Monday, March 19, 2012

The Law of the Averages (Real Madrid 1, Malaga 1)

Cazorla Magic - There was no way Casillas would have reached that Free Kick by Cazorla. Not even penalities are taken that well 
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This morning, Real Madrid dropped points, drawing 1-1 against Malaga at the Santiago Bernabeu. Well it was bound to happen – the law of the averages finally catching up to us. I honestly didn’t expect us to drop points till our trip to Osasuna’s Reyno De Navarre, but in a way, I’m still not fully surprised. Malaga after all are starting to grow as one of La Liga’s heavyweights desperate to cement their place in the top 4. Recent results also suggest that dropping points was on the cards for us, considering the following:
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1.)    Our dour performance against CSKA atMoscowwhich featured a conceded goal late in the game off a free kick (familiar eh?)
2.)    Our smash-and-grab performance at Vallecas, winning 0-1 in a match where Mourinho himself admits that Rayo deserved more than what they got (which was nothing)
3.)    A win by the skins of our teeth against Real Betis where Mourinho again admits at the end of the game that our opponents deserved more than 0 points.
4.)    A 6-7/10 performance against CSKA at the Bernabeu which is masked by the 4-1 scoreline that once again, Mourinho admits did not reflect the proceedings on the pitch. It also features a late goal conceded.
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Animos to Abidal and Muamba. Football is a game, no one should have to risk his life while playing it. Get well soon guys .
Ceding Possession and Control
Malaga surprisingly (or not) controlled possession last night: with 53% possession compared to our 47% - surprising if you insist on the boneheaded contention that ‘we’re Real Madrid and we must be in control of possession!’ and not if you consider 2 simple facts: that Manuel Pellegrini likes his teams to have possession and that Jose Mourinho would happily let someone have control of the ball and play off the counter. To do this, it’s interesting to note that Pellegrini played a formation that in many ways, mirrored ours. Just as we had 2 attacking midfielders (Kaka + Ozil) together with a winger (Ronaldo) playing behind a lone striker, so did Malaga (with the impressive Isco + the brilliant Cazorla as their AMs with Joaquin as the winger). Stats would also tell you that Mourinho had his way in terms of the ebb-and-flow of the game as Real Madrid had a better pass completion rate (84% to Malaga’s 82%) and despite the fact that they controlled possession, they only managed 5 shots: 2 on target, 1 off, and 1 blocked. In contrast, we had 18 shots on goal: 6 on target, 6 off and 6 blocked. Those are the sort of stats that generally yield a Real Madrid win: the sort of win they liked – with plenty of room to run and attack upon regaining possession.
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Isco and Cazorla’s active and neat passing game matched up with Joquin’s brazen dribbling just as nicely as Kaka’s and Ozil’s would with Ronaldo on most nights. This was the type of football that best suited Madrid anyway though as Kaka and Ozil + Marcelo had plenty of space to run to and operate and attack once the ball was won. I did hate the fact that despite not losing possession so many times, Lass at RB insisted too much on dribbling the ball out himself where a simple pass to Xabi Alonso would have been a far more effective way to start the attack. The difference perhaps was how effectively Malaga ‘contracted’ on defense as they ‘expanded’ in attack. Most Real Madrid ‘fast break’ counters were met with just enough resistance to delay the attack and allow the Malaga defense and midfield to re-form their shape (thus allowing them to block a third of our shots). And in the instances where they couldn’t manage to do so, apart from Benzema’s goal, it was goalkeeper Willy Caballero’s excellent performance in goal that got in the way (including a great save on what would have been a Ronaldo goal).
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In short, perhaps all that was missing for Real Madrid to make it 2-0 was for them to just take the next step and raise the game up another gear to a level Malaga couldn’t match: something our boys didn’t manage to do as Malaga’s well-executed expand (in attack) – contract (on defense) routine frustrated us. Call it what you want: a drop in form, a lack of concentration or just plain old fatigue – but whatever it was that couldn’t give us that 2nd was the same thing that led to conceding that ill-fated free kick in such a precarious position. The rest was all Cazorla magic.
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Mourinho’s job, together with the team is to buck this alarming trend of conceding late goals: a signs of fatigue, lack of focus, maturity and ultimately, Championship Material. It will be a relief to know that Coentrao has rejoined training and that Di Maria is expected to do the same this week.
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Getting past the Law of the Averages
Yes, yes, yes my friends, the Law of the Averages is catching up on us and the team only have themselves to blame for it. The writing has been on the wall for sometime: that Real Madrid have not been playing their best and have in fact been showing worrying signs of a dip in form and dropped levels of concentration and fatigue as of late. Injuries to Di Maria and Coentrao maybe partly to blame… but I say that the failure to fully trust in the likes of Callejon and Granero and the decision not to invest minutes in Sahin are also reasons for this. Make no mistake about it: conceding late goals are in many ways the hallmark of a team short of Championship Material. It’s time for Mourinho and the boys to reflect on this and ensure that the La Liga title is secure – because the road ahead doesn’t get easier. Here’s a look ahead to April’s ‘highlights’:
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5.)    A trip to Osasuna’s Reyno De Navarre – one of La Liga’s most difficult grounds. Many expect points to be dropped here.
6.)   Valencia at home with a likely-to-be-in-form Soldado in search of blood.
7.)    A Madrid Derby against Diego Simeone’s Atletico at the Calderon – this is a VERY different Atleti we will face regardless of whether you are a believer that the Simeone-Effect is beginning to die down.
8.)    A Clasico at the Camp Nou
9.)    Here’s a thought to those celebrating our drawing of APOEL in the Champions League Quarters: likely up next in the Semis is Bayern Munich, who will be eager to win this year as the final will be in their house. And for those who don’t know: the aggregate score from their last three games is 20-1. Yup, twenty.
10.)  Our first match for the month of May is a trip to San Mames to meet Bielsa’s Bilbao.
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Ruud Van Nistelrooy - Now there's a player who knows all about finishing a season in a flurry to earn Silverware 
If the reaction that you are having as a Madridista is to want to buy [insert name of in-form / in vogue player] – then you clearly have nothing to contribute to the discussion and are in fact a symptom of the buy-a-player-to-buy-your-way-out-of-the-problem mentality that dogged us for many years. For those who have been watching and following football analytically over a long period of time, you will know that a club’s form over the course of a season is about peaks and valleys. Our direct rivals to the title Barcelona, normally start out with so-so form that peaks at about early December and falls again at the start of every year (aided by their participation in the Club World Cup). Real Madrid this season have done very well to pick up the points during their ‘low periods’ in time to have a lead just as they start to peak again (towards April-May). On our end, we’ve been impressively consistent and have been able, to a certain extent, use our larger and deeper squad to bridge dips in form, injuries and suspensions such that our ‘stutters’ (drop in points) have been mostly, ‘regularly spaced out’. There are however only 11 La Liga games separating us from our 32nd La Liga title. If we live up to expectations in the CL, there are 5 matches separating us from La Decima. That’s 16 matches. We must remember however that the remaining 21 matches will be played out every 3 days from now till the penultimate match of the season (a trip to Granada): it will be grueling grind for Mourinho and his men. I won’t even bother to consider how much more difficult it would be for Pep’s threadbare squad (which is to our advantage).
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But here it is: time to run the gauntlet. Time to throwdown. Enough talk about penalties not given, enough talk about conspiracy theories – I shall not pander to them or dignify such pathetic subject matters with my attention. The only thing that it is clear to me now is the road to Cibeles on 2 fronts which are already on the horizon. The pathway has been paved – now we’re off to the hard part: staying true to it.
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We are out of reasons to fail – because even this time, the Law of the Averages is now on our side.

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