Sunday, January 29, 2012

Exceptions


The fallout from last week’s El Clasico loss was astounding. The fallout from the coming El Clasico – should we lose (which is a likely event) will perhaps be equally astounding.
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The players are shit – we need to buy 6 new players.
We need a new defense
We need a new midfield,
We need better strikers…
Mourinho should be fired. Perez should resign.
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If any of those above statements are in your mind following the Clasico loss last week and following another loss that might (or rather, will probably) take place on Wednesday – you need to get some perspective.
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Let me say this about THIS Real Madrid: we are currently the second best team in the world. Outside of Barcelona, there is no team in club football that exists that can even be considered better than us (any idiot who will tell me that Man City, Man U, Bayern, Inter, Milan, etc. are better than us will just get a chuckle and a scoff from me). If this Barca team did not exist today, this Real Madrid would in fact be talked about for a very, very long time. I dare anyone to pick a coach, and using a hypothetical 800m Euro budget to ‘pick a team’ and beat this Barca in 1-1/2 years (the amount of time Mourinho has had so far) using Real Madrid (i.e. the ‘challenge’ comes with the obligation to play attractive football). That is the reality and the curse that has been bestowed upon Mourinho’s team.
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The challenge that Real Madrid face, apart from figuring out a way to beat Barca, is to develop ‘coping mechanisms’ from defeats at the hands of Barca to continue ‘operating’ as usual. The coping mechanisms are not only necessary for the psychological recovery and strengthening of the players, but also from the press massacres that take place after such losses. Last night, Real Madrid faced a similar challenge…
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Playing against a team coached by one of Guardiola’s coaching heroes (Bielsa), and following a pillaging from the press (including from their ‘own’), Mourinho’s boys had to step onto the pitch, surrounded by a lukewarm Bernabeu crowd – whose combination of awkward silence and half-hearted support was palpable. The best way I can describe the ambience of the Bernabeu from what I saw on TV was akin to that neither-here-nor-there feeling of awkwardness and half-irritation that 2 lovers have with each other after a spat – or maybe it was just the dull TV broadcast?
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Mourinho's ‘Gamble’
The noticeable thing about Mourinho’s lineup last night was that it featured Granero as Xabi Alonso’s ‘pivot partner’, Kaka on the right in place of Di Maria / Callejon and Varane at CB. Marcelo Bielsa’s Bilbao is a refreshingly different team from the physical, balls-to-the-wall, almost-English Bilbao we’ve seen over the years. Bielsa’s Bilbao as seen last night was slick, possession-based and unafraid to express themselves technically with their expansive passing game. It was only Iturraspe who had a stinker of a game and whose out-of-place, overly-robust game (which included an horrid ‘scissor-leg’ tackle on Kaka) seemed to have forgotten to read Bielsa’s script. Lucky (or intended) by Mourinho that he opted to keep Lass on the Bench then.
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I suppose I would need to see another game with this lineup to be fully convinced that the approach taken by Mourinho last night actually works. A predominantly-Spanish team built to more to pass the ball around with NO defensive ‘enforcers’ – was it an experiment?
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Whatever it was, it proved very suitable to the type of football that Bielsa’s men offered last night: there was plenty of space for Kaka to jet forward with the ball when he had it – the same space that allowed Ozil to make use of his unique manner of positioning himself on the pitch (to perpetually keep the passing angles open to him). The 2 attacking midfileders also duly switched positions on the field, interchanging ‘shifts’ in the middle an on the right side. First half possession showed a largely even possession stat of 51% to our favor despite the 1-1 scoreline. It was just ironic that the goal they scored was off a counterattack while the one we scored was off a neat buildup of play, which culminated in a nifty 1-2 exchange with Marcelo finishing.
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My theory on Madrid’s mental weakness was of course fully validated in the second half: where the opening exchanges almost immediately led to the 2-1 (scored by a spectacularly nasty Ronaldo penalty: a missile to the top corner): that Real Madrid have absolute self-belief that they can win any game regardless of the circumstance EXCEPT if it’s against Barcelona. For most opponents, a handy 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0 would do the job – goals scored by the opposing teams become mere footnotes in the game. Whereas in cases where the opposing team manages to score first, a remontada is always a likely outcome: whether by means of grinding out a result (see Mallorca game last weekend) – or by means of a more attractive approach to winning (last night) – and the players know it too.
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It’s fitting to note that in a game as attractive to watch as last night’s, that the 2 best Real Madrid players were the men who were supposed to be the team’s ‘offensive instigators’: Kaka and Ozil. Well-supplied by Xabi Alonso (who was in turn supported by a Granero’s neat and tidy game), the 2 ‘10’s wove their way very effectively through the Bilbao midfield and defense. It was a game to showcase the 2, along with Granero – who I think put in a decent shift and might perhaps have won himself a candidacy for Wednesday’s El Clasico. The other notable performer last night was also Raphael Varane who convinces me every time I see him that he will become, as Mourinho once prophesized “a starter for Real Madrid for the next 10 years.”
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As the sun began to rise this morning, on the first day of the new Chinese Lunar Year – the year of the Dragon, the score was 4-1. Real Madrid had won once again. Auspicious omens I hope. Marcelo Bielsa openly admitted that the result was just. I disagree – I thought Athletic gave a great account of themselves last night and didn’t deserve such a lopsided scoreline. Either way – the lead is back at 5 points.
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Erasing the Exceptions
 
It still isn’t clear to me EXACTLY what our shortcomings are when we play Barca. I continue to believe that it’s a psychological thing. Because in the midst of this hurricane of praise or criticism that the tema and Mourinho receive from the outcome of the clasicos, I’ve come to believe one thing: that whether we choose to play them by pressing them up high (like in the Supercup) or by dropping deep (like last week) – that we are capable of winning. I insist that both are workable approaches to winning. Victory however can only be achieved through the perfect execution of the selected game plan – and achieving that can only be done through impeccable mental / psychological prepared-ness: our current Achilles’ Heel in facing Barca. Currently, we can do it against any side in the world EXCEPT for them. Currently, they are the ‘Exception’ for us.
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And this affects us all too: have a look at our reactions when we beat other teams (or are beaten by them) vs. our reactions when faced with Barca and it is also easy to tell how we, as Madridistas think, speak/write when faced with the Cules.
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It’s a New (Lunar) Year – a time for the team, a time for the fans to look into themselves and do more than a bit of spring cleaning in their heads: a time to purge those ghosts, those manias, paranoias and phobias. A Time to Erase those Exceptions.
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p.s. I’d like to wish everyone out there a Happy Chinese (Lunar) New Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai! Here’s to happy returns for Madridisimo this Year of the Dragon.

1 comment:

  1. fantastic tactical insights on www.theirtactics.com after the second classico! check it out!

    ReplyDelete