Friday, August 19, 2011

The Football and the Non Football


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There is much to talk about in lieu of the events from last Wednesday (Thursday 5am Singapore time). But rather than to write about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I’d rather speak about the Football and the Non-Football. I do have to say though that it is sad that there’s more to talk about in terms of the latter.
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Here Goes:
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1.0   The Football
1.1   Personnel
1.1.1          Real Madrid
Jose Mourinho / Aitor Karanka revealed pre-match that there would be modifications made to the starting XI but wouldn’t reveal what / who the changes would be. Naturally, all of us expected that it would just HAVE to be Coentrao in for Di Maria as Marca ‘confirmed’. Coentrao did start, but on Left Back to replace Marcelo with Di Maria retaining his place in the starting XI. It’s relieving to know that under the Mourinho regime, ‘insiders’ are no longer leaking out team lineups to the Madrid press.
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Tactically, it seemed like a straight forward enough of a swap: a Left Back for a Left Back. It did seem to puzzle some people though: there were people on twitter calling it a 3-3-3-1 – which was plausible considering the fact that we were pressing Barca so high up on the pitch. Finding Coentrao in all sorts of positions on the attacking front later on however: I can only conclude that he was essentially carrying out his role as ‘the joker’.
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1.1.2          Barcelona
Many disagreed when I spoke about Barca fielding a B++ or rather, an A- team resulted in a drop in their quality in the first leg saying ‘it didn’t matter’. Last Wednesday, they proved that it did: Pique and Xavi started (Pedro too but it didn’t matter too much in my opinion) and they were much better in possession.
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Real Madrid failed to curtail Barca’s possession like they did in the first leg (a very uncomfortable 52% for Barca). Barcelona however still did not manage to dominate. Final match stats showed 60% possession for Barca (down from their supposed average of 68%). The results however are still very good for Real Madrid. It was a Barca A Team vs. a Real Madrid A Team. And despite Barca continuing to have possession, Real Madrid still looked the better team.
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1.2   Formation and Tactical System
There are a few key points to note tactically re: last Wednesday’s game. Firstly was the fact that Mourinho remained faithful to the 4-2-3-1. It’s official people: he is NOT going to migrate to a 4-3-3. Don’t get me wrong: I still believe that we will see the 4-3-3 for quite a number of games this season. The 4-2-3-1 however, will remain as the ‘base formation’ of the team.
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The key to its success was described perfectly by Sky Sports’ Graham Hunter in his Soccernet Article:
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I had had a briefing before the weekend from a good Real Madrid source that a huge percentage of Mourinho's preparation in preseason, across the U.S., China and England, had been based on pressing like hungry Rottweilers and counterattacking with chilling speed and efficacy. "

As discussed in my last RMFB Article, also with reference to the interview on Chelsea’s Andre Villas-Boas, Real Madrid’s effectiveness against Barca is not just about pressing or having the energy and the manpower to do so. The key has been in knowing how, knowing who and knowing when to press. Also equally important is that they know what to actually do with the ball once they win it: they no longer freak out at the sight of being blitzed by a pack of Barca players counter-pressing them once they win the ball back – they know where to knock the ball to and do so in a manner that puts them in a threatening attacking position almost immediately.
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Here’s the fun part: we were doing this with the ‘less-‘solid’ or ‘less-secure’ formation which is a 4-2-3-1 (2 CMs vs. their 3). What if we learn to do it with a trivote? An attacking trivote that is…
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1.3   Application Defects
Our failings on Defense and Attack cost us the endgame

I stated in the comments section of my previous post that I fully expect us to win the Super Copa. And I never hid under a ‘The Super Copa is a meaningless Trophy’-Security Blanket. I wanted us to win it badly and I fully expected us to do so as well. I said:
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If Barca win the Super Copa, they'll be happy to know that they can still nick it over RM even without being at full fitness and Madrid will know much more work there is to be done. “
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And now we know what we need to work on between now until December (assuming the strike doesn’t de-rail the scheduled Clasico):
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Firstly, while our pressing up the pitch has been a success, our defending when Barca manage to penetrate through has been woeful. Barca scored 5 goals in the 2 legs of the SuperCup. Villa’s was a Golazo that I can excuse Ramos for not rushing into to block. The rest however, if studied, could have been prevented. Iniesta’s goal was described perfectly comments section as ‘Ramos forgetting what an offside trap was’. ALL THREE of Messi’s goals however were a result of the same move: Messi going from deep and into our box, most of the time ‘ghosting in’. Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox might possibly have identified the problem. Might this be a role more suited for the pacier and more menacing Pepe?
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Secondly, much work needs to be done when we do create scoring chances. Real Madrid midfielders  and defenders seem to be ‘automatically’ aiming for the space behind Barca’s full backs once the ball is won – for Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil and Di Maria to run to. It works too! The problem is with our attackers to when they get this opportunity in the final third. Alves had Ronaldo in his pocket last Wednesday. And once again, we failed in capitalizing on the chances galore created. You can create 20 chances against Almeria, score 4 goals and call it a blowout. Against Barca, if you create 11 chances and score with the same %, you lose titles.
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2.0   The Non-Football
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2.1   Believing Your Own Propaganda
Many Barca fans have been sniffing too much of that which stinks from the Propaganda Department of the Camp Nou. Here’s what it says:
2.1.1          Real Madrid is Evil
2.1.2          Barca’s recruitment policy has ALWAYS been about promoting from La Masia while Real Madrid’s is ONLY about Galacticos
2.1.3          Barca cares about “Values” while Real Madrid only care about Money
2.1.4          Barca’s Football is so beautiful that any team that plays otherwise is committing and act of immorality.

Real Madrid’s propaganda department have their own shit story to tell. But here’s the thing, I take much of it with more than a pinch of salt. I urge Madridistas and cules alike: do the same lest you become a pathetic zealot. Zeal is supposedly a virtue. Over-zealousness is an irritating trait. Zealots are dangerous.
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Let me make a confession: I actually used to liked Barca. Then I started to feel so-so about them. Today I dislike them – and I do so because of the overwhelmingly pontificating sense of importance and self righteousness that I get from their Directors, many of their fans and worst of all: their players. Clearly they’ve been sniffing too much of that crap (literally) from their propaganda department. Might this be the reason why I feel that my dislike for Barca can never match their hatred for Real Madrid?
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I cannot stand nor tolerate this idea of football as some form of morality.
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Italy, a nation of 4 Word Cup trophies and once home to the once-undisputed greatest league on the planet (the Serie A) have Catennacio as one of the pillars of their football. I’ve never heard anyone preach it.
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England, the inventors of the game, are worshippers of speed, pace, power and even brute strength. And today, as their Propaganda Artists brainwash the world on the superiority of their league, they make no claim on the moral authority of their football. The worst was merely from their fallen sexist-‘prophet’: “I’d like to see Barca do it in a Cold Night at Stoke”, he once challenged. Collectively, the world laughed.
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2.2   The Threshold of Physical Play
But maybe Barca should indeed try it out in a cold, rainy night in Stoke, I once suggested it (nevermind that they’d win 12-0). I was then preached upon by a Cule about the (moral) virtues of technical tiki-taka Spanish Football and La Liga. Funny, I always thought that La Liga and the XFL (Xenophobe Football League) played the same sport…?
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I use Andy Gray’s ‘Stoke Challenge’ to speak of one of the most reviled players in the Madrid lineup (in the eyes of the Cules): Pepe. Pepe has always been a footballer who played on the knife’s edge that defined the boundaries between the acceptable and intolerable when it comes to physical play. As a Madridista, I have to say that he has often crossed this line. In this Super Cup however, apart from his attempt to display his Taekwondo skills on Alves in the first leg, I do not find that he crossed the line. Body checks, partial clotheslines and such are things we see in physical leagues like the EPL, Bundesliga and some in South America. They are yellow card offenses of course and he duly got one in the second leg. He deserved one in the first leg too: but then again so did Valdes when he ‘allowed CR to run onto his arm’.
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It is not wrong to play physical football – even if it’s against teams that play tiki taka who have players of small build. On the back of Madrid’s play over the 2 legs of the Super Cup, it might  have been fair to brand the play of the likes of Ramos, Pepe and Khedira as ‘harsh’ or ‘very physical’ but it is certainly in my opinion too much to call it ‘dirty’ or ‘immoral’: words that are echoed by many Cules who suffer from  a ‘We Are Righteous Victims’-Complex.
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Many have said exaggeratedly that Real Madrid should be in the WWE over their physical play. I disagree – the WWE is an act: only Di(ve) Maria would qualify amongst Real Madrid’s players. I don’t think I can say the same about the other side.
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2.3   Losing Composure
We learned this past week that there is no such thing as a ‘meaningless’ clasico. This is the reason why it is common to see players lose their rag and completely lose the plot. Some Clasicos back (during Barca’s 2-6 at the Bernabeu if I can remember), Sergio Ramos made a ridiculous lunging tackle that earned a straight red. It was an act of immature petulance.
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Last Wednesday, with the score at 3-2 to Barca’s favor, instead of invoking Real Madrid’s ‘remontada spirit’, Marcelo pulled off a lunging, cynical and tackle on Cesc Fabregas to earn a straight red card. It was immature, it was petulant, it was vile, it was unacceptable. It was also very stupid: if he had only put his efforts into making it 3-3, we would have won an epic Clasico Super Copa. His tackle was cynical, violent, stupid and absolutely unacceptable.
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He must, if not in public, at least in private, apologize to Cesc Fabregas.
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2.4   Madness and Stupidity
2.4.1          Unnecessary Reactions
Cesc Fabregas was directly in front of Eduardo when the poor Croatian’s foot almost came off his leg from a bad tackle. Cesc was also Captain of Arsenal when teammate Aaron Ramsey’s leg was broken from a challenge similar to Marcelo’s (with that lethal trailing leg). In both cases, Arsenal’s bench did not pour out into the pitch in outrage like an uncivilized mob. Wenger was furious of course and the British media crucified the 2 defenders responsible for the tackles. No party however, has ‘ruined football’.
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What happened at the end of the Wednesday’s game was the equivalent of what they call in the NBA as a ‘bench-clearing’ incident. Pep Guardiola frantically and unsuccessfully trying to stop the Barca bench from rushing the pitch reminded me of Jeff Van Gundy nearly getting the shit kicked out of him in those NY Knicks – Miami Heat NBA brawls of the 90s: a move which I respect him deeply for.
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I would understand seeing Barca players surrounding the match officials in outrage if there was no red card. But the red card did come out. Immediately. There was no need to ‘invade the pitch.’ Is this a case of believing the ‘We are righteous Victims and I can’t stand it anymore’ script way too much once again?
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2.4.2          Racism
Racism is unacceptable. I am ashamed that it happened in the Bernabeu and I am outraged that it happened at the Camp Nou. Both Clubs must police their crowds to ban for life anyone caught involved in monkey chanting or any racist behavior.
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2.4.3          Deserving the Badge
Shame Mourinho, Shame!

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I was a skeptic when Jose Mourinho joined Real Madrid. Then I grew into loving him at Real Madrid. Then, on the back of his actions last Wednesday, I am ashamed, embarrassed and disgusted that such a man wears a Real Madrid Badge on his shirt. On his first ‘final’ as the most powerful manager in the history of the club, he has dishonored it with his immature playground petulance.
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The headline of the Sports Page in the newspaper (here in Singapore) today shows a picture of his ‘eye-gouge’ on Tito Vilanova. I’ve never been embarrassed to be a Madridista, not when we got eliminated from the CL or the CDR at the hands of those lousy teams, lost 5-0, 2-6 and all those titles to Barca – until last Wednesday.
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No form of verbal provocation (as some allege) can ever justify what he did.
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Mr. Mourinho, I do not ask that you behave as a role model. I only ask that you behave as the Manager of Real Madrid.
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Having made a faustian pact with Mourinho, I doubt Florentino Perez and / or Jose Angel Sanchez (the only 2 men more powerful than Mourinho) do much about it outside of firing him. Mr. Mourinho needs to grow up, grow some balls and make a public apology not just for what he did to Vilanova but also for his nonchalant reaction to the madness that ensued.
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3.0   2,540 Words
Real Madrid and Barcelona played 4 matches in 3 weeks early this year. There were 7 goals in total over the course of 390 minutes of mostly ugly football. Over 3 days this week, we played 2 matches, scored 9 goals through 180 minutes of mostly attractive football. Progress.
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In this article, I’ve written 966 words on ‘The Football’ and 1,379 words on ‘The Non-Football’. How sad is that?
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It was about 3 months between those Clasicos and this past week’s. It will be another 4 months before the next one comes up. Here’s to hoping that the next time I write something about the clasico that goes over 2,500 words – that it will be all about football.
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(originally posted on Real Madrid Football Blog)

2 comments:

  1. You dislike self-righteousness?

    You do know that Real Madrid proudly claims to be the "gentleman" club and has always said that they strive to act with "señorío", do you?

    Why is that different?

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1.) Please state your name
    2.) I know about 'senorio' - and people who have this quality do not act or preach the concept of being 'self-righteous victims'. Gentlemen don't do that. People with serious self-esteem and insecurity issues do.
    3.) Mourinho is a problem for this 'senorio' concept and Real Madrid because he doesn't know how to shut up, work hard and prove himself later on like in his post-CL comments last season.
    4.) There is a big difference between having 'senorio' and being moralist zealots. Sadly too many Cules and idiots like Xavi are the latter.

    ReplyDelete