Wednesday, April 11, 2012

D-Words and P-Words (Real Madrid 0 – Valencia 0)


I woke up this morning wanting the ‘D’ Word to stand for ‘Defense’ – as it was in my opinion, the main talking point to last night’s match vs. Valencia. Having read some of the comments from the liveblog at RMFB (and what some Madrid fans are saying), perhaps another ‘D’ Word should be added into the mix: disappointment – Madridisimo’s collective disappointment for the result (an obvious one) and my personal disappointment for their nitpicky reaction to the game. The truth is, I’m more disappointed re: the latter.
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They way forward however, both for fans and the team alike lies in the P-Words: Perspective and Poise – 2 words that can serve us in good stead in resurrecting (‘resurrect’ being an appropriate word for the Easter season) our team’s momentum in the chase for the double.
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D1: Disappointment
Don’t get me wrong, I feel very let down by the draw: why else would I be typing this blog post on a Monday morning like I’m a heartbroken teenager in the office when I’m supposed to be working? We all thought and believed that Valencia were supposed to get beaten last night, I certainly did: physically, they played full throttle to overturn a 2-1 defeat in the Netherlands to beat AZ last Thursday (we on the other hand, had a paseo against APOEL on Wednesday with many second-choice players on the pitch). Mentally, in La Liga at least, they’re at their wits' end because the man who has allowed them to perform consistently as La Liga’s 3rd best team despite losing their best players every season, despite the club almost about to drown in debt, Unai Emery, is being persecuted by their fans – and on the pitch, this has been reflected in the fact that they’ve managed to lose a lead in La Liga for 4 consecutive games (if my stats are correct). They were supposed to be ripe for a beating – or so I thought.
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I seem to have forgotten however, that a team who gets shit from their own fans would probably perform better on the road – and that’s exactly what happened last night. Unai Emery, behind his sharp suits and oily hair is known to be a tactical nerd: a better looking but second-tier version of Marcelo Bielsa, if you will: and last night, he didn’t only manage to conjure up a defensive scheme to stop Madrid from scoring, he also managed to get his team (with the help of Guaita having the game of his life) to pull it off.
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My other source of disappointment comes from many Real Madrid fans – not at their disappointment, but at the manner by which they are trying to rationalize the loss of 2 points and their disappointment.
 1.)    Kaka should have started!...Ozil is no good for big games!’
2.)    No! Pipita should’ve been allowed to finish the points because he’d have finished those 2 chances of Benzema!
3.)    Di Maria should have started!
4.)    We should buy Rooney! Cavani! Van Persie! We should bring Raul back! RVN! Di Stefano, please come back from retirement!
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…And what if we had done all those things and still drew, or worse, lost?
5.)    ‘Mourinho is an idiot! The tridente was doing so well so why did he have to change that???’
6.)    ‘Why Did Di Maria Start??? It doesn’t take a genius to know he’s not yet ready to start such a big game against Valencia!’
7.)    Kaka is an old fart – Ozil is the future: start him!
8.)    Why let Benzema come off instead of Pipita – he’s not even good enough for Real Madrid?
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…And what if we won?
9.)    Wow the tridente was bloody amazing! Wohooo! La Liga is now ours for sure!
10.) CAMPEONES! CAMPEONES! Suck my dick Cules!
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Let me just say, the lack of perspective (more on that below) from some my fellow Madrid fans is just downright depressing. Knee-jerk reactions, mindless glory-hunting, video game understanding of the game, no respect for the club’s history and heritage… It’s idiotic, pathetic and embarrassing. I’m VERY sure that the men who built Real Madrid into the institution that it is today would be ashamed to know of the kind of thinking that some of today’s so-called fans have. Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe the way I feel about all of it.
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D2: Defense
Real Madrid fielded a generally ‘predictable’ lineup: starting with our now-vaunted ‘Tridente’ of Ronaldo, Higuain and Benzema – with the yet-to-be-100% Angel Di Maria starting on the bench likely due for a late introduction. The surprise in the XI turned out to be the selection of Raul Albiol to partner Pepe to form a throwback partnership that was a constant feature during Manuel Pellegrini’s days as coach. Much like many Madrid fans, I trembled at the sight of seeing Raul Albiol’s name in the starting XI as scenes of EPL-style-mindless-ball-hoofing from both him and Pepe came to mind. Was it a sentimental choice from Mourinho (to allow him to face his ex-team)? On the flipside, while the same was true for Dani Parejo, Emery opted to rest Real Madrid Castilla Alumnus Roberto Soldado from the starting XI (he was later on received with a deserved classy applause from the Bernabeu).
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Much to my very pleasant surprise, neither ‘Raul Albi-Own-Goal’ nor ‘Hoof-it-up Albiol’ turned up last night. Albiol, rightly-derided for his slow-footedness made up for his lack of natural footspeed by showing off an much-improved ability to read the game to anticipate and stop many of Valencia’s attacking plays: killing off Los Che’s attacks before they materialize. The old Albiol would have rather sit back be in position to ‘receive’ a full scale Valencia attack rather than kill it off before it even begins. Pepe had a great game too – and only managed to tarnish his game with his disgusting over-acting antics, which nearly injured Arbeloa who was probably trying to tell him to ‘get off your ass, let’s start another attack’ as he was ‘doing a Busquets’.
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The Arbeloa critics also didn’t have much to shout about from last night’s defensive performance. Arbeloa was solid and showed himself to be that experienced, calm head on the pitch that was needed, especially as the game was nearing the end and the nerves of his teammates began to show. I also want to take this opportunity to reply back to his critics who fault him for lacking in attacking presence. To this I say, that for this Real Madrid, though we declare having a ‘back 4’: the truth of it is that we usually only play with a ‘back 3’: because Marcelo practically doesn’t defend. If we expected our Right Back to do what Marcelo does (thus the ridiculous suggestions of buying Man U’s Rafael): that’s tantamount to tactical suicide as it means that we would play with only 2 Defenders (and if one of them is Pepe, you constantly risk ending up with only 1). Arbeloa plays the role of a defensive right back – those who ask/expect him to be a right-sided Marcelo has been playing way too much FIFA12 or PES on EASY mode.
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On the Valencia side of things, Unai Emery’s men were exceptional in their defensive organization. Madrid constantly faced a Valencia side with large masses of Black Shirts grouped around their goal. They also played the match with the clever decision to use Tino Costa to hound Xabi Alonso all over the pitch (which explains his less-than-fluent game): the fact that we managed to create 33 shots on goal tells us that Real Madrid are now developing ways to function offensively without Xabi-dependencia. The biggest talking point for Los Che of course would be Vicente Guaita: Valencia has long struggled in the goalkeeper position since the decline and retirement of Ex-Real Madrid goalkeeper Santi Canizares and now they are finding themselves in a dilemma over having 2 exceptional keepers in their team (Diego Alves being the other one). Last night, Guaita, to put it plainly was Iker-esque – seemingly having developed Iker’s ability to create a forcefield in his goal (he had TEN saves!). To the whiners among the Real Madrid supporters camp saying this and that (that Pipita should have finished the game, that we should have started Kaka, or Di Maria and so forth): let us please give credit where it’s truly due – Unai Emery’s tactics, Valencia’s excellent play and Guaita’s performance was the reason we didn’t manage to score. To say otherwise is just plain disrespectful, myopic and yes, lacking in perspective.
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P1: Perspective
Perhaps one of the things that might be lost on many who were too obsessed with seeing Real Madrid stroll to another goalfest was that the match was an incredibly entertaining one. To celebrate the recently-concluded ‘End of an Era’ match between HHH and the Undertaker in Wrestlemania, I pay tribute to the 2 titans of Pro Wrestling and to another titan of the Pro Wrestling broadcasting world (Jim Ross, who called the match), by recalling JR’s oft-used term “Slobber Knocker” to describe last night’s match. Nevermind the 0-0 scoreline (despite the 50 shots taken: 33 by Madrid, 17 by Valencia): it was a good old slugfest between 2 of La Liga’s mammoth teams both of whom played well. We should give both sides THAT credit that they both deserve.
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For those suffering from bouts of anxiety, we must take a bit of stock and admit that those of us who know our La Liga fully understand that in a way, our win vs. Osasuna was a relief given that many of us feared the possible dropping of points at the Reyno De Navarre. In keeping that in mind, seeing us drop points last night becomes a more bearable thought.
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Criticism should also go to those banging the ‘referee drum’: the ref in my opinion was a non-factor last night. To Aitor Karanka: the 80,000 in the Bernabeu and the millions including me who were watching at 3:25am didn’t see a referee screw the game up. What we saw instead was an entertaining and superbly intense match between 2 really big and strong teams in La Liga. At the end of the game, Valencia celebrated holding off Madrid’s fearsome offensive firepower while Madrid’s players applauded the usually placid Bernabeu crowd for cheering them on despite Valencia and Guaita’s valiant performance. If at the end of the game, all you can talk about was the referee, then clearly you and I saw a different match: and I pity that your lack of perspective has deprived you of witnessing a thoroughly entertaining football match.
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P2: Poise
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Perhaps what pains me the most from many blind fans out there was that they missed out on seeing Real Madrid show signs of something that was very absent in our draw against Villarreal: Poise. At El Madrigal, as many of our players, together with our coaching staff began losing the plot, there was a lone gunslinger still out there trying to score a winning goal for us in the final minutes of the game: the Cry Baby Ronaldo. Last night however, as Valencia began a spell late in the second half to take control of the ball, slow the pace of the game down and take advantage of our lost momentum, our boys reacted differently. They forgot about their tired legs and Kamikaze-d and Banzai Motherf%cker-ed their way over and over at Valencia - relentlessly laying siege on Guaita’s forcefield-protected goal until the referee blew their whistle. The last meaningful kick of the game was a shot on target.
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2 La Liga titles ago, we won La Liga under Capello that many call the title won by the ‘Brotherhood of Clutching Straws’ as we battled relentlessly to the very last kick of the ball for the last 14 matches of the League to win it. Last night, I saw that spirit again – so did the Bernabeu. We may have dropped points last night, but the team never stopped throwing punches – the boys showed out there last night that if you were going to take something from them, it would no longer be because they collapsed and gave it to you.
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Real Madrid must now win the Madrid derby on Wednesday at the Calderon and butcher Sporting (now coached by the disgusting Javier Clemente) at the Bernabeu next weekend before we head to the Camp Nou for the Clasico. Now if our boys truly learned last night how to play 90++ minutes of football without lowering their guard and backing down – then I say the gained more than 1 point last night.

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