Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Numerical Motivations

(This article of mine was first posted on Real Madrid Football Blog) - Feel Free to post your thoughts and comments on either site :) )
Ronaldo's Goalscoring Numbers have just been Awesome

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Fighting to win games when the outcome of the season for your team is already decided is a very tricky one – and this is exactly the case for Real Madrid version 2010-2011:
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Copa Del Rey – Champions
Champions League – Semi-Finalists
La Liga: 2nd place.
Short of an unprecedented through-the-roof explosion of the Camp Nou’s cagometro – a highly unlikely event: then Barcelona will be this year’s La Liga Champions. And even If we had managed to lose our last 3 matches, 3 straight wins for Valencia would still not be good enough to displace us from second place. So how does this team avoid a Juande Ramos-like collapse for the remaining dead rubbers of the season? By performing a selfless act to feed a selfish pursuit to create what in the bigger scheme of things, is a reflection of an absolutely united team. Confusing? Well that’s what happened last night.
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Having run out of silverware for their team to play for, the entire team last night played for one of their own to get a personal trophy for himself. By time the referee blew the final whistle, ignoring the possibility of adding another 4 minutes of extra time to the game, Cristiano Ronaldo had scored a hat trick and had the following numbers to his name:
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7 goals in 2 games
Owner of 6 out 12 of La Liga’s Hat Tricks for the Season
36 La Liga Goals in total this season
49 Goals Total for the season
He had overtaken Ferenc Puksas’s previous overall goalscoring record (43 I think) and his own personal best at Manchester United (42 if I’m not mistaken)
With 2 games to go, he is 2 goals away from matching Hugo Sanchez and Telmo Zarra’s record of 38 goals in a single season
He has also now scored 62 goals in 61 games for Real Madrid – meaning he has more goals scored than games played.
What numbers. What madness.
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In a world where superstar teammates are more likely to sabotage a pursuit for such an individual record, last night, Real Madrid’s players DELIBERATELY COLLUDED to ensure Ronaldo would have a comfortable margin over Lionel Messi in the race to be Pichichi. In doing so, they’ve also now made the possibility of matching or breaking Zarra and Hugol’s record that much more realistic. This collusion had been very apparent since the beginning of the game as we saw Ronaldo’s 3 other attacking partners (Higuain, Ozil and Di Maria) completely mangle Jose Mourinho’s standard attacking tactical alignment: creating oddball variations that saw Ozil or Pipita on the Right Wing and Di Maria at the ‘10’ position in their attempt to goad Ronaldo to push forward to attack and grab the goals. This whole scheme of course became obvious to everyone when Ozil decided against tapping the ball into an open goal and instead risked a pass to a surrounded Ronaldo to give the Portuguese his 2nd for the night.
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After the match, Higuain himself admitted: “I only wanted to play to regain my match fitness” he revealed (or something to that effect). “The challenge was to make Cristiano the league top scorer” said Pipita: the man who was in a supposedly bitter rivalry for goals with Ronaldo.
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Some Tactical Observations from the Testing of the 9s
Apart from the refreshing start handed to Antonio Adan (who also made way for the debut of Tomas Mejias), the match also seemed to be have been used as a testing ground for our strikers: all 3 of them getting minutes to show off which they probably knew to be some sort of assessment for them and the tactical scenarios where they can fit.
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It seems that in today's football: 2 fixed pivots seem to have become a basic necessity. A variety of strikers (a target man like Adebayor with a more mobile, technical striker who likes to drop deeper and help in the buildup play like Benzema) and the varied use of the wingers true wingers to provide width or inverted wingers to give numbers to the midfield (delegating to fullbacks the role of providing width) give the formation considerable flexibility. Each variant and its respective subvariants created by personnel availability have its own advantages and disadvantages.
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Pipita Higuain, despite not scoring a goal, actually ran around like a madman. The statistics show that he ran 10.2 km in the game – a figure that’s only second to Xabi Alonso who played almost 20 full minutes more than him (given that Pipita was subbed out shortly after the 70 minute mark). Within his role playing within the starting 4-2-3-1 formation, Pipita showed his tactical flexibility as well. He played the lone striker role making runs to drag defenders wide to open up space for Ronaldo or played off the shoulder of the last defender, constantly ready to beat the offside trap (where he was largely unsuccessful because of his lack of rhythm and fitness). One should also note that he played on the right side of midfield frequently as well: where he has in the past shown he can make a contribution.
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Higuain was then replaced by Karim Benzema in a substitution that also saw Ozil subbed out to make way for Adebayor. The outcome to me looked like a very interesting tactical experiment – as it turned our lineup into a more conventional 4-4-2 with:
-2 pivots (1 creative = Xabi Alonso and 1 defensive = Xabi Alonso). The operative term here is ‘pivot’ and not midfielder – i.e. the player being discussed HOLDS his position in midfield and does not dilly dally into the opposing third which is what Xabi Alonso but not Kaka or Ozil in case some might be tempted to perceive them in this role.
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-2 natural wingers that can play on the flanks as true wingers (i.e. the right footed Ronaldo on the right and the left-footed Di Maria on the left) to allow for a more ‘traditional 4-4-2’. But also, this ‘traditional’ configuration could be converted into a more ‘contemporary’ version when the 2 wingers can be inverted at an instant by merely switching wings – allowing both to tuck to an inside position for fullbacks to overlap to provide width while on attack.
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-2 strikers with each one having distinctly different characteristics: Adebayor, who offers strength, aerial power and a presence to knock the ball up to and Benzema who offers a certain degree of pace, a good degree of skill on the ball – but also a tendency to drop deep and participate in buildup play. The Frenchman also showcased his newfound skill developed under the guidance of Mourinho: movement off the ball. Without this, he might not have been there to ghost into the box for Xabi Alonso’s looping pass to find him and allow him to score on his first 2 touches of the game. Mr. ‘I-like-the-ball-played-at-my-feet’ has clearly grown up quite a bit and added this new dimension to his game: one that allows him to make even more use of his obvious talents. The jury is still out on Adebayor though. The numbers don’t seem to favor him so far: he’s made 18 appearances since joining us on January but has only managed 5 goals – good number of them while playing garbage minutes while he has yet to use the characteristics that Mourinho likes in a striker (and in him) to win a permanent place in the side.
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My observations re: the striking combination employed by Mourinho last night however do not necessarily denote that a contrast of characteristics is necessary. Rossi and Nilmar of Villarreal have certainly proven that – as does the few times we’ve had the joy of seeing Pipita and Benzema play together upfront with both being fully fit.
What does strike me about this ‘trial’ formation though is that whilst a huge portion of Madridisimo is perhaps going ‘Alti-WHO!??!’ in reaction to the supposed prospective signing of Bayern’s Hamit Altintop, I find myself rubbing my chin at the coincidence of his prospective arrival with this ‘experiment’. Altintop after all is a player who can play across the entire midfield line (in either wing position or as a pivot) in this system.
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To El Madrigal!
While the nature of the match as a dead rubber has had most of us (including the Bernabeu) look upon it with a certain level of aloofness, I’m very pleased to see that the excitement of the ‘pre-season’ has already begun for us: a new signing and some on-the-pitch tactical experiments as well. What is more exciting however is the ironic nature behind last night’s success: that is was not a case of the individuals making sacrifices for a ‘general collective’, but of the collective working together for individuals – knowing full well that at the end of the day, the beneficiary is also still the collective. Confusing eh? That’s sort of the beauty in it.
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Up next is a trip to El Madrigal. Many have said that our run-in to the season ender would be a tough one because of the away games on our fixture list on the home stretch with trips to Spain’s toughest grounds on the cards: San Mames, the Mestalla, Sanchez Pizjuan and El Madrigal. We haven’t done too badly though: 0-3 at San Mames, 3-6 at the Mestalla and 2-6 at the Sanchez Pizjuan: an aggregate score of 5-15 to our favor for these supposedly difficult road trips – an average of a manita (5 goals) per game. Not too shabby.
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Sounds like a reason to look forward to this Sunday’s game.

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