Monday, November 28, 2011

Cuatro, Cinco, Seis




It was Inevitable - Kim Jong Il thought so soo - hahahah.
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In a way, even after Adrian scored the opening goal in last night’s El Derbi Madrileno, Madridistas the world over (and perhaps even Rojoblanco supporters) didn’t feel too rattled (or euphoric in the case for Atleti supporters). It was after all a goal scored in the 15’ minute. There was plenty of time for Real Madrid to equalize and to take the lead. And even if we didn’t bash them with a lot of goals, that would’ve been fine too (last season’s affair ended 2-1 as I recall)… which is why a comeback and win was in a way, considered inevitability by many.
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Gregorio Manzano ominously set the tone for how the match was going to be before a ball was even kicked: warning that the game was going to be ‘aggressive and ugly’. And while Adrian Lopez’s goal wasn’t ‘aggressive and ugly’ (it was in fact a product of a super-quick and beautifully-executed 1-2 play), what happened after it reminded us all of Manzano’s ominous words before the match.
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The Non-Tactics
There really isn’t much to discuss in terms of tactics for Real Madrid given that we lined up pretty much exactly as many has predicted: a 4-2-3-1 with Lass at RB in the place of the injured Arbeloa. Up front, Di Maria starting the game was perhaps the semi-surprise – given how exceptional the Pipita-Benzema link up mid-week was vs. Dinamo without having to alter Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1.
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If there was a notable tactical point for the match, then it would have to have been the decision of Gregorio Manzano – a coach known more for his ‘psychological techniques’ than his tactics, to use Diego to ‘mark’ Xabi Alonso in a bid to negate his effectiveness as the team’s passing fulcrum. It was a decision which in my opinion might have proven to become a game-changer had he decided to stick to that plan regardless of the number of players they had in the game – because until they stopped doing it, Real Madrid were noticeably less effective.
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Carbon-Fiber Shin Pads for the Head
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"Luckily we had carbon fibre shin pads that work really well. We did our job. We played with discipline and only received one yellow card in the entire 90 minutes. We remained calm, concentrated and didn't react to anything."
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For Real Madrid, if there is anything that’s really worth pointing out with regards to their performance last night, then it would have to be the fact that they came in to the game fully prepared mentally. And for a team that’s got Sergio Ramos and Pepe in it, with neither of them getting booked or involved in any ‘incidents’ – that’s saying a lot. Last night’s match was going to be defined by poise, mental and toughness both for Real and Atleti: for Real, it would be about whether they were going to let Atleti to get under their skins with the physical play and for the latter, if the psychological trappings / baggage that comes with 12 years of failing to beat Real Madrid was going to get to them. Marca did afterall hilariously if not snootily reminded us all that the last time Real Madrid was beaten by Atleti, Spain’s currency was still the Peseta.
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Courtois' Sending Off was the Early Beginning-of-the-End for Atleti
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Predictably, in a match of wits, or rather, keeping hold of your wits, it would be Mourinho’s men who would come out on top. Granted that Atleti were too blunt for most of the match after Courtois’ sending off to disturb Pepe, but Lass had quite a few nasty and physical tussles on the right flank – none of which resulted in the Frenchman losing his cool. Perhaps the shock to me was Angle Di Maria who reacted to a foul on him (by Diego) not by rolling on the ground to exaggerate the contact, but to actually confront his assailant – an incident that resulted in a yellow for the Brazilian.
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The opposite unfortunately would happen to Atleti: they just collapsed. And no, I’m not going to say that it was the sending off of Courtois that prompted the psychological collapse: because in my opinion, his decision to foul Benzema was PART (and not the catalyst) of their collapse. Looking back at the incident via replay, it’s now even that much clearer that it was terrible decision-making on the part of Courtois, because Benzema was still not scot-free to roll the ball into the net: as Karim was actually veering further and further away from the goal and the angle for him to shoot was in fact getting tighter and tighter: ‘chasing him out of position’ would’ve been, in my opinion at least, the better decision.
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Snowball Effect
If there is to be one person in your team who is supposed to get you out of such a hole, it would have to be your coach. Manzano’s reaction however sped up the Snowball Effect for his team to go on a tailspin: by choosing to remove Diego to send in Asenjo for the Red-Carded Courtois. It wasn’t so much as about removing the Brazilian per se, but actually removing the tactical component he introduced to the game that bothered Real Madrid the most: the marking of Xabi Alonso. Diego was not only taken off, but Atleti’s tactical function of marking Alonso had also been taken off (instead of being re-assigned to another guy). Xabi Alonso would then have the entire game at the palm of his hand, helping Real Madrid to a cool 60+% possession.
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Di Maria - Back Amongst the Goals
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Lass wasn’t the only one who kept his head too. After being on the receiving end of a nasty tackle from Perea that nailed his ankle, Cristiano Ronaldo kept his head too. The 2-1 was a result of a classic Ozil-through ball to Ronaldo which normally puts the Cristiano through to goal… but this time he was once again confronted by Perea who knew all to well how fatal it would be to allow Ronaldo to cut diagonally in form the left flank. With his newfound ability (or rather, willingness) to pass, Ronaldo instead used what little space he had to send a cross (rather than force the issue which the old Ronaldo would do) – giving Di Maria the all-clear to shoot.
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It was from that point in time where Atletico’s World had completely fallen apart. The fouls got more cynical and their play degraded to the level of pathetic: best embodied by Pipita’s goal where he essentially swiped the ball from Godin + Asenjo and maneuvered around them to score. A replay will show that when Higuain scored, Atletico had 3 players in the penalty box PLUS the goalkeeper. 4 vs. 1 and still Pipita scores: if that’s not a symptom of their mental breakdown then I don’t know what is.
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By around the 78’, the announcer doing play-by-play in the TV broadcast I was watching said:
“At this point it’s now only a matter of whether Real Madrid can score another one and if Atletico can manage finish game with the 10 men that they’re left with”
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True enough, we would score another one and they’d lose another man (Godin). Before the match, there had been rumors linking Godin to Chelsea. Err... I think Godin just lost any chance he had for that Chelsea gig last night.
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The Count Continues
I promise that I will not give my article about the Sporting Gijon a name with a reference to counting (i.e. continue with the Uno, Dos, Tres… then Cuatro, Cinco, Seis thread). It’s just too difficult to stop thinking about the fact that we have a SIX point cushion over Barca at this point: who would have thought it? I certainly didn’t (my most optimistic, shot-in-dark hope was 4 points before El Clasico). All of a sudden, the dots are beginning to connect:
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-       A proper pre-season that balanced the publicity stunts (China) with the serious training (UCLA)
-       A Large, Deep Squad
-       Strategic rotation of players (not quite enough though) – allowing us to play our best XI in La Liga (and our ‘B-Teams’ in the CL) till the clasico
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It’s late-November heading into early-December: this is the time of the year Barca are supposed to be stringing together massive 5-6 goal massacres on a weekly basis. Yet here we are with the unique opportunity to send them to the Club World Cup 9 points adrift of the La Liga title – a deficit they will need to start clawing back as soon as they get back from the winter break that usually slows them down. We have conspired with our fates to put ourselves in this beautifully favorable situation: if there was ever a moment to seize control of the battle for La Liga, it was this. Last night, we took our chance with both hands.
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All that’s left is for us to just keep going.

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