Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Por Que…? Pero… (Why…? But…)


(I posted this article first on Real Madrid Football Blog. The article can be found here):
Marca says it's 39, AS says it's 38 Goals just like the rest of the World. That Marca refuses to correct the number: What idiots and losers
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With 180 minutes of football left in the season and the outcome already decided, there has never been better time to experiment. Barca’s Pep Guardiola did the predictable: by supposedly throwing 6 canteranos in their match against Depor to bore us to a 0-0 scoreline. Mourinho did some experimentation too: not by sending in the neglected players of the season thus far (Canales and Pedro Leon come to mind) but by tinkering with the formation.
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With no Lass Diarra, it seemed sensible enough that a midfield of Pepe, now-proven effective as a pivot would partner Xabi Alonso. The presence of Granero in the starting XI was a pleasant surprise for most Madridistas too: we’re playing a Trivote with only one ‘defensive’ midfielder (Pepe) – yey…. Or so we thought. Once again, my guess as to what the formation looked like on paper vs. its actual application was wrong. What’s new right?
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A 5-3-2 becomes 3-5-2 or 3-2-3-2 or 3-4-3
Mourinho, sporting a new haircut and dressed up like a tourist last night and acted like one too: leisurely watching the game from his spot on the bench. All he really needed was a pair of binoculars hanging from his neck to complete the ensemble. Last night, he opted for what looked to me like a back 5 – employing 3 Central Defenders whose combination ON PAPER was perfect: an experienced and intelligent game-reading centerback (Carvalho), surrounded by 2 fast, powerful and physical defenders (Pepe to his Right and Ramos to his left) – All of them capable passers of the ball and good aerial defenders too. Further alongside them were Marcelo and Arbeloa playing as Wing Backs who were essentially given the entire flank as their personal channels forwards or backwards. With this ‘base’, Real Madrid seemed to be set up into a ‘convertible’ tactical system:
When 5 become 3: This is what Sunday Night's Formation against Villarreal looked like to me. Good Intent,  Bad execution
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It looked to me like a 5-3-2 that becomes a 3-4-3/3-5-2 when on the attack. When defending, Marcelo and Arbeloa would shift backwards to form a solid defensive line of 5. The 3 Central Midfielders were all comprised of creative players: Granero, Kaka and Xabi Alonso with Ronaldo and Benzema in the forward line in front of them. When we had the ball however, Marcelo and Arbeloa would then motor forward as midfielders while Kaka would move into an advanced role just behind or as part of the forward attacking line.
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POR QUE!?! POR QUE!?! POR QUE!?! (WHY? WHY?)
‘Why the F*CK!?!’ was probably what many Madrid fans were asking Mourinho, screaming at the television or their PCs (for those who were streaming) as they saw this tactical experiment. The truth is: I actually think that Mourinho did it to improve the team’s attack. He does after all know that the only thing that the team is playing for is Cristiano’s goalscoring record/s. There are 2 theories that spring to mind:
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1.)    Going with 3 at the back after all, was often Mourinho’s last roll of the dice in games where we needed a goal to tie or win (and we won most of the time). So perhaps to Mourinho’s view, it was more about the team playing with 3 at the back than with 5.
2.)    He wanted to ‘build the attack’ from deeper positions to afford Ronaldo with the space to run to: which is the Portuguese’s supposed preferred approach.
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PERO (But)…
While I do admire and consequently cannot fault the idea of wanting to try out a tactic that is normally employed in end-game situations to score goals, I find that there is a fundamental defect to the logic of it all: playing a 3-at-the-back system from the start of a match is always going to be a risk if:
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3.)    You don’t normally play with this system to start matches (because eventually, you’ll become defensively vulnerable)
4.)    You rob the system of it’s very essence and replace it with its polar opposite: by taking away the balls-to-the-wall attacking potential of the lineup by using ‘conservatively’ defensive players in key attacking roles (read: Arbeloa instead of Di Maria)
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I have a confession to make: I use a 3-5-2 (it’s my favorite among a few) when playing FIFA 2011 in my PSP. And when I started playing the manager mode with Real Madrid, my lineup looked something like this:
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My PSP formation for Real Madrid: defensively unsound but allows me to play the most of  the best attacking players together. What are Video Games for but for fantasy right?
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And while the formation works brilliantly for me IN THE VIDEO GAME, I’m not so sure that it can work in real life – but if there was an opportunity to do such a thing however, it was last night: with both teams’ respective fates in La Liga sealed up. So if we were ever really going to try out the formation from start to finish, why make the wimpy choice of using Arbeloa instead of Di Maria?
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The key thing that was missing in the lineup however was the presence of a ball-winning midfielder: something which could have done with the deployment of Pepe in this position (Albiol or Garay could’ve played as one of the 3 defenders for this formation). And while the use of Arbeloa on the right wing / wingback position would only result in a dull attack, playing without a ball-winning midfielder would result in a porous midfield which meant that our attacks would start from deeper positions, allowing Villarreal ample time to settle their defense before we could even get ourselves into their third when we had the ball. By the second half, Villarreal had essentially penetrated our midfield – having their way with our defense. This condition was also affirmed by the fact that our opening goal was created from counter attack that started from a much deeper position in the field as compared to our usual blitz counters. Having said that, let me just say: what a goal for Marcelo: a striker’s finish!
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Also, while Ronaldo, hungry for goals, thrived being in a position where he had miles of space to run with or without the ball when attacking, Benzema was unusually cumbersome and immobile and had me telling myself ‘Pipita would have done better’.
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All in all, I can say that while the idea to play with 3 or 5 at the back may one day have merits, last night’s incarnation of the system was a spectacular failure when evaluated based on the team’s capability to create goal-scoring chances.
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Ronaldo Saves the Game
Come to think of it, it just had to be Ronaldo to save the match. Last night, Ronaldo’s brace got him to 38 goals in the league and 51 in total this season (and no, I’m not paying any attention to Marca’s proclamation of 39 league goals). None of the tactical machinations that were designed for him to score actually worked. Thus, it was fitting for Ronaldo to have to ‘earn’ the opportunity to score from Free Kicks in fabulous positions. In the end, it was the memory of his Free Kicks that made me forget what our formation looked like during the second half: one that featured 6 defenders and 4 midfielders in a kind of mashed potato 5-5-0 formation (where Albiol played as a CM). Yuck.
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The season finally draws to a close on Saturday with Almeria paying us a visit at the Bernabeu. And with Ronaldo on 38 goals, tied with Hugo Sanchez and Telmo Zarra, he will have the perfect opportunity to break the record and set his own. What do you guys think? I say 40 is a nice round number.

4 comments:

  1. Good article, as usual.

    The whole goals discrepancy between Marca and everyone else for the goalscoring tally has happened many times before.

    Basically, Marca awards the "pichichi" trophy to the highest goalscorer in the league every year. However, instead of using the official match reports, they use their own match reviews to determine who to award any particular goal to. In this case Cristiano Ronaldo took a free kick against Real Sociedad back in September which took a very heavy deflection off Pepe to beat the goalkeeper. The goal is officially credited to Pepe but Marca decided to award it to CR.

    So, for the "pichichi", CR has 39 goals. For everyone else, including the golden boot award (which he will most likely win), he has scored 38

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  2. @ Gonzalo - I don't get why Marca insist on being such a bunch of idiots by refusing to correct the record. It's a wonderful record for Ronaldo which they are tainting because of this crap.

    @ Anonymous - If Ronaldo reaches 40 goals, I think it will become a record that will last a VERY long time :)

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  3. Marca USED TO BE the Spanish best sports newspaper. Now, like AS and all the rest, is pure rubbish.

    These last matches without nothing to achieve but CR's record are perfect for Mou to test new systems. Other years, in the same situation, we lost all games and played awfully.

    Read you at

    http://mibufanda.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete