Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sleepwalking Too Rarly and Sleep-Waking Too Late



No, Real Madrid is NOT in Crisis. We are merely in a slump. 5 dropped points over 2 games against La Liga teams whose objective is to stave off relegation is proof of that. Maybe Jose Mourinho’s sarcastic remarks prior to the Levante game about just wanting to stay up were taken seriously by the team: prompting them to play as if we were a team battling relegation.
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On a more serious note: I can only speculate that perhaps the team is tired. The team did have an intensive preseason and looked supremely fit for the Super Copa and the opening of La Liga. Since the international break however, the team has looked flat, out of ideas and mentally and physically tired. Is this a case of the team peaking at the wrong time? Or maybe Mourinho’s fitness regimen really designed things this way given the lack of top-level opposition at this point in time in our calendar? (But he didn’t anticipate we’d be bad enough to drop points)
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Team Selection
On the back of my hypothesis that the team might be mentally and physically fatigued, I will not criticize the rotations instituted by Mourinho for last night’s game. Vanilla Joe (Callejon) did indeed deserve a start while Di Maria clearly deserved some form of punishment for demonstrating his credentials to join Argentina’s Diving Team for the London 2012 games. Arbeloa’s entry into the starting XI is also logical to me – as I’ve always pined for him to start. Ramos going to the bench might have been a bit curious, but I’m willing to chalk it up to rotation: after all, it would be 7 games of football every 3 days for the boys (Getafe-Zagreb-Levante-Racing-Rayo-Ajax-Espanyol). It was however the decision to start Varane as opposed to Albiol to be Carvalho’s partner that gave credence to the internal Portuguese-vs.-Spanish clique warthat some reporters / conspiracy theorists have been abuzz about. At midfield, the selection of Lass also seemed to be the logical choice given Khedira’s suspension and Coentrao + Pepe’s injuries.
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Having said the above, let me be the first to say that in my opinion, Varane had a good game and found his performance to be shockingly impressive for a teenager who was playing in the reserves of a relegation-battling Ligue 1 team at this same time last season. My clamors to see Arbeloa start were also rightly justified as well. All in all, I thought we did well in the defensive department. Even the recently-oft-criticized Carvalho wasn’t bad – nevermind Iker Casillas who had a signature reflexes were on show for all of us last night. And speaking of the Captain, I would also like to point out that his ball distribution out of his penalty box has improved immensely as we have seen his tendency to make pointless hoofing kicks out of his box less and less and more intelligent throws to streaking players to start plays instead.
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Sadly, that’s about as positive as I can get re: what I have to say from last night’s performances.
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The First Half – Sleepwalking
Our first half performance could essentially be described as the Team Sleepwalking. The team was sluggish, unimaginative and lacking in assertion to seize control of the game and take the game to Racing Santander. Every Real Madrid supported on twitter also pretty much noticed how little the off-the-ball movement was from Real’s players: an ultimate sign of ‘Sleepwalking.’
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And apart from being a big bleh in terms of performance, Real Madrid played a very unusual game tactically in the first half  as well. Mesut Ozil, was frequenoziltly on the flanks while Ronaldo would be in the ‘10’ position – it is a positional arrangement that benefits / maximizes the capabilities of neither Cristiano nor Ozil.
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Apart from the already-mentioned positive performances from Arbeloa + Varane, perhaps only Xabi Alonso deserves a mention. His midfield partner Lass however did try… to match Xabi’s passing numbers… but in fouls (uff!). This game was no longer just about the popular criticism of Real Madrid for not finishing their chances created – because in the first half there were hardly any scoring chances created by our Men in Black-and-White.
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Real Madrid did find some measure of control of the game late in the first half, but there would be no goal… or even good scoring opportunities created.
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The Second Half – Waking From Sleep Too Late.
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Mourinho did try to change things up for Real Madrid: initiating 2 bold moves meant to intensify Real Madrid’s attack on the Racing goal. His first move was to convert his 4-2-3-1 into a more conventional 4-4-2 with Pipita coming on to join Benzema in attack in place of Ozil. The switch to a classic 4-4-2 also involved placing Ronaldo and Di Maria (who had come on for Callejon) in the Right and Left side of the midfield respectivel while Xabi Alonso and Lass remained as the pivots of the match.
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The second tactical change Mourinho put late in the second half was the conversion of this 4-4-2 into a diamond 4-4-2 with a single pivot (not the narrow CM-centric version you see in Serie A nowadays): with Xabi Alonso playing the single pivot at the base of the diamond while Kaka, who came on for Lass played at the tip of the diamond. Once again, I thought Kaka looked bright but still lacking in the ‘final product’ for Real Madrid that it so badly needed but never managed to get in the game.
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The Truly Worrisome Thing
On the back of what was visibly an improvement in terms of the team’s performance, I personally cannot find fault with the IN-GAME adjustments Mourinho made to his team to get the win – because both ‘degrees’ of tactical modification appeared to me like they worked in terms of tightening the screw around the neck of Racing. The truly worrisome thing about was that at the end of the day, the ultimate objective of scoring a winning goal (nevermind creating adequate scoring chances), was not achieved. All the signs are now clearly pointing towards the possibility that Real Madrid have in fact had a massive drop in terms mental and physical fitness.
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3 Games. 1 Win, 1 Loss, 1 Draw. 1 Goal Scored. These are definitely not the numbers of a title-contending team. At this point, then perhaps only  the comfort / consolation we can get from last night was Barca’s lost points (we have Unai Emery to thank for that).
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Injuries and Experiments
Rayo Vallecano visit us at the Bernabeu this weekend and it’s looking like Ricardo Carvalho will not be available amidst reports that he may not want to make the match because of a head injury. With a slew of other injuries and a lengthening list of players whose forms are dropping off, Perhaps Mourinho should re-think the tactical options available to him as his 3 options of varying tactical systems all failed to secure us the win.
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Maybe Jose should give a couple of other tactical systems a try too…
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A voice inside of me at this time however is just offering up a much simpler solution: That the team stops Sleep Walking and instead Wakes from their Sleep. 

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