Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The F Word. Fatigue


This was probably Benzema's most decisive Real Madrid goal to date.

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So it seems we are heading for a period of stretched resources for Real Madrid. Given our knack for early exits in the Copa Del Rey in the last few seasons (coupled with the ridiculous justification of ‘it helps with our La Liga campaign), we now find ourselves playing a game every 3 days for the month of January. After getting past 3rd Division Murcia and La Liga bottom feeders Levante last year, we’ve now had to spend midweek this January going through a 2-legged Derby Madrileno in our Copa Del Rey tie while having to keep up our pursuit with the machine-like Barca still blasting their opponents away (who were incidentally given 2nd Division Real Betis to face up against).
With beginning-to-wake-up Sevilla up next in the Copa Del Rey for Real Madrid’s next pair of mid-week matches, it is NOT just the Andalusians + Osasuna and Real Sociedad which are Real Madrid’s biggest foes for the coming weeks: it is also fatigue. Just as I find great difficulty going 4-5 weeks to get up at 2,3,5 am to watch Real Madrid play (much less to blog), I can only imagine the difficulties of the squad’s challenge to play top La Liga sides every 3 days constantly for 4-5 weeks.
Signs of the busy schedule and its impact on team fatigue showed their ultimate sign last weekend in our ‘Loss’ to Almeria last weekend – giving Barca a more comfortable 4-point lead. It is of course easy to look back and criticize Mourinho for choosing not to invest playing time to his second stringers so that they’d be able to pitch in more competently during this time when squad rotation becomes a necessity.
It is however a chicken-and-egg question: rotate the squad early on, and you might not have that strongest XI that you know can do the job for you when the going gets tough. Choose not to rotate, then you’ll have consistency problems in performance once you field your second stringers – as Madrid are going through at the moment. It’s clear which decision Mourinho has made. It is also very clear now what his strategy is to get by this crunch period is: get a lead and close shop… just as he did during the return leg vs. Atletico at the Calderon… and just as he did last night vs. Mallorca at the Bernabeu.
I’m with him on the decision he made: were we willing to risk going into January without knowing for sure who our best XI would be?
Battling the Balearic Islanders
With the match against the understandably-more-dangerous-Sevilla on his mind (at the Sanchez Pizjuan no less), Mourinho opted to roll the dice: starting Kaka, Granero and Gago for Ozil, Khedira and Xabi Alonso respectively. Despite the substitutions made in terms of the personnel, it was still a formation meant to attack: a 4-2-3-1 with Benzema up front.
Benzema getting a place in the starting XI was of course a hot-button topic for the press: given that he was left out of the Almeria starting XI as part of Mourinho’s experiment to play without a ‘9’ and also against Atletico Madrid where it was clear (to me but not to most) that Mourinho approached the game cautiously with only the intent to score  an away goal and protect the aggregate score (which was what Madrid did). All of this was of course made worse by rumblings of a return of Ruud ‘Van Gol’ (more on him later) as well as Kaka suffering a case of foot-in-your-mouth with his comments that ‘we ALL expect more from Karim.’ As much as I love Kaka, I really did find myself thinking ‘You’re one to talk!’ given his current state of clearly lacking match fitness. Mourinho tried to use the situation as a motivational tool for the Frenchman of course… only for it to be perceived that he was siding with the Brazilian in turning up the temperature further on the pressure cooker that Benzema was in. What a Bloody Fucking Mess!
Looking closer into Mourinho’s substitutions, I’d have to say they made a lot of sense. Granero’s quality has never been in doubt in my book and he showed very capably that he was a good fit to the box-to-box role that Khedira usually fills. The Canterano also added dimension to the role when he showed that he’s a technically better player too: more competent in shuttling the ball forward, and serving out dangerous passes for his attacking teammates. On the flipside, he’s less powerful in the ground and in the air, making him less effective in ball recovery (despite the energy he spends in pressing opponents). Gago on the other hand is what I’d like to call a poor man’s Xabi Alonso: simple passes, but without the Basque midfielder’s level of poise, passing range or vision.
Further forward, Kaka filled in for Ozil behind Benzema and started the game lively with some nice touches and attempts at 1-2 plays to carve Mallorca open. Hi clear lack of fitness however was terribly exposed as he faded away during the opening 45 minutes’ latter half.
The Second Half – A Pulse… And Goal!
By half time, it became pretty clear that Mourinho’s attempt to push his luck of getting 3 points from this game without Ozil and Xabi Alonso was not going to work: we’ve had the ball for over 60% of the time but still couldn’t manage a clear cut chance. What the hell, be probably rold himself: it’s only going to be 45 minutes anyway, as he sent in Real Madrid’s 2 main midfield power generators: Ozil and Xabi Alonso.
While it’s easy to imagine a Kaka-in-his-element playing in Ozil’s place, an effective Real Madrid without Xabi Alonso is almost unimaginable. The Basque midfielder was brilliant pulling the strings from behind to keep things organized at midfield (and at the back even) while keeping the attacking side more well-oiled in their incursions at the Mallorca goal. In the end however, it just had to be Mr. Hot-Button topic himself who had to score the winning goal: Karim Benzema.
The #9 Question Returns
Despite missing out on at least 2 other great chances to make it 2-0 or even 3-0, Karim Benzema played a pretty good game. Aside from making a lot  of great runs to open up space for the surging runs of his teammates, Mr. ‘I Like the Ball Played at my Feet’ himself actually found himself signaling his teammates to send the ball into spaces for him to run into. We also all saw him trying to play with the goal to his back while trying to hold the ball up in attacking positions. Tomas Roncero, still refusing to give up on the feline comparisons called him 'Puss in Boots' during his blog. What can I say? Maybe he's more 'cat' than 'dog'... and what's wrong with that? Cats can hunt too (e.g. Lions, leopards, etc.)... Either way, a few more nights like this and who knows? Maybe we'll see the Benzema of Lyon again.
And of course it was a fairytale ending for Jose Mourinho. 1-0 to Madrid. He wanted nothing more.
Postscript:
As of this writing, the possibility of Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s arrival is dead in the water. I hated him before he came to Real Madrid and I hated it when he left Madrid… and I absolutely loved the fact that his name was chanted from the Bernabeu’s Fondo Sur during the game amongst fans who held his jersey aloft. It’s too bad though that the dealt didn’t come through despite the reportedly reasonable offer from Real Madrid to Hamburg (2m Euros plus a friendly match) and his own supposed offer to put in some of his own money into the deal.
The man who might come to Madrid instead is Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor on loan. It’s a deal that I thought to be a good idea when it was last mooted and I still think it to be so. After all, all Real Madrid have to lose is the one thing they’ve claimed for so many years they have plenty of: money.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Miow


Hunting with a Cat
How fitting was it that before I last Sunday’s 2am (Singapore Time) match between Real Madrid and Villarreal, I had been watching a documentary at Nat Geo about the pack hunting methods of mountain lions. The documentary showed their different methods (Ambush, Blitz and Seige) to take down various prey that included a Zebra, some form of Antelope and even a full grown Giraffe! I didn’t realize the relevance of this documentary to Real Madrid until after seeing Real Madrid drop 2 points in their 1-1 draw to Almeria where Jose Mourinho finally decided to gamble on playing with his ‘Cat Formation’ (a lineup without a ‘9’).
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‘You can hunt with Cats, but hunting with Dogs is better.’ So said Mourinho (or something like that) as he differentiated the possibility of playing without a traditional striker.
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It seemed then that last Sunday’s match vs. Almeria was to be a pretty good day to pick. So let me say this out loud and clear to all those who follow Real Madrid: I do not believe that Jose Mourinho was wrong to try out his striker-less formation against Almeria last Sunday:
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1. The possibility of playing without a striker is a scenario that Mourinho should be prepared to use with or without Pipita or Benzema. It’s something he was bound to try in a Champions League tie or even against a tough La Liga team like Barca or Villarreal.
2. As good as Almeria may be, they are no Villarreal, Atleti or Barcelona – They are a relegation-battling team and they are as good as any other team to pick to try out the new formation
3. The key to the use of the formation is Kaka: having gradually played with increasing minutes over that past few games, it was logical that such a game was an appropriate time to give him a start to further his confidence with a start.
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Having said that, it still has to be said that Real Madrid’s attack looked toothless and lacked incisiveness last Sunday. Playing Ronaldo as the Center Forward, with Kaka behind him and Ozil on the Left as Di Maria took his usual place on the Right, Real Madrid was a step slower when they pushed forward: a critical step slower, with less intuition moving forward and without enough of Ronaldo’s ability to draw defenders and leave them eating dust with his darting runs with the ball forward. Let me point out the fact that Real Madrid looked exactly like this going forward during our early season struggles. And it is this that leads me to believe that with enough work, there is no reason to believe that Real Madrid cannot play / hunt effectively ‘with cats’. I suppose that at the end of the day, we may choose to see it either as a gamble or an investment. Then again, what’s the difference between the 2?
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'Boys - This is how the 3-5-2 works... This is how we'll turn this around...' says Mourinho says Marca during halftime of the Villarreal game.
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In the end of course, the outcome of Mourinho’s gamble, was possibly fatal for Real Madrid’s La Liga title hopes. Going down 1-0 almost midway through the 2nd half, his now-familiar move to play a 3-5-2 to go on an all-out assault on the enemy goal. His stated-appreciation for Granero finally manifested itself as well by sending using him in as a right-sided attacker as Di Maria shifted to the left side. The canterano of course re-paid the faith placed in him with a blistering shot to make it 1-1. He didn't have to use Coke and Water Bottles of course to explain this to his team as alleged quite outrageously by Marca during halftime of the Villarreal Game (there are people in the Real Madrid camp who drink Coke during the game? Really?). 
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In any case, the outcome was to be a draw. However we may wish to see this match as as 2 points lost, it was ultimately 1 point won thanks to our ‘11’s’ goal.
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The aftermath is a familiar story… a story so familiar I can only roll my eyes bitchily at the hint of having to hear it again. Mourinho not-so-subtlely vents his anger at the referee, parts of the press agree with him, while others, many of whom are the same ones who spoke of Benzema’s hopelessness as a striker unsheath their knives against Mourinho for his gamble that didn't pay off.
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It’s halfway through the season and there is indeed plenty of time… if only there were plenty enough chances for Barca to drop points.
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It’s a funny affair this matter about hunting… Cats… Dogs. All this of course was we wait in wonder about Real Madrid’s ex-horse: Ruud Van Horseface… err… Van Nistelrooy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What A Game!

EUPHORIA: Kaka's goal, Real's 4th, giving us a 2-goal cushion - meant that all hope was lost for the sunken Yellow Submarine and that the 3 points were all ours.
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Real Madrid 4 – Villarreal 2. What a match! There are very few matches that get people to talk up the possibility of having an attractive and utterly competitive game and actually live up to it: Last Night’s encounter was one of those few times. The match was an epic-multi-layered story whose expected blockbuster appeal was further outdone by the depth of its storyline.
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Pitting La Liga’s 2nd and 3rd best teams against each other – many did view THIS Villarreal as a side that just might have the stuff to not only break their duck to notch their first win against Madrid at the Bernabeu but also hand Jose Mourinho his first home loss in 800 years. Boasting the likes of The Rossi + Nilmar show (unfornately for them, the latter was out injured), The Yellow Submarine showed off a wonderful but dying breed of attacking players – the double striker combination. Behind them, they were backed up by a magnificent piece midfield playmaking machinery – a throwback 4-4-2 formation: or rather, a rendition of the supposedly Brazilian ‘wingless’ 4-2-2-2 formation. A unique system I’d have to say – in the age of the now ubiquitous 4-2-3-1.
I still remember the days when the 4-4-2 using interiores (i.e. the 4-2-2-2) was attacked relentlessly in the days of Wanderlei Luxemburgo’s doomed coaching stint at Madrid (and Brazil’s ill-fated World Cup 2006 Campaign). It is incidentally the system instituted by ex-Real Madrid and ex-Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini (also now unreasonably reviled by certain quarters among the Real Madrid fanbase, particularly Marca’s Eduardo Inda and his ilk) – and now carried on by the menacing Javier Garrido (I swear – he looks like a New York City cop from those crime shows on TV or the basis of Bullet Tooth Tony’s character from the Guy Ritchie film ‘Snatch’).
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Tactics: The Magic Square vs. The Double Pivot
Football Fans Know Better
Villarreal's narrow 4-4-2 (or 4-2-2-2 if you will), combined with their workrate and passing precision, and further combined with only Di Maria helping out at midfield, resulted in us being overrun at the center of the pitch. Their fullbacks provided them with width - which was why Marcelo created so much danger against them. 
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It was a game of the Magic Square (Villarreal’s 4-2-2-2) vs. the Double Pivot (Madrid’s 4-2-3-1). And during the first half: Villarreal showed us just how devastating the system can be when played the right way. The Yellow Submarine, made use of their interiores Cani and Cazorla, to tuck into the midfield. and with strikers Rossi and Ruben taking turns to drop deep to keep the chains of triangular passes going – Villarreal assembled a dizzying barrage of passing sequences that overran Real Madrid’s midfield and filtered effortlessly beyond the defense.
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There were a few critical points that led to this being so:
1.)     Villarreal’s positional flexibility and workrate: Cani, Cazorla and Borja were all over the pitch while strikers also dropped deep, ran wide and kept their offensive play fluid – a tricky system to defend against as seen during our El Clasico drubbing and when Getafe turned their midnfield engines on after Parejo’s goal.
2.)     Madrid’s application of the 4-2-3-1: Marcelo playing Dani Alves-style to capitalize on their vulnerability at the flanks with their fullbacks pushed up to provide width to their attack. To make things worse, only Di Maria, was helping out Xabi Alonso and Lass contain their midfield-on-steroids. It was their ‘2-2-2 =  6’ vs. our 3, fighting it out at midfield.
3.)     Borja Valero. Like Dani Parejo, he doesn’t have Xabi Alonso’s passing range. But when the 2 are both on, they control the midfield with their metronomic passing and by constantly making themselves available for an outlet pass to their teammates. Granero has this quality too… as does the unfortunately-retired-to-soon De La Red. They’ve all got a nifty long range shot from distance in their arsenals to boot as well. Seems like Valbebebas, and not just La Masia has been producing some top quality Xavi-esque players too.
4.)     Lassana Diarra. In a game against teams eager to keep their shape out of fear for Madrid’s offensive onslaught, Lass’ pitbull-style works well. Having him chase down opposing players and use his signature-physical tackling abilities becomes a show in itself. Yet against teams that run on fluidity and movement in possession – his pitbull style becomes a weakness. With his tendency to chase the man in possession (the bait), he ends up leaving his position and renders the team shape mangled. Last Sunday night was a classic case. I suspect that the Getafe match was the same too – but his yellow card proved to be the perfect excuse for Mourinho to yank him and play the positionally disciplined workhorse Khedira. Last Sunday however, with no legit excuse, Mourinho had no choice but to confess that the Frenchman wasn’t up to it. And by the way, he should get fined for his postgame pouty antics too!
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Perhaps the only weak point with Villarreal’s shape was that it really did render their flanks vulnerable as their fullbacks were their only source of width – leaving acres of space for speed demon wingbacks like Marcelo to wreak havoc and initiate counter attacks. With that exception, we were totally dominated by Villarreal and were indeed lucky to head into halftime at 2-2 – with only the interplay between Benzema, Ozil and Ronaldo the source of joy. I’d have to say hwoever that Ronaldo’s second goal was something to be truly thankful for – given his usually insistence to take free kicks. In this instance where the angle was tight for him to shoot however, Xabi Alonso’s looping delivery found his head in his display of his qualities as a ‘9’.
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It's impossible not to contemplate how critical Ronaldo's second goal was: it was arguably the goal that completely broke the will of Villarreal. It was as if to tell them that no matter how well they played: they still wouldn't be able to beat us - that they were up against some force of nature that had the complete power to impose it's will on them, no matter what they did. Logic would tell us of course that it was merely a case of poor defending, combined with Ronaldo's natural instincts as a goalscorer... and of course - a good dose of luck.
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Tactics: Mourinho’s Shock and Awe plan works, sending Garrido’s men into retreat.

Mourinho’s statements after the match prove how well he understands his current predicament in La Liga: that winning it boils down to winning everything plus the next Clasico: a slip up is not possible. It was with this in his mind that he confessed to deciding to roll the dice much earlier that he would normally would have done in Portugal, England or Italy.
Out came the pouty perpetually loosely-positioned Lass and in came the more positionally disciplined Khedira.
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Along with what was a presumably good scolding for his team to wake up after delivering what was probably an unwitting psychological death blow to Villarreal with Ronaldo’s equalizing goal to make it 2-2 by halftime, Mourinho rolled the dice on a move I never thought I’d see him do. Still with a view to securing the back line especially in areas where the pace of the likes of Cazorla and Rossi can harm Madrid, ‘Mou’ altered the team shape to what looked to me like a formation I only get to see / use when I play FIFA 2011 on my PSP: a 3-5-2:
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Football Fans Know Better
Mourinho's Offensive: Marcelo and Di Maria push up to render Villarreal's fullbacks as offensive non-factors in the second half. A tired and demoralized Villarreal midfield drowned without support from their flanks.
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With Ramos switching to a Left-sided Central role, he essentially parked a 3-man center ‘wall’ to cover Casillas. He then had Marcelo push further up the pitch in a role he was placed in during the Juande Ramos days: as left-sided midfielder aligned alongside Di Maria. It was a move that neutralized Villarreal’s ability to play an expansive game as their fullbacks, particularly Angel had to worry about Ronaldo and Marcelo being in more advanced positions. Doing this also tilted the numbers game at midfield to our favor: 5 Real Madrid Midfielders to 4 Villarreal midfielders with no outlet to wider positions because of their fullbacks’ new predicament. The strikers also now didn’t have it so easy as it was also a 3 vs. 2 matchup with Ramos joining the fray. The plan worked brilliantly: forcing Garrido to admit that all there was left for him to play for was a draw – who sent a defender on to salvage the point…. Only for Mourinho to turn the screw further – sending Kaka on for Albiol and turning Khedira into a makeshift defender. It was the kind of positive thinking that Madridisimo wanted to see – that it worked out brilliantly is the stuff that gets Madridisimo to worship the coach.
Up front, we also saw a more active Benzema who put in a good number of shifts in the second half in pressing Villarreal’s defense when they won the ball. So despite the criticism leveled at the Frenchman for his performance last Sunday, I’d have to say that to me he wasn’t actually too bad.  
His performance of course was overshadowed by the display of Real Madrid’s very own firestorm-in-football-boots: Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger/striker was Villarreal’s hellbringer: scoring his 4th hat trick of the season and bringing his goal tally to a ridiculous 22 goals in 18 league games and 30 goals in 27 matches this season. His monstrous numbers in his short Real Madrid career thus far are even more staggering: 63 goals in 62 appearances. He’s on course for me to forget that he cost 96m Euros. What a game. What a player.
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And what a game. An Epic game – starting out in a manner that suggested Madrid’s doom only for a stroke of carelessness (or luck?) to allow Madrid back in with a shout. And as with every epic, the outcome is decided by a bold leader and a fearless hero.
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Bravo Mourinho
Bravo Ronaldo

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year – Old Problems

The Club that loves to buy attacking players so much, is short on strikers. Hilarious.
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I slept with my Real Madrid Jersey on New Year’s Eve as part of my wish for titles this 2011. Today, typing this over my lunch break in my first days back to work from my Holidays in Manila… I’m kick-starting 2011 to talk about a several-month-old problem that threatens the possibilities of seeing the team visit La Cibeles this year. It seems that it’s now clear and inevitable that my current favorite Real Madrid player, Gonzalo ‘Pipita’ Higuain will be gone for the rest of the season as he goes under the knife to sort out his back’s herniated disc.
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It smelled inevitable from the beginning, yet somehow, the club, the player and the fans (including this one) allowed an unhealthy dose of hope to creep in only to delay the inevitable and even prolong the effects of the situation.
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Even, according to the official website’s ‘official’ translation of Mourinho’s statement, his anger and frustration at those who have given us all false hope is palpable:
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“The Medical Staff and myself have been certain for one month that Higuain must have surgery. There were some enlightened people who said he could recover without surgery and people tend to accept as truth that which they want to hear. These enlightened people changed their opinion after a month and Higuain must now have an operation.”
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The Marca Version essentially calls Dr. Enric Caceres a wise-ass, with Mourinho’s statement mentioning: “A Lie Repeated Becomes the Truth.”
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The Consequences
The result of this classic case of ‘I Told You So!’ now means that Real Madrid, if it chooses not to go into the transfer market will have to rely on the unreliable Karim Benzema as our main weapon up front… at least until Kaka can regain full match fitness to give us some additional, albeit unconventional formations up front (i.e. Ronaldo as a striker). Despite not always agreeing to his commentary, I have to say that I found myself nodding as I read AS’s Alfredo Relano’s column today … especially when he says that ‘So far, Karim Benzema has only managed to solve 2 problems that didn’t really exist: Auxerre and Levante’ - referring to the Frenchman’s 2 Cup Hat tricks in essentially meaningless games (though the Levante game did in fact count – albeit not in the sense that they REALLY worried us).
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So now that we’ve miserably put ourselves into the dangerous position forewarned by Jose Mourinho earlier this season… we must now seriously ponder the choices that are available to us. Choice, thankfully is a luxury that Real Madrid still have now that the winter transfer window has opened.
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Option – 1 Acquire a New Striker
I'm willing to wait till the summer for Llorente
The operative word in the above statement is “acquire”: something which can be done by either purchasing a player or by loaning a player. My theory on the matter is that Madrid are trying their best to NOT make a signing in order to keep this coming summer’s acquisition plans (I smell Fernando Llorente). Below are some of the options being mooted in the press:

Emmanuel Adebayor
I really liked Adebayor at Arsenal... before he turned into a sulky loser at Man City. I do think that a loan deal for him would be great though.
Positives: Adebayor is no Julian Faubert despite his current state of sulking. During his best days at Arsenal and in his early days with Man City, the Togolese striker has shown the capability to score goals effectively in a lone striker role, frequently with his back to the goal – just the sort of thing Jose Mourinho was looking for in the first place. Taking him on loan in my opinion would NOT be a bad idea. In a way, it’d be like what we did with Jose Antonio Reyes several years back: he didn’t set the League on fire, but he did make a significant enough of a contribution to our La Liga title-winning campaign. If Adebayor turns out to be a revelation, then it’s all good… if he sulks (unlikely to happen under Mourinho) and performs poorly, we can just happily ship him back off to Manchester and allow our annual summer purchasing roller coaster to take place. Credibility to the rumors of his possible loan to us will reach is peak if Man City manage to acquire Dzeko for Wolfsburg.
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Negatives: Apart from the fact that any striker signing would be an indirect statement to Benzema that he isn’t trusted (despite that fact already being plain for all to see), Adebayor’s reportedly high salary might also ruffle a few feathers in the Madrid dressing room.
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Verdict: If it’s a loan deal: go for it!
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Miroslav Klose
Positives: A proven goal scorer. He can score in big games too! With just under a year to go in his contract, the German World Cup scoring star would be a neat pickup as he’d likely be available at cut-price. He’d feel right at home too with the likes of Khedira and Ozil already in the team. Also, given his age (32), there’s a unique selling point to finishing your career with Real Madrid in your CV. If he can be convinced into accepting the role, he can be like Pippo Inzaghi for Milan: play when the 1st choice strikers are out or come in as an impact sub.
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Negatives: NOT a proven consistent goalscorer AT CLUB LEVEL. The thing that turns me off about him however is that he’s ‘just a striker’. He’s not the hulking physical presence up front at Mourinho likes. Looking into the future, the possibility of luring Llorente would only be logical if we all finally decide to give up on Benzema.
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Verdict: Ok – only if he’s worth less than 10m, is willing to accept being a squad player once Pipita is available again or if Benzema realizes his potential.
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Nelson Valdez
Positives: The Paraguayan striker is proven in La Liga given his current exploits for Hercules where his goalscoring numbers have impressed and his workrate has astounded many. His character in big games, especially after his performance against Barca also cannot be questioned. The big attraction point to him however is his pricetag: 5m Euros for a guy who’s scored 6 goals in 11 games for is cheap.
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Negatives: While his workrate would undoubtedly impress Jose Mourinho, his natural position as a guy who drifts back and forth from the front lines to the midfield is not what we currently need. Signing him would also mean a possible re-think of our summer signing strategy up front.
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Verdict: While buying players who are value for money is a virtue to be praised, I feel that going for Valdez would be a purchase made more for his value rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a need. Valdez, despite being a great pickup is ultimately not the ‘9’ we are looking for.
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Romelu Lukaku
Positives: The Belgian Beast is every bit as menacing as the player he is currently being compared to: Didier Drogba… 13 years from now according to my PSP (I’ve got him playing for my team in FIFA11’s Manager Mode). Either way, despite playing in the ‘weaker’ Belgian League: being topscorer in a European League at age 17 however is no joke. By the way, did I mention that he’s already publicly stated his dream to play for Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho?
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Negatives: He’s 17! And he costs 15m.
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Verdict: Signing him at this point would make little sense if the objective is to get someone proven and reliable to rescue us in the goalscoring department. Bringing him in would be a neat prospect if we were to strategize from the point of view of for example, signing Klose, then purchasing him once the German retires while Pipita and Benzema at 24-25 years old can count on a 20-21 year old Lukaku as backup. Otherwise, we might as well take our chances with Benzema and Morata (see below)
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Edin Dzeko
Positives: The towering Bosnian striker is the hulking ‘9’ Mourinho seems to be looking for. 66 goals in 111 Bundesliga appearances, to lead his club in breaking Bayern’s German hegemony is a serious achievement. At age 24, he’s also at the right age to hit his best form.
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Negatives: He’s supposedly worth 40m Euros. Compare that to the La Liga-proven and World Cup-winning Fernando Llorente whose buyout clause is at 36m Euros, and you pretty much get an understanding as to why Florentino hasn’t gone nuts at the prospect of signing the Bosnian. The bidding process is no cakewalk either: having to battle with cash-rich Manchester City will be a tricky task (as I'm typing up this blog entry, Wiki-pedia actually has him as a Man City Player already).
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Verdict: Wait for Llorente in the summer. With Florentino’s supposed plan to ‘hispanicize the club’, Llorente fits the bill both for his qualities on the pitch as well as those off it. And with a buyout clause of 36m and a rival bidder (Barca) short on cash and stocked full of quality up front (Messi, Villa, Pedro), the possibilities are rosy this summer.
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Option 2 – Stick with the Current Roster
This is obviously not Mourinho’s preferred option. And why should we all be surprised? Mourinho knows that his massive ego, his enormous reputation, if not his job, is at stake here and he’s very understandably not keen to pin his hopes on the yet-to-REALLY-wake-up Karim Benzema, much less the Alvaro Morata, who despite his potential, is still essentially a project. Mourinho is not wrong to prefer a ‘safer’ approach to the problem through the purchase of a striker – it’s his job to prefer going for a striker.
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I on the other hand, am willing to see the club take a risk for the sake of a longer term plan that can allow us to REALLY test out whether we should but 1 or 2 strikers next summer: i.e. find out if Benzema is really a Real Madrid player. And if not, we should then buy Llorente + a replacement for the Frenchman as we also welcome Pipita back. (Easy for me to say given that it’s not my job on the line).
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In the meantime, we can use the 14 matches prior to the Lyon Champions League tie to:
1.) Test the mettle of Karim Benzema as our ‘9’
2.) Give Morata playing time and the chance for him to win a permanent spot in the squad
3.) Nurse Kaka back to full fitness with a view to playing him as part of the starting XI with Ronaldo in the striker’s role: giving us an alternative to Benzema in the starting XI within the 4-2-3-1 ‘Dog Formation’.
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Football Fans Know Better
This Lineup looks pretty menacing to me. A fully-fit Kaka would make us a Nightmare-on-the-Pitch for Opposing Teams
Assuming (a dangerous assumption however) that we can get a fully-fit Kaka to slot into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 to take Ronaldo’s place on the left side (where he can play as an inverted attacking midfielder / winger to drift inwards to his favored right foot). The rest of the attacking ‘trident’ behind the Striker will remain the same with Ozil in the middle and Di Maria on the right. Ronaldo will then take his place at the Center Forward position where he has the flexibility to play as a 9 using his height and aerial ability or as a false 9 ala Messi where he can drop deep to collect the ball and use his pace to run at defenders. I do think that it’s a pretty mean-looking attack.
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In any case, we’ve got a full month to watch the transfer market and see how it pans out. Let’s just all hope it turns out for the best.