Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kicking Away The Banana Skin





So finally we’ve gotten this game out of the way. After Madrid’s Burger King Boys (Getafe) knocked the wind off the sails of Barcelona, opening up a SIX (6!) point lead between us and them, the trolling from Cule trash talkers seems to have gone on overdrive (check out the last few posts at RMFB)  – pushing the pre-clasico fever a couple of days too early. I’m finding it hard to choose to not to talk about last night’s match vs. Sporting at the Molinon though, because the match after all had ‘Banana Skin’ written all over it. Because I Think about it, the ingredients are there:
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1. Playing Without Xabi Alonso
2. Ronaldo coming off an ankle knock
3. The Combination of Manuel Preciado, Sporting Gijon and the Molinon – somehow they just have that upset-artist look to them given the torrid time they gave us last season over there and how they ended Mourinho’s 500-year old unbeaten streak at home.
4. Iturralde Gonzales – the biggest Jackass of a referee on the planet.
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In other words, if you had asked me to bet on this game, I wouldn’t have so confidently laid my money down for a Real Madrid win. (Incidentally, if you’re the betting type and are looking for a good Sportbook Review site, have a look at the link).
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Tactics and Personnel
That Jose Mourinho laid out his team to play a their 4-2-3-1 isn’t a surprise. That Fabio Coentrao made the Starting XI to replace the suspended Xabi Alonso wasn’t the surprise either (he does after all play in that pivot role). The surprise was seeing Lass Diarra who had been ok at the right back position in Arbeloa’s absence move alongside Khedira to give Coentrao the Right Back spot was the surprise. There are a few things that come to mind from this: First, that it should be no issue given that in the Mourinho system, the right fullback attacks much less than the left full back, which means that the likelihood of having a high demand for Coentrao’s crossing from the right wings will low. The second though that comes to mind of course is that Mourinho is experimenting for the clasico: he already knows that the CB pairing will be Pepe and Ramos and that his left back is going to be Marcelo, but having tried Albiol and Lass at RB, he’s perhaps wondering how Coentrao will fare in that role.
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The other tactical question would also be: without Xabi Alonso, who would dictate the play of the team? The answer was also quite interesting: By choosing to not field Sahin into the game, we also pretty much know by now that Mourinho doesn’t think it’s time yet to field the Turk into the Clasico (I in fact expect him to play 90 mins. Vs. Ajax midweek). And also by choosing Lass and Khedira as the team’s 2 pivots, we saw how the CB pairing of Pepe and Ramos can perform some (but not all) of Xabi’s functions: with our high defensive line, the 2 midfield pivots only serve to function as ‘screens’ and the occasional role of being a utility passer. The main role of ‘passing fulcrum’ for the team at a deep position would then fall into the hands of our CBs whose defensive line is higher up and whose players (Pepe and Ramos) are both decent passers (better in fact that both Lass and Khedira).
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Player Performances
Last night’s game wasn’t one for mouth watering football. Manuel Preciado’s boys made sure of that. With their string of robust tackles, coupled with our Xabi Alonso-less passing game (made worse by Ozil’s unability to stamp his authority on the game), it wasn’t a match for the lover of football aesthetics: don’t let our 66% ball possession figures deceive you). It was a match that in fact, reminded me very much of the Madrid derby (the fact that Sporting wore Roji-blanco shirts with blue shorts just like the Colchoneros made it even moreso). Though control of the match was there and I didn’t feel like we were in danger at any point in time during the game, it remained a largely bland game with little sign of things happening until Di Maria’s 35th minute heroics.
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Di Maria’s goal was the sort of thing that managers want to see from their talented attacking players: putting not only their supreme technical skill to use, but also non-technical virtues such as cleverness, industry and persistence. Di Maria’s goal started with an attacking move on the left side, where he turned up after switching wings with Ronaldo: the move starts with a speculative run at Sporting’s fullback that then turns into a duel which Di Maria wins merely by persistence. The goal was no means in the bag even after Di Maria managed to get behind the full back and make his way into the Sporting box: he first looks for a guy to cross to (but fails) but insists on making himself appear to look to cross to get the keeper out of the way. The deception is turned into a picture of beauty when he then shoots it into goal from the tightest of angles. I’ve seen the replay a few times today already and I still can’t get over myself (or get over Di Maria for that matter). Di Maria earns my vote for Man of the Match later on with his now-becoming-signature assist-pass for Ronaldo in the 65th. Ronaldo still had work to do of course, taking the ball past the keeper before poking it in at a tight angle as well. It’s quite an interesting thing for me to see too as just hours before, I had seen a Norwich City player attempt something similar against Man City’s Joe Hart – and fail miserably. What can I say? That’s quality I suppose.
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Ronaldo’s goal celebration of planting himself on the ground before leaping up into the air with his boy band mates Marcelo and Pepe was repeated to celebrate the 2-0, only this time, Ramos joined in too with the rest of the team still not getting what these guys are doing – maybe the whole team will do it to celebrate a goal scored in the Clasico?
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Mourinho would later send in Benzema, Kaka and Albiol as subs to the game: with the former 2 looking lively and contributing in well on attack. Benzema of course would assist Marcelo’s cherry-on-the-sundae goal while Kaka would have a crack at goal and didn’t look half bad out there. Albiol on the other hand remains unconvincing at RB.
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Next Stop: a dead rubber in Amsterdam where I expect to see the likes of Sahin, Granero, Callejon and Altintop and Varane to get a bucketload of minutes. After that, it’s time to go loco for El Clasi-Co.

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