Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Overdrive and Cruise Control


Marcelo shows us what Real Madrid did to Zaragoza: Turn them upside down

Another La Liga game, another goalfest. Another Ronaldo Hat Trick. If no one paid attention to the fact that the team was sporting new away jerseys (I LOVE the Black Kit while the White Home kit has still failed to grow on me), and the energizer bunny with bleach-blonde hair (Coentrao) = the game might as well have been a continuation of last season’s La Liga Campaign. Well, wait a minute: it IS a continuation of last season.
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This is NOT Real Madrid Mourinho edition version 2.0. This is merely Real Madrid Mourinho edition SEASON 2.0. Same team, just plenty of upgrades.
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Sadly, the same cannot be said of Real Zaragoza. 10 new players – including one which the club spent 8m on (don’t remember who) while they became one of the clubs in question for not paying their players’ wages – resulting in being one of the protagonist clubs of the Liga strike. They are also one of the few La Liga sides who do NOT have a shirt sponsor (including Sevilla!) – a reflection of the sad state of La Liga’s financial affairs.
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So while Real Madrid’s mangling of Zaragoza made waking up at 2-4am a worthwhile experience for me, I went back to sleep pondering: the gap between Real Madrid + Barcelona vs. the rest of La Liga. Or was it a case of Zaragoza being THAT bad and Real Madrid becoming THAT good? It’s probably both. Last season’s encounter at La Romareda after all was a 1-3 for Madrid and it was Zaragoza who put our La Liga dreams to bed last season with their 2-3 smash-and-grab at the Bernabeu.
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Anyways, some further thoughts:
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1.0  Tactics
1.1  Formation and Team Shape
SIEGE MODE: Real Madrid looked like something of a 2-1-5-2 when we were on full-attack mode.
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Real Madrid lined up as a 4-2-3-1 with Coentrao replacing Khedira beside Xabi Alonso. This at least was how it looked like ON PAPER. In application, it looked more like a 4-1-4-1 with Xabi Alonso as the lone pivot. And when we were attacking full-on, it resembled something like a 2-1-5-2: The key feature of the system being Sergio Ramos bombing down the right flank as opposed to the more restrained role we saw from him last season. Last night, Real Madrid didn’t just ‘fight’ like a southpaw boxer (a leftie, with Ronaldo’s left-sided wing as the main weapon). We in fact, looked like a completely ambidextrous attacking force: coming in from left, right and center.
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The point to note about ending up with a single pivot with Coentrao (though it’s great to see an attacking variant in its application as we saw last night) is that we must be careful about doing this against other, more offensively-potent teams. Coentrao’s propensity to dart forward or suddenly disengage from his pivot position to go wide while definitely an effective destabilizer of opposing defenses, may turn out to be a weakness than can see Xabi Alonso drowned at the center of the pitch. Mourinho seems to offset this by getting Marcelo to switch into the middle – something I’m uncomfortable to see (though it may actually work).
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1.2  Overdrive vs. Cruise Control
Real Madrid, like in the Super Cup, once again came out of the traps playing a dizzyingly up-tempo brand of football. They were like a freight train on overdrive. And with attacks coming literally left (Marcelo+Ronaldo), right (Ramos+Di Maria) and Center (Ozil+Coentrao+Benzema): Zaragoza really did look like a deer caught in the headlights. The question is: did we flatten them enough when we were on overdrive? I counted our ‘uptempo’ phase in the first half and I figured it to be till about the 30th minute. We had scored 2 goals by then after creating a boatload of chances.
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In the second half, we came out of the traps once again with our high-tempo football (marked by Coentrao’s ‘running back’ breakaway dribble through the center which did not yield a goal). But, by the time Xabi Alonso scored from his ground-skimming missile at 64’, we were in Cruise Control. Another 3 goals followed soon after including a sweet, Milan-era-Kaka turn-and-strike.
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2 Goals playing on Overdrive. 4 Goals playing in ‘Cruise Control’ (i.e. similar to our pace of playing and attacking last season). The conclusion from this is NOT that playing in ‘cruise control’ is better but that there is still much work that needs to be done when we play on ‘overdrive’. Our boys may be able to create a frenetic attacking tempo that is nearly-impossible to defend, but it is perhaps this same frenetic tempo that frazzles their nerves in the final moments of attack which lead to poor finishing and decision-making during those split seconds prior to a potential “kill” (goal) (Di Maria’s first half miss at a wide open goal directly in front of him comes to mind). These are lessons which we learned from the Super Cup duel that we will have until December to refine and perfect.
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2.0  Player Performances
2.1  Ronaldo
3 Goals for Ronaldo. What else is new? He had some other great chances too, including 2-3 free kicks that were on target but were punched away. His decision making was much-improved, though I would doubt it would have been so had he not scored that early opening goal, which eliminated his obsession to get on the score sheet. After his 40-goal season, I can only hope that he can play this one without the anxiety to necessarily score goals as opposed to helping his team win in other ways.
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Many have highlighted the seeming enigma that he has always brought to Madrid that the team plays better together without him and plays with some form of anxiety for him to score if he’s on. It wasn’t so last night (like I said, maybe it was the early goal) - he looked for his teammates, and had only a couple of shoot-first-ask-questions-later moments. The best part was: he gave his teammates the credit for his Nth Hat Trick.
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2.2  Coentrao
This guy had TOO MUCH coffee before the game. If there would ever be a poster child for the brand of football of this Mourinho Season 2.0’s upgrades, it would have to be him. Last night, his tireless running and livewire act served as the catalyst for Real Madrid’s ‘Overdrive Mode’. I am still however skeptical of the soundness of him playing a full-on Central Midfield role: his tendency to run at the flanks (and leave Xabi Alonso alone in the middle) really needs to be curbed lest Madrid find an opponent who will delight at flooding the center of the pitch to smother and choke the life out of Xabi Alonso. Having said that, what makes him the poster child of this season’s tactical system upgrades is not only his ability to spark the team into playing that now-signtature frenetic uptempo game, but also his ability to give Real Madrid a wide array of tactical options on the pitch.
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2.3  Ozil
Ozil is seems to be fast-becoming one of the integral parts of the Madrid midfield, regardless of formation
In this Real Madrid Mourinho Edition Season 2.0 – one of the primary upgrades apart from the newfound tactical flexibility is the strengthening of the team’s spine… and this is where Ozil-in-Madrid season 2.0 comes in. We’ve talked endlessly about Xabi Alonso’s role as the pulse of Real Madrid’s offensive game and as the rock at the heart of its spine. Ozil on the other hand has been a ‘luxury’ in the Madrid midfield, having been kept out of the starting XI of last season’s ‘clasico series’. On the back of his performance during the preseason and in last night’s game though, it looks like Madrid’s ‘spine’ just got another integral component: Ozil. Playmakers in advanced positions usually have a much poorer pass completion rate due to the ‘risk’ of playing around more defenders and Ozil is no exception. His improvement however has been very noticeable: this season he is even more calm on the ball, displays superb awareness and seems to have improved his decision-making. His overall performance last night was in my opinion makes him a legitimate option for Real Madrid Man of the Match, Ronaldo Hat Trick or Not.
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2.4  Marcelo
While Coentrao’s forays into the Zaragoza box via the flanks or through the middle kept me on edge, particularly at the thought of having Marcelo cover for him, the Brazilian however gave me no reason to fret. He defended and attacked on the wing, covered in the middle when Coentrao ‘unhinged himself from position’, scored a goal and did a backflip to celebrate his goal. What else should we ask for from a Real Madrid left back?  
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2.5  The Subs
We’re now seeing the logic of Mourinho’s 20+3 system: 20 versatile, multi-functional outfield players and 3 Goalkeepers – 2 less players than the conventional 25 man squad we’ve seen pre-Mourinho. With quality to the last man on the squad, accounting for injuries and suspensions, every player then stands the chance to play significant minutes for the team. Last night, they were Callejon (who nearly scored), Kaka (who did) and Pipita, whose improved state of fitness was seen in his running the half the length of the pitch ending and his match fitness seen in the fluffed goalscoring chance.
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3.0  Keeping up with the Joneses
It was a weekend where Champions League aspirants both in England and in Spain showed their mettle on Saturday Night: with Liverpool handily beating Bolton 3-1 and Valencia pulling off an epic 4-3 comeback win against Racing Santander. Sunday night of course were for aspiring Champions: With both Manchester Teams mangling their North London opponents (5-1 for City over Spurs and 8-2 for United over Arsenal).  Real Madrid of course, duly obliged late in the day.
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What about those playing Monday night this weekend? Pretenders I say. (Ha!)
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4.0  Other La Liga News
What the hell happened to what was supposed to be the coming out party of Malaga? Maybe it wasn’t too bad that their much-anticipated encounter with Barca has been ‘postponed to a later date’. Or was it the weekend of the epic performances from the ex-Castilla strikers? Negredo grabbed 2 to undo Malaga, Soldado had a hat trick and heck, even Raul scored!
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It’s sad to see the ‘divorce’ between Diego Forlan and Atletico finally materialize. Best of luck to him at Inter (as they report). Atletico are trading one Europa-League-winning striker for another. Still not the same though… for their sake, let’s hope ‘it won’t be the same’ for other reasons this time around.
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(originally posted at Real Madrid Football blog here)
p.s. for those on twitter, you can follow me: @MadridistaMac

6 comments:

  1. Cool article! If you could share this link to the Golden Foot 2011 on your blog so that more fans could vote for either Raul, Casillas or Beckham (the 3 Real Madrid representatives on there), that'd be awesome!

    http://www.goldenfoot.com/acm-on-line/Home/GoldenFoot/Voting2011.html

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  2. Ozil, Coentrao and other young player are the Real Madrid future

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  3. Real Madrid will win the title in the 2011-2011 La Liga Championship.

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  4. Love the optimism guys! Last season it was the CDR, I think this season will be the time for something bigger... La Liga? The Champions League? All of the Above? Why Not? There's no reason not to be optimistic!

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