially true given that our exit at the hands of the ‘Eternal Rival’ is the best excuse be overwhelmed by the temptation to view the situation from a skewed perspective.
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This season, we were lumped into the ‘Group of Death’: which included a Luis Suarez-led Ajax and likely-Scudetto winners AC Milan (to be fair, before they went on a roll) and Ligue 1 team Auxerre – none of which were to the level of say, BATE Borisov. We topped the group without losing a match and without conceding at home. The biggest accomplishment of course was the vanquishing the ghosts of Champions Leagues past when we finally managed to beat Lyon and get into the quarters where we swept past Tottenham who mistook the Bernabeu for a European Football Dreamland.
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It wasn’t long ago when Real Madrid was the team many didn’t mind too much to face in the last 16 as our history in the competition made for a magnificent scalp whilst our spines were not quite up to par for the latter stages of the competition. Today, we are a true European force that would have no one secretly thinking to the back of their heads that ‘they can be beaten’. Considering where we came from in this tournament these last few years, we’ve taken an enormous step. It is a step that the mess of the Clasicos must not make us forget that we have taken.
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I’m sure many of us remember when Jose Mourinho was asked at the beginning of the season if the Champions League was a realistic expectation for this season. ‘My teams usually get to their best by the second season…’ was his answer (or something to that effect).
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That should all tell us that though our European Adventure ends FOR NOW, the best is yet to come for next season… and that we have all the reason in the world this time to be optimistic.

1 comment:

  1. That invented foul in Higuaín's 0-1... what a shame.

    They have all the power in Spain and Europe and take advantadge of it. Cause their way of playing football is now boring. They make 1.000.000 passes in their own part of the pitch.

    But you're right, 11 vs 11 they were unable to beat us and we won a Cup. Mou's project year II will be great.

    PD. Nice artice on Fans del Madrid!

    http://mibufanda.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete