|COUNT 'EM UP! Messi and Pique counting the number of points we have over Barca. Say 'Cheese' Guys.|
Last week it was 7up. This week, we’re all out of names of fizzy drinks to describe our lead: it’s now TEN points. 10. Beautiful.
Sid Lowe had some great feel-good reading material re: Real Madrid too (read the full article here):
“They are relentless, irresistible and boast gigantic variety about them. The sheer number of great players they have was likely to tell eventually – on Sunday, the 13 players who turned out for Madrid cost a combined €364m* – and although the tensions have been real, and the mistakes apparent, the work that Mourinho has done is impressive. He has also been given a second year – a concession not made for any of his predecessors.
are not playing well, they have a power that is unrivalled. This is an
astonishingly athletic side; talented, too. As the former Madrid sporting
director Miguel-Angel Portugal put it on Sunday night: "Against Madrid,
when you're most convinced you can win you're suddenly two down, or three, or
four … You leave thinking you have played well but you have been hammered."
Just look at the number of chances Madrid
create from other teams' corners.” Madrid
Mourinho is right though: the points will be harder to win at this point as every club we face will now have established their goals for the season: be it survival, a place in the top 10, a place in Europe and so forth. Then there’s also the matter of concentration: the players may deny it, but Mourinho’s concerns over a lack of focus are true too: both goals conceded last night were clear examples of poor focus. Replays after Levante’s opening goal show a clearly guilty Arbeloa (he had that ‘shit, that was my fault’ look) while Ramos and Pepe were clearly culpable for Levante’s 2nd goal – more of Ramos actually as Pepe, who made the unsuccessful last-second lunge to block the shot, was actually marking the Levante player drifting to the far post.
Let’s make no mistake about it: this is La Liga crunch time. This is where having Mourinho on the bench counts, especially for teams who haven’t won a league title in a while. Where the likes of
Manchester City in can stutter and bottle
league leadership at the slightest show of ferocity of Fergie’s men, Mourinho’s
Chelsea did no such thing. Getting a 10 point lead is one thing – keeping it
and padding it further is another. Real England
haven’t won a league title in 4 years: with a squad that can only count on
Casillas, Ramos, Higuain, Pepe and Marcelo as holdovers from the last league,
this isn’t exactly a team soaked in championship experience. Maintaining
motivation, stability, focus and concentration are easy words to pronounce, but
difficult ones to practice. Real Madrid
must now learn how to be leaders: how to handle being on the driver’s seat. Madrid
Mourinho’s English Love Affair
The one thing I would like most to note from last night’s match was Mourinho’s chosen formation. Perhaps due to Kaka’s bleh performance last weekend, Mourinho instead chose to see the ‘double 9’ partnership (Pipita and Benzema) over the ‘double 10’ (Ozil and Kaka). Instead of using the usual 4-2-3-1 (where Benzema would be on the right or left) while using the 2 strikers, Mourinho instead opted to use a very ‘English’ 4-4-2: with Benzema and Pipita together upfront with the Frenchman just slightly behind Pipita. It was a role that liberated Benzema (and turned him into one of the game’s bright spots): allowing him to play his natural game of dropping deep, help in the buildup play, but at the same time make runs and receive passes to wreak havoc on the Levante defense… and while we all are still trying really hard to come to terms with the fact that Ronaldo’s third goal really did happen, let’s not forget that Benz’s goal last night was an absolute peach as well.
On the flanks Ronaldo played on the left in his usual role as an attacking winger. Despite the fact that he had a hat trick, which included that wonder strike for the 3rd goal (and 4000th scored in the Bernabeu), he was not as central to the buildup play as we were accustomed to last night. I suspect that this was due to the absence of his left wing ‘running mate’ Marcelo. Coentrao and Ronaldo may be compatriots, but the 2 do not have the near-telepathic understanding that Ronaldo enjoys with Marcelo (something for
Paolo Bento to have a look at). Ozil on the other hand, played as an ‘inside
right’ midfielder (making it an asymmetrical 4-4-2), drifting inward, funneling
balls diagonally forward to his strikers into the center for Granero, or out to
the flanks for Arbeloa. With the presence of Granero’s forward movement, and
with more activity on his flank (due to Marcelo’s absence), Ozil had plenty to
do and looked great doing as such – shame that the goal post literally got in
the way of his nutmeg move on Ballesteros from culminating into a goal. Portugal
|Average Positions of Real Madrid's Starters last night (courtesy of Soccernet's Gamecast): it actually resembles a Brazilian 4-2-4!|
At the heart of midfield, just like in a good ‘ol 4-4-2, Esteban Granero played the role of a box-to-box midfielder and then some… and he looked great last night doing it too! Apart from spraying passes across the midfield and making constant runs up and down to receive passes (mostly from Ozil) to keep the midfield linked up (mostly on the right side), Granero would also at times completely disengage from his pivot position beside Alonso to occupy a considerably more advanced position: turning the ‘English 4-4-2’ into an ‘Argentinean 4-1-3-2’ (nevermind that the team’s average position on the pitch resembled a ‘Brazilian 4-2-4’ – see the gamecast diagram) with Alonso as the lone pivot. Before anyone gets carried away with what they saw however, let me state that I feel that this way of playing is suitable only for teams like Levante who have no ambition to control possession – against team’s with a stronger midfield or with more attacking potency, such play will likely prove to be very dangerous.
Learning to Drive
|Average Position of Mourinho's Subs after I photoshopped off the subbed-off starters. Note the deeper and more 'conservative' positions of Kaka, Khedira and Callejon compared to Ozil, Higuain and Granero whom they replaced.|
It was after Cristiano’s wondergoal (which was spontaneously and emphatically celebrated with Mourinho and the entire team) where the coach’s voice of displeasure haunts us: about how the team got carried away in their seemingly greater desire to put Levante to the sword than to secure the 3 points. It is no wonder why substitutes Kaka, and Khedira positioned themselves much deeper and played with much less attacking intent once sent in (see diagram of average positions).
10 points allows the team not just the breathing room to make mistakes, but also to make priorities. The Champions League is back on this month and with injuries and form issues at hand, a 10 point cushion will now allow Mourinho to rotate his squad to allow the best lineups with the most-fit/rested players playing the key matches (i.e. Champions League, matches stronger La Liga teams). It’s a very different perspective indeed when seeing the league through the lens of today’s league table. It’s time for Real Madrid to get comfy sitting on the driver’s seat with their hands on the wheel.
Who knows, at this rate, Real Madrid might actually be able to pull off another feat I will be proud to tell my son all about: a pasillo at the
in the coming clasico. If such a thing were to happen, I would totally feel
conflicted as to what I would want to see more: the match? the pasillo? Or the
looks on the cules’ faces as it happens. Either way, with 39 points still to
play for, let’s not count the chickens while the eggs aren’t even in the basket
just yet – but when the time comes for them to hatch, I’d love to know who’s
selling tickets. Camp Nou