Monday, October 31, 2011

Back to Binary Code

Mourinho has plenty of reasons to be happy given how his Ramos-Pepe Central Defensive Partnership has fared.
So we’re back to Binary Code scorelines once again. After goalfests in the Champions League and against our La Liga rivals, we’re back to clawing our way to victory again. Not that I mind – as I am a believer that there is a need for the team to suffer on their way to victory every now and then. After all, a team that has little ‘practice’ suffering their way to 3 points is likely fated to meet heartbreak should they encounter the oddball situation of meeting another team or a situation that requires a bit of hardship. This suffering of course is even more worth it when we look back at the rest of La Liga’s results: Levante’s spaceship has finally landed with their loss to Osasuna – while the Cules, despite their Manita against Mallorca are now a point below us at second place. We’re now leaders! Now all we need to do is to keep piling the points on -especially as the cules struggle with injuries, fatigue and possibly form issues. If we can head into the December clasico with a comfy lead (at least 4 points), it will allows us the advantage of playing without fear of losing and only the objective of winning. Win that, and they face their annual January fitness blues (recovering from the club world Cup) further behind us and that just might be the cushion we need to win La Liga.
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Tactics and Personnel – Premises
A Diagram of Real Madrid's 'Basic' Game Plan in their 4-2-3-1
Real Sociedad coach Philippe Monanier was heavily criticized by the people at AS for his tactics last Saturday, calling him cowardly and lacking in ambition. This of course was because we were expecting a Real Sociedad who would come at us with the flair, creativity and gusto of Xabi Prieto and Antoine Griezman (some of us were probably even curious if they’ve parked a ‘promo car’ for Griezman to celebrate in should they manage to score). It didn’t turn out that way of course. Instead, Montanier showed us that he has been doing his homework over the last few weeks.
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Since the start of the Mourinho era at Real Madrid, we’ve seen the team evolve and constantly improve on their style of play and expand on the array of weapons which they can unleash on the opponents. Mourinho was true to form with his organization of the back and the midfield:
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1.)    4 ‘Defenders’ and typically one of the fullbacks with the license to unhinge himself to join the attack leaving the remaining defenders to realign more than competently as a ‘back 3’ – i.e. Marcelo bombing forward while Ramos, Pepe and Carvalho can re-align to form a back 3 (even with Arbeloa at RB, we’re still ok0.
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2.)    2 ‘Pivots’: one of whom is a ball distributor and another is his assistant / bodyguard (Xabi Alonso + Khedira / Lass)
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3.)    3 Attaking Midfielders: One with the license to play as a striker if he so chooses (CR), a playmaker (Ozil / Kaka) and another who is to drop deeper to assist the 2 pivots (Di Maria) in pressing and ball-winning.
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4.)    1 striker: mobile, technical and can drop deep to help in buildup play, combine with Ronaldo and have the killer instinct to finish every half-chance that comes: i.e. ‘Benguain’ as that creepy Marca cover mentioned
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The premise has always been simple:
5.)    Provoke them to come to at least the halfway line
6.)    Win the ball
7.)    Blitz them with goals.
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The problem has always been though that teams figure out soon enough that without 5.) then the rest pretty much will get stuck. Experienced coaches will also know that if Real Madrid don’t manage to score within the 1st 20-25 mins (ESPECIALLY at the Bernabeu), then they will get restless and start losing their nerve. That’s the difference between Madrid and Barca = because tiki taka is so engrained in them, they fully expect to have 70-75% possession for the entire game and are fully willing to keep trying and trying for 85-90 mins. to pass you to death until they get that goal. Where Barca are happy to keep beating you with a club till you pass out, Madrid on the other hand is out to get you to open up yourself so they can stab you in the chest. That’s what we saw vs. Levante and Racing and what we did NOT see against the rest of the teams who have been the subject of our goalfest maulings. Clearly Montanier has  been watching and learning.
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So last Saturday, he unapologetically set his team up to defend = with FIVE (5) defenders spread across the pitch and a neat bank of 4 in front of it with Arsenal loanee Carlos Vela on his own. Sitting on the bench was their firestarter Antoine Griezman. The plan was very simple and clear as soon as you saw them line up on the pitch:
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8.)    Sit Deep and Defend
9.)    FrustrateMadridand Deny them an early goal
10.)      WhenMadridbegin losing their nerve and stamina, send Griezman in to see if he can ambushMadrid.
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The plan was simple too but it also was based on a premise whose importance was so vital: that Real Madrid fails to score early. It didn’t happen of course as by the 10th minute, Real Madrid was up 0-1 thanks to Pipita’s goal. They expected of course for Real Madrid to go for a second, continuing to cede possession and territory to our boys in the hopes of nicking one back. For large parts of the first half, Real Madrid looked likeBarcelona, swinging the ball side to side, back and forth and finding an occasional opening to threaten the goal, but failing to make it 2-0. Ultimately, there were no goals to follow – not even after Griezman was introduced into the game (and causedMadrid quite a few problems).
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Mourinho rotated his squad last Saturday: Coentrao played for Marcelo at Left Back: assisting Pipita for the match-winning goal. There was little else though, the Portuguese Surfer Dude will need to put in some work to cultivate the Batman-and-Robin tandem that CR and Marcelo have developed on the left. Lass played in lieu of Khedira and the outcome was once again a less slickMadridmidfield. Ozil on the other hand, played as the ‘10’ with Kaka on the bench – a move that I felt was suited to facing a La Real side that had set themselves up defensively given the German’s penchant for making incisive passes through crowds of massed-up defenders. .
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Binary Code – Ones
Today, as
Gonzalo Higuain, currently the best goalscorer amongst Europe's Top Leagues.
With his goal last Sautday, Gonzalo Higuain became the best goalscorer in all of Europe’s big leagues. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment for him especially in light of his doctor’s confessions that his injury almost ended his career. The finish was a page torn of Raul’s highlight reel too: using 2 of his teammates as ‘offside decoys’ to receive a pass from deep (also check out his opening goal vs.Malaga) and poking it just over the ’keeper to score.
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I find it particularly telling that he celebrated his goal firstly with Coentrao (who assisted him) but also with Marcelo (who was on the bench): both Portuguese and both of whom are allegedly in the rival Portuguese-speaking clique of the group – further dispelling the rumors of clique war in the dressing room.
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Binary Code – Zeros
Another game, another clean sheet: the common denominator seems to be the partnership of Ramos and Pepe at Centerback. On paper (or a video game), the combination of having the 2 pairing up at CBs seems a great idea: both are strong, powerful in the air, are physical beasts and have the pace to cover lots of ground and keep up with the nastiest tricksters with the ball. A closer look at the 2 however, reveals plenty to worry about: both are red cards waiting to happen, and neither of the 2 are calm nor great in reading the game. The fates however have still conspired for us to see the pairing together and it’s been a pleasant coincidence to see this pairing coincide with a purple patch for the Real Madrid defense: 1 goal conceded in 6 games – stat that even a cantenaccio side would be proud of.
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The Anoeta Factor
The La Real’s Anoeta Stadium is a pain in the ass place to play in (I can’t believe the bastards were booing and whistling Xabi Alonso though!). It’s been rightly pointed out that Barca too have had difficulties there too. Real Sociedad are no slouches and last Satuday, their coach proved to us that they’re not naïve either. 70% possession in favor of Real Madrid or not, the game turned out to be a dogfight: with Sociedad frustrating us constantly in our bid to secure the game with a 2-goal  lead while keeping us at bay and on our toes should their chance come (made more apparent when Griezman was sent into the fray). It was the sort of hard-fought dog-fight that Mourinho relished and appreciated from a foe.
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Perhaps the remaining worry left is the physical toll our current schedule is taking on the team: a fact also confessed to by Mourinho in his post-match comments:
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"In the last few minutes, we managed to play with fatigue… "I changed four players and I am pleased by the response of my team," he enthused. "We have now finished a very difficult month and a very difficult week in which we also beat Malaga and Villarreal."
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It doesn’t get easier too – we head into the witches’ lair (OlympiqueLyonnais’ Stade De Gerland) on Wednesday. Fatigue or no fatigue, there will be plenty of demons to purge over there.
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And even if that turns out to be a Binary Code scoreline, I’ll be fine with that too just as long as the one comes after the zero ( OL 0 -1 RM).
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*A Side Note*: Some Jackass said that Cristiano Ronaldo would struggle at the Bundesliga as if to allege that La Liga is some league for ballerinas. Last I checked, there's a certain ex-Real Madrid winger in their best team over there who if not for his injuries was considered to be the best thing in Germany since Beer, Benzes and BMWs - player who would probably not make the starting lineup in today's Real Madrid or Barca.
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Ok, ok, ok - I'll just chalk it up to Oktoberfest - it's clear some people have been enjoying their beer waaaaay too much.

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