Sunday, October 9, 2011

Of Mousetraps and Ketchup Bottles

I don’t get it.
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Racing and Levante did it EXACTLY the same way. Wait for Madrid in your own half. Defend deep. Frustrate them. And with a bit of cleverness and luck, through a quick counter, or a set piece: you just might nick that goal that gives you a point – or 3.
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Espanyol instead, chose to do it EXACTLY the same way as Ajax and Rayo. Control the ball, caress it. Ping it about: show Real Madrid who’s in control. And within a matter of seconds: Kaka, Ronaldo and Ozil WILL murder you.
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Why did Espanyol choose to try to be Ajax or Rayo rather than Levante or Racing? I have no idea. I don’t get it. I only know that I enjoyed myself quite a bit watching it all unfold.
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Real Madrid is the world’s best, most fabulously-designed, attractive-to-watch, extravagant and ridiculously-expensive footballing equivalent to the mousetrap. Cross a line enough times and in mere split second, SNAP! You’re dead. Last night’s game at the Cornelia El Prat wasn’t much different. Madrid didn’t really boss the game: the tried, but couldn’t manage to. Espanyol did a good job of gaining control of the game: enabling them to cross the line, that line more than a few times… and they duly got punished for it. 4 goals. 4 daggers. Thank You and Good Night. Thanks for having us over.
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Team Selection
Jose Mourinho seems to be playing games with all of us with his team selection. After not picking Albiol for a few key games where first-choice centerbacks (Pepe + Carvalho) are unavailable. Varane instead got the nod to start much to the surprise of many.    This of course got the conspiracy theorists a buzz.  Maybe they were on to something…or maybe Mourinho just had some form of squad rotation system in his mind that none of us at this point can understand.  The other surprise of the night was also Sergio Ramos starting at CB with Arbeloa playing at RB given Varane’s performances during the last few game. The midfield was also a bit of a mystery: with Lass starting ahead of Khedira despite the German’s availability. 
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The choices were pretty much obvious upfront given Di Maria’s suspension.  Despite the sentimental speculation that Vanilla Joe (Jose Callejon) would get the starting nod due to his history as an ex-Espanyol player, Jose Mourinho opted to further entertain the media with the Kaka-Ozil partnership.   Ditto for Ronaldo and Pipita – Benzema was after all injured.
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Player Performances
The defense did reasonably well.  One could complain that we missed Carvalho’s passing capabilities from defense.  But then again, if you don’t have control of the game, what do you need a ball-playing CB for?  I’ve always said that Arbeloa for Ramos at RB in Mourinho’s system (where there is less attacking on the right side) represents no drop in quality for Real Madrid.  And as for Ramos, I belong to the school of thinking that he is a far more suitable CB than he is an RB. 
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Meanwhile at midfield, once again, the Xabi Alonso + Lass partnership fails to control the midfield.  AS’ passing stats this morning showed decent numbers for Lass, but I’m not inclined to only look at the numbers.  What remains critical however, was Xabi Alonso’s ability to pick out the right passes with a single touch to his teammates the moment some form of control of the ball was gained. 
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The key plot line of last night’s story however, was how Madrid happily allowed control of the ball and the game go to Espanyol and were equally happy to get just those few chances in the game.  Nothing personified this more than our opening goal where a single touch from Kaka puts Ronaldo on his way to feeding Pipita for the opening goal.  Many have spoken about how we managed to tear Ajax open in a matter of mere seconds mid-week.  I’m pretty sure however, that if we were to measure the amount of time it took Kaka to ping that ball to Ronaldo all the way up to the goal scored by Higuain, that you might find the time it took to score the goal comparable to the one we scored versus Ajax mid-week.
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The Ketchup Bottle Breaks
Espanyol - Real Madrid
Welcome Back Pipita!
How fitting is it that this also happens to be the weekend where Ruud van Nistelrooy finally manages to score for Malaga: he of the now-famous ketchup bottle metaphor. If we were to conclude that by scoring his first La Liga goal for Malaga, RVN has finally managed to open his “ketchup bottle,” then I suppose  Pipita has managed to smash his.  All three of Higuain’s goals were full demonstration of a shockingly improved level of fitness and confidence.  After all, it wasn’t too long ago where we saw him run the entire length of the pitch to find himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, only to blast it WAAAAY out.  The opening goal fed to him by Ronaldo was taken with 2 touches of the ball and aimed at the top corner: none of that fire-it-at-the-goalkeeper crap that we all know we usually see from a non-match-fit Higuain.  Kudos would also have to go to Alvaro Arbeloa for attempting and succeeding a very successful Xabi Alonso impression: delivering a long vertical raking pass that travelled almost three-quarters of the pitch to find Pipita for his and Real Madrid’s second.    And since we started this discussion on strikers talking about RVN, what poetic justice it was to see Pipita imitating his mentor, using his predatory striker’s instincts to capitalize on Espanyol’s defending error to earn the right to keep the game ball last night.
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Perhaps the other surprise of last night was that we did not see Cristiano Ronaldo attempt a bicycle kick especially after we saw Julio Baptista knock a beautiful one in last Saturday.  Instead, we saw him deliver two fabulous assists including Vanilla Joe’s first goal as a Real Madrid player in La Liga.  Callejon’s decision to not celebrate the goal and gesture to the crowd to ask for forgiveness was also a touching detail.
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Outside of Barca’s continued dominance of La Liga (once again they are top of the table), I find that this La Liga season thus far has been about ex-Real Madrid strikers: Negredo and Soldado leading their teams with their goal-scoring exploits for Sevilla and Valencia, respectively as well as RVN + Baptista’s exploits last Saturday.  Last night, I just had to wonder whether post-Levante + Racing, would Real Madrid’s current strikers follow suit?
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Three goals from Pipita + one goal from Callejon with no discussions regarding Kaka + Ozil + Xabi later, we have a broken ketchup bottle for an answer to that simple question.

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