Sunday, February 19, 2012

Taking Care of Business (Real Madrid 4 – Racing Santander 0)



Last night, Real Madrid were given the most glorious opportunity to go to bed with a 13-point lead over Barcelona. It was an opportunity that was as clear as day: against a bottom team who were on a freefall (Racing Santander), at home and on the back of what has largely been a sweet Valentine’s Month for Real Madrid. There was no reason for Real Madrid to step on a banana skin except for a lack of motivation or concentration – and last night, on the back of their 4-0 win over Racing, they not only went to bed with a 13 point lead over Barca, they also managed to put to bed any suspicions that the team may be lacking in focus or motivation. Real Madrid took care of business alright: their dominance and control over the match was so commanding and undisputed, that the match actually was a bit boring.
.
I know I quoted Jose Mourinho in my last review, saying he was right when identified the fact that our rivals from now are all playing matches with their season’s objectives in mind (survival, European places, etc.) – but let’s call it what it is: Getafe, Levante, Racing and Rayo Vallecano (our rivals for the month of February) are not exactly teams that will get Real Madrid jittery. This is the time of the season for Madrid to rack up the points and pad that lead against Barca who are facing their annual early year fatigue issues (aggravated by their participation in the World Club Cup and their tricky Copa Del Rey tie vs. Valencia), and with us playing one game a week against weaker teams without even having to leave the city of Madrid. If there was a time to rack up the points, it’s now and I’m glad to see Real Madrid taking care of business.
.
And just as I began to daydream of a pasillo at the Camp Nou or even winning the title there, I was rudely reminded of out hellish April fixture list: away to the kick-you-to-death Osasuna, at home to Valencia, a Madrid Derby vs. Diego Simeone’s Atleti (and we know they’re not the same Atleti anymore) at the Calderon, at home to Sporting, then the Clasico at the Camp Nou and then Sevilla after that… and we haven’t even counted the Champions League fixtures in yet. Valentine’s February is indeed the time to win and nurse our injured players back to health before this season’s crunch time truly rolls around the corner.
.
.
A Break from Remontadas
Jose Mourinho will be happy to note that we didn’t have to win this game via remontada. We dominated the match from start to finish. 68% possession for the entire game, no ‘whew’ moments, no periods of rear guard action, 90 minutes of Real Madrid laying siege to Racing’s goal: it was the sort of performance that was so dominating to the point of dullness to be honest (where I as a viewer wished that Racing would just some how fight back). In today’s AS, editor Alfredo Relano even found himself calling this the best Real Madrid he had seen in his life (though he confessed to not have seen Di Stefano’s Madrid in their peak) – a big statement coming from a man who claims to have been watching Real Madrid for over 50 years. The truth is that because the match was in my opinion a bit dull (and I blame Racing for that), most of my talking points for the match are just notable tactical talking points with very little waxing lyrical.
.
Glad to See Varane Again
While I totally understand the sentiment of wanting to see Castilla’s Carvajal get a game in lieu of Arbeloa’s suspension and Lass’ injury (Mou did point out that he couldn’t have played?), I would have much rather seen game time for our under-used Centerbacks Albiol and Varane. If we’re all building up to the crescendo of the season on April-May, playing a match every 3 days, the importance of getting as many first-team players completely combat-ready is essential. Mourinho chose to play Varane last night and the young Frenchman duly didn’t disappoint. He played in a more withdrawn CB role relative to Pepe. Varane is clearly now ahead of Albiol in the pecking order in the squad – with Ramos clearly now a CB, it well and truly looks like El Chori and the seemingly in-decline Carvalho is the odd man out. I expect one of the 2 if not both to be moving on in the offseason. Given Mourinho’s trust in Carvalho however, it sadly looks like it’s Albiol (who’s also worth more in the transfer market) who will be the odd man out. With that, Mourinho will be left with only Arbeloa as the team’s only natural RB. It will be curious to see if Mourinho will stick to rotating 3 players (Lass, Altintop & Coentrao) to back him up or if Carvajal can get the break into the first team we Madridistas are all hoping for – in any case, that’s a discussion for the offseason…
.
.
The Malleable 4-2-3-1
Last week, we saw how the presence of Pipita and Benzema turned what was supposedly a 4-2-3-1 into a variety of 4-4-2 iterations. This week, with Kaka and Ozil joining Cristiano in the attacking line of 3 behind Benzema as the lone striker, there were a couple of combinations worth taking note of.
.
.
The more he plays, the better his performances get as his confidence increases. I REALLY hope Mou keeps it up with playing Granero

When playing with a single recognizable striker, Granero’s positioning allows the 4-2-3-1 to become a 4-1-4-1. With Granero’s natural position being more advanced as compared to your usual ‘pivot’ midfielder, he tends to drift further up the pitch and uses not just his passing, but also his movement / mobility to shuttle the ball up or to push up to receive a forward pass: often times bringing him aligned to the ‘10’ (who in last night’s case was Kaka). Xabi Alonso played as the lone pivot many times last night, being supported by Pepe (who played the more forward CB role last night). Once again, I wish to point out that this arrangement (of having a single pivot) will probably only work against weaker teams who have little or no ambition to control the midfield. That vertical movement of Granero’s up and down, together with his passing ability is a great fit against such teams: it is a quality that neither Khedira nor Lass is great at (especially Lass). It’s also clear to see that Granero’s performances have been progressively increasing in level as he accumulates minutes on the pitch with his rising confidence: watch out for when he actually starts scoring on those attempts from distance: it’s a weapon I’ve seen in every canterano playing CM (beginning with Ruben Dela Red). If Mourinho keeps giving him minutes, we’ll eventually see it turn up – and I’m pretty sure it’ll start getting those Granero-doubters out there second-guessing themselves
.
Benzema has turned into a BEAST of a player this season.

Benzema – the ‘9’ that really isn’t a ‘9’. If you saw him and his goal scoring numbers in Lyon without really watching him play a full match, you’d definitely think Karim Benzema was a near-classic #9 – he scores lots of goals, is an amazing technical finisher, has the size of a #9 player and even counts arguably the best #9 of all time (the Brazilian Ronaldo) as his idol. Benzema however is no #9. After gaining his fitness in a weight-loss spa on the thanks to Zidane and gaining his aggression from Mourinho, Benzema now plays a very dynamic game up front. Last night, he was constantly switching positions: first with Ronaldo to play on the left wing to allow Ronaldo as a Center Forward and then at times dropping deep ‘into the hole’. He has become a marking nightmare for defenders who find themselves utterly confused with regards to who gets to mark him – the Center Half? The Full-Back? The Defensive Midfielder? If you’re a coach planning a defensive scheme against a team with Benzema, it’ll be a massive headache, if you’re a coach planning a defensive scheme against a team with Benzema AND Ronaldo + Higuain + Kaka + Callejon (whom he’ll be switching positions with CONSTANTLY in the game): forget about it, lest your headache becomes a brain tumor.
.
.
Welcome Back El Fideo
Madridisimo welcomed El Fideo Angel Di Maria back last night too – and he duly acknowledged the welcome he received with a golazo: a classic goal scored by an ‘inverted winger’ (where he cuts diagonally in to unleash his shot from his favored foot) – the sort of goal Arjen Robben scores all the time and the same one El Fideo scored vs. Tottenham last season in the Champions league. It’s too bad he wasn’t called up for the CSKA game, though it’s probably for the best as sending him in to play in below 10 freezing temperature on an artificial pitch sounds like a fishy idea to me – especially with the likes of Callejon, Kaka and Ozil all available, fit and in form.
.
.
Next Up: Plastic and Snow
The team has now traveled to Moscow to play CSKA. In a match against a team whose level is considerably lower compared to Madrid’s both in talent and in fitness (their in pre-season), the boys’ main obstacles will be the below-freezing temperature, the artificial pitch and what may turn out to be an intimidatingly hostile crowd. I’m not expecting a repeat of last night’s result – but I do think a narrow win or a draw wouldn’t be a bad result as we can always clean them out at the Bernabeu. In the mean time, Barca play Valencia in a couple of hours… let’s hope Los Che can get a bit of payback for the Copa Del Rey Semifinal – I’d like to see a couple of ex-Madridistas on the scoresheet too (take your pick between Soldado and Parejo). I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

No comments:

Post a Comment