Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just Smiles

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So that was how the season ended for Real Madrid. Sadly, it’s another bridesmaid finish for us with the eternal rival taking all the plaudits and the bigger one, among the 2 domestic titles that were up for grabs at the start of the season. Nevermind that the Copa Del Rey trophy pre-Sergio Ramos looks far more elegant to the gangly and grotesque-looking La Liga trophy (complete with studs) – winning La Liga is still the ultimate proof that Barcelona this season were the better team. I will admit to that much.
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We will of course look back to the points we had dropped to La Liga’s relegation battlers (e.g. Sporting, Zaragoza, Levante, etc.) as the culprit to our 2nd place league finish yet again. And yet again for us, the season ends at 2nd place, many weeks before the referee blows the whistle on the final game of the season. The difference between this season and that of those from seasons past where we:
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- Went on a losing streak to end the season after the 2-6 hammering at the hands of Barca during Juande Ramos’ short spell with us,

- Ended the season with a fuck-it-we’ve-lost-the-title-anyway draw during our last match last season with Pellegrini
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This season, as the referee blew the whistle during the last match – there were at least a few reasons to smile about. A few humble goals to fight for.
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-Cristiano Ronaldo was on the hunt for the goal/s that would break the La Liga goal-scoring record set by Hugo Sanchez and Telmo Zarra. And he wanted to be recognized as a record-breaker NOT ONLY by the delusional idiots at Marca.
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-Kaka and Karim Benzema were still out to prove that Florentino Perez was not wrong to use them as part his second coming’s ‘flagship galacticos’. Perhaps this was more so with Kaka, who seems to have all but lost his place as the team’s preferred ‘10’ to steal-of-the-summer Mesut Ozil. For Benzema, last Saturday Night’s game was merely for him to show us that his 2011 explosion into form had not been abruptly cut short by the niggles he’s gone through these last few weeks.
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-There’s also Emmanuel Adebayor: now facing the reality of waking up from the dream that has been his 2011 so far. The 2010-11 season had started out as a nightmare for him: warming the bench for Noveau-Rich pretenders Manchester City. In 2011, he then found himself in a dream: scoring goals in the Champions League Quarterfinal and lifting silverware for Real Madrid: a club whose pedigree is the subject of the insecurities of all Noveau-Rich Clubs like Man City – the source of most of his 2010 nightmares.
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-And finally, there’s 38-year-old Jerzy Dudek – playing his last game with the club and perhaps as a professional footballer. A Champions League winner (and a hero in a final-for-the-ages match that turned me into a Liverpool fan), and a great teammate. It was his farewell game with the club and with the Bernabeu.
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Tactics – Built-to-Attack-and-Entertain
A Formation fit for a friendly Exhibition:
It was a trivote... sort of... a 4-3-3 basically with 3 basic objectives: ATTACK, SCORE, ATTACK.
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In games like last Saturday’s, tactics are generally irrelevant. All we wanted to do was to score goals and entertain the crowd and all Almeria wanted to do was get out of there. Mourinho lined up our team exhibition-game style: a 4-3-3 with a single pivot (Xabi Alonso) with Kaka and Ozil as carilleros / interiores. The Brazilian and the German, while both comfortable as attacking midfielders are also generally allergic to tracking back when we don’t have possession – but clearly this was not a game for that. Up front, Ronaldo took up his preferred Left-sided attacking role (winger-cum-forward), Adebayor took on his assigned role as the target man, while Benzema started on the right side of the 3-pronged attack where his tendency to drift inwards offered Ramos the option to move forward. The same did not hold true however on the other side as the conservative Arbeloa was more a stay-put-on-my-side kind of guy: which explains the switching between Benzema and Ronaldo along both wings.
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Just a thought: imagine Sahin in the place of Kaka or Ozil and I can totally imagine this lineup working even during a real ‘competitive’ match.
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Consolation Closure for Ronaldo: 40 Goals.
Cristiano Ronaldo. 2 Goals, 2 Assists. 40 La Liga Goals. 53 Goals this season. I hate praising him, but he leaves us all with no choice.
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I finished off my last writing saying that 40 would be a nice round number for Ronaldo to get to in terms of his goalscoring exploits. Though there were nerves as to whether or not he’d actually be able to break the record, it took no more than 121 seconds to put those worries to bed. It seemed to me however that Ronaldo had already become happy with 39 as he shockingly opted for passes instead of shooting in a number of situations. That was until his missile with just under 80 minutes into the game gave him his 40th La Liga Goal. I was in Real Madrid Football Blog’s liveblog during the game: and we had started talking about how unbefitting a 40th goal would be if it was a penalty. It seemed that Cristiano heard our thoughts and replied with a heat-seeking, ground skimming missile seconds later. It was his 53rd overall goal of the season. Amazing.

Hi other highlights of course include the nice and tasty pass served on a platter for Benzema’s second goal, his attempt at a Raul-esque move to turn the goal keeper before poking into an empty net: he hit the post of course for Adebayor to tap-in. And lastly was the peach of a cross for debutante Joselu – allowing the Canterano’s first ever touch of the ball in his first ever appearance as a Real Madrid first-teamer to be a goalscoring one. Who knew that it was to be the supposedly selfish and sulky-when-he-doesn’t-score Ronaldo who would perform this beautiful, selfless act.
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A Last Hurrah Hat Trick for Adebayor?
It was Adebayor however who truly enjoyed Almeria’s we’re-already-dead-anyway attitude to the game. His first took full advantage of the most pathetic display of defending to latch onto a lovely Ozil pass to score. What was significant with his performance however was his fulfillment of the ‘battering ram #9’ role which Mourinho envisioned for him. It was his hold up play that set Ronaldo free to Ronaldo to make the assist for Benzema’s second goal. His other goals were also scored in line with his target man role: poaching the loose ball from Ronaldo’s missed attempt off the post for his second and getting a leg in to score after being targeted in a deadball situation.
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His place in the team for next season however will continue to be a question mark. 16m Euros is a lot of money for a squad player (I’m assuming of course that our first choice striker will be shared by Higuain and Benzema). And if we were to fork out cash for a target man, then I’d have to say that Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo, scorer of 20 goals this season (2 better than 40m David Villa who gets his service from the Barca passing machine) at 18m is a much better deal, sentimentality included (as he played for RM Castilla). I can only agree with his signing if a substantial discount is given for not just for his transfer (in the region of 5-6m) and his wages.
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Benzema Shows How Cats Hunt
On the back of a supposed lunch date between Florentino Perez and a pack of Juventus bigwigs in search of French players, Benzema had to spend the days prior to the match insisting how that he wanted to stay in Madrid to fight for his place. And with Pipita already joining his national side for the Copa America – it was his chance to show off a bit to remind us that he wasn’t starting merely because Pipita wasn’t around but because he deserved it. Last Saturday’s performance was a marked improvement from his sluggish showing against Villarreal. His first goal was a display of tenacity and insistence to keep the ball as Almeria’s defenders tried to get to him 3-stooges-style. The finish however, just like his second goal was executed with the delicateness and finesse that only a Frenchman can pull off. Let’s not forget as well that there were moments in the match, when our no.9, ran so menacingly at the Almeria defenders that we were all reminded of another bald-headed Real Madrid #9 (the Brazilian striker Benzema adored as an idol).
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Just a couple of years ago, I was saddened to hear that Real Madrid had signed Klass-Jan Huntelaar because I had mistakenly thought that meant the end of my dream for us to sign Benzema. Part of last season’s big excitement for me was to see him part of our team – but it ended in disappointment for obvious reason. This season, with the help of Mourinho, his whip and his affinity for metaphors, Benzema has come along: 26 goals this season. So while its true that dogs make better hunting partners for hunters, Benzema has reminded us that in the wild: it’s the cats (not the housecats) who are the real, feared hunters.
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Showing Class
Many have left who are far greater than him as a player, but few can say that they were able to bid farewell to the Bernabeu the way Dudek did. Absolute Class from his teammates and the fans to send him off the way they did
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What I will remember from this match however, will not be Ronaldo’s 40th goal. It won’t Adebayor’s Hat trick, Benzema’s brace or even Joselu’s magical debut and goal. I will remember it however by the team’s classy act of forming a pasillo to honor their teammate Jerzy Dudek. Dudek was with us for 4 years (?) and hardly played a significant game – he won’t be remembered for any magical saves he made in big matches, he won’t be remembered by any of us for titles which he willed the team to win. In fact it was he who was between the sticks in many of our ill-fated Copa Del Rey exits at the hands of 3rd division clubs.
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To his teammates however, he was the elder statesman – the veteran who gave sound advice, and who set the example of being a professional. A hero who has held aloft the Champions League trophy as one of the key players from the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’, I’m pretty sure that his credibility was never in question. In a dressing room filled with men barely out of their teens, a man of his stature would surely be of great presence, importance and value to the coaching staff and his fellow players. That he would be greatly honored by his teammates for his 4 years with the club is no surprise – but that he would be given a Pasillo as a tribute while he made his way off the pitch to a standing ovation from the Bernabeu chanting his name is an act of class that truly befits Real Madrid.
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It was a truly refreshing moment to remind us all that despite the ugliness that we were apart of during those 2 weeks of clasico madness, what the essence of Madridisimo is all about.
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In the end there was only 1 title to celebrate.
No La Decima, No La Liga.
It was a season of consolation prizes in many ways.
But in the end, despite all that, there are reasons to be optimistic and look forward to the future. There is a great coach.
There is a great squad that whose core will be retained.
There is a great spirit in the team and in the club.
There will be continuity.
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And as the referee blew the whistle for our last match of the season, there was no jubilation.
Just Smiles.
And for now, that may just be good enough.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice post, Mac. I wonder why you didn't post this on the RMFB. Are you still writing for them?

    Yes, overall good season for us, but as fans of course we hoped for more. What makes me sad these days is the news that Benzema is going to get sold in order for us to acquire funds for Aguero. I really hope that this isn't true. I don't think we need an additional striker... and if we really buy a new one, it should be of the Ade type but much better - to provide more tactical options. Perhaps Ibra is someone to consider. But again, we don't really need this either.

    To me, I think the sectors that needs reinforcement:
    1. the center back (Carvalho is getting too old)
    2. DM: I think we've got this in Sahin.
    3. Reserve for Khedira as Lass is going out.

    For center back, we don't necessarily have to buy a CB. An RB will do as Ramos can be shifted to Carvalho's position. I've heard that Coentrao is going in & from the several clips, he looks terrific in attacks. Can he fill the RB role (usually he's an LB or LW)? I don't trust Albiol & Garay.

    For no. 3, I'm not sure who will fit in the role. Perhaps we don't need it, but when Khedira is out, we are devoid of one tactical scheme.

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  2. MBF: I wrote the post late and by the time I had finished it, the guys were already doing season summaries, so I felt that it didn't make much sense to post it there.

    I am still writing for RMFB and will post something re: Valdano's exit shortly.

    On your points:
    1.) There's sense in getting a CB because of Carvalho's age. And though Ramos can move into that spot, We must also consider that Pepe will play as a DM in some matches - which is the response to your third point

    2.) Let's all remember that we also have Mateos coming back from his loan spell and he plays both at CB and as a DM so I think we might have enough cover if we lose Lass

    3.) Fullbacks - I'm skeptical about Coentrao's defensive abilities. Having Arbeloa to play at RB and LB is a big deal for our squad.

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