Sunday, September 11, 2011

Winning despite a Broken Midfield but with a Broken Ketchup Bottle


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At 12 midnight, after watching Liverpool go down 0-1 to Stoke, I decided to take a nap prior to Real Madrid’s match which would be at 2am Singapore time: deciding to give Real Sociedad- Barcelona a miss. Before dozing off though, Barca was already 2-0 up with just over 15 minutes into the game. Not long after, I woke to a kick from my 3-month old son who has just awakened:  it was as if he knew that I needed to be alerted to the fact that Sociedad had gotten a goal back. 3 minutes later, Sociedad had made it 2-2. Late appearances from Messi and Villa didn’t help. Barca are going through their annual early season fitness struggles again it seems – and Real Madrid need to capitalize.
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If anyone needed any validation that Real Madrid had a totally different fitness situation, all that was put to rest with out 8 shots in the first 15 minutes of the game. We’re only talking about fitness thus far though.
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Tactics and Personnel – Midfield Selections
Pressing with a 4-2-3-1
With Sahin and Altintop looking at a long spell in the Valdebebas injury ward, and Khedira still injured, Mourinho still made the choice of not calling up Lass for the game: opting instead for only Coentrao and Granero as Xabi Alonso’s 2 potential partners. Coentrao of course got the nod to start with Xabi Alonso in the 4-2-3-1 system - repeating the starting XI used against Zaragoza.
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The outcome however was different: where Zaragoza seemed to capitulate and accept their fate as cannon fodder to the Real Madrid onslaught after the opening goal, it was a different story last night after Benzema opened the scoring (predictably assisted by Ozil), Getafe fought back. They are after all coached by the man behind Levante’s miracle campaign that saved them from relegation last season. It was during this fightback where I believe the decision to select Coentrao as Xabi Alonso’s midfield partner somehow backfired on us.
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I’ve called Coentrao plenty of things: the ‘Joker’, the Energizer Bunny, etc. One thing that I still cannot bring myself to call him though is: Central Midfielder. Coentrao brings pace and reasonable capabilities as a ball distributor and a ball winner. But what really stands out is his energy: a lot of it. I’m not sure whether this is a result of a license given to him by Mourinho, or even an instruction: but I have to say that I have a huge problem with his tendency to unhinge himself from his ‘pivot’ position. We after all, not longer live in a world where a single ‘Makelele-type’ pivot is sufficient. On top of that, Xabi Alonso is no Makelele.
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What happened last night vs. Getafe
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Coentrao’s constant forays to join Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria while adding ‘spice’ to our attack, becomes a recipe for the opposing team to ‘flood’ our midfield (which by then would be comprised by ONE Xabi Alonso) and overrun it once they win the ball back. This will not be lost on La Liga managers who have been watching game tape and it’s clear from last night that Luis Garcia did his homework… and it wasn’t lost on Mourinho, who said: El partido del Getafe es bueno. Y el nuestro no lo es (The game of Getafe was good, ours, not so). He goes on to say:
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"I'm not happy with my team tonight. We deserved to win and did, but we missed many chances to score. We had too many chances with the little football we actually played. I'm not angry with anyone, but I want to know why the team didn't do well after having such a fantastic start to the season. I want to study this match. I like to try to learn why my team didn't do things right."
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One might be able to argue though on the basis that Coentrao, due to his surging runs from the midfield had a load of wonderful scoring opportunities (including 2 that were easier to score than miss). To which, I would like to point out the difference between making those runs to help build up play and making late runs to latch onto balls to score on ala Frank Lampard in Mourinho’s Chelsea. Coentrao’s goalscoring opportunities were both off rebound opportunities from late runs rather than from his participation in buildup play.
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Getafe looked comfortable getting forward and very stable in the midfield precisely because of Coentrao’s absence next to Xabi Alonso when Getafe had the ball. Last night, Getafe midfielders usually received the ball having to face only the slow-footed Xabi Alonso because his partner Coentrao would be behind, just trying to run back into position after being part of the attack that lost the ball. Their midfielders in turn, had little problems getting the ball to their attackers (among them Sarabia, who I thought looked very good) to put us on the backfoot. This would not happen with Khedira. Until Sami is fit again, perhaps Mourinho needs to consider moving Pepe to midfield as Xabi Alonso’s bodyguard. Ramos at CB and Arbeloa at RB have no impact on the quality levels on the pitch for the team anyway.
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Signs on the Wall
Real Madrid conceded 2 lousy goals last night. Getafe’s equalizer was clearly a result of poor communication between Pepe and Carvalho on who was supposed to track the advancing Getafe attacker and who was supposed stay and sit back for anyone ghosting into the box: both did the former, leaving Miku to ruthlessly punish us with a goal. The second goal was just down to poor defending. While we may have kept a clean sheet during our opening game of the season, it’s important to note that we’ve also let in quite a few silly goals during the pre-season. Is it time for Mourinho to take a more serious look at our defense? Is Carvalho losing concentration (or rather, did he lose it during this whole Paulo Bento feud?)? We have 2 Spanish international defenders sitting on the bench who can help: Arbeloa and Albiol. If there’s a lack of focus, or a drop in level for our defenders, we might want to give some of our bench players some game time.
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Goals, Goals, Goals! (to the tune of Motley Crue’s ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’)
I have of course, saved the best part for last: the goals. Firstly, I find it refreshing that Ronaldo is proving me wrong about my theory which states that Ronaldo only stops playing greedy once he scores. He didn’t give me any ‘pass the f#cking ball you dick!’ moments last night. His penalty, though a weak call in my opinion was still a foul, albeit outside the box.
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The star of the night of course would have to be Karim Benzema. Somehow, the fates have conspired for him to score twice last night to somehow make up for his standout performance on opening day. The Frenchman looks sharp, moves and reacts a split second faster (he wouldn’t have gotten the shot off for his first goal if he got that chance last season) and is clearly brimming with confidence as seen from him first-time shot at meeting Ronaldo’s pass for his second goal. All this wasn’t lost on Mourinho too:
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Benzema had a well-deserved field day on the pitch last night
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"Benzema deserves full credit for his transformation. He had small help from me, from his teammates and from Zizou, but he deserves the credit. He has a fantastic attitude and he always had quality. People see that…”
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And also finally, Pipita gets to score a familiar ‘Pipita-style’ goal: latching onto a pass and using his graft and industry to find an opening to score. He scored for Argentina this past week too. Does Jose Mourinho now have 2 strikers whose ketchup bottles have finally fully opened up?*

(*Note to those who may not follow my Ruud Van Nistelrroy allusion. This was revealed when Pipita spoke about his ‘tutor’s’ advice: "Ruud told me that goals are like ketchup… Sometimes as much as you try, they don't come out, and then they come all of a sudden.'')
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The team travels to Zagreb to open its quest for La Decima on Wednesday. Let’s hope that by then, the midfield would be fixed and the ketchup bottle, still broken.

2 comments:

  1. Haha.:) The first time I head that ketchup comparison, was in the world cup from Cristiano Ronaldo. Remember?

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  2. I've always associated it with RVN because it's what he 'taught' Pipita. check out this link:

    http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=750977&sec=europe

    it's dated March 2010, which was before the WC. Perhaps, Pipita speaks about this amongst his teammates as well for Ronaldo to pick it up and take it to heart?

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