Monday, April 2, 2012

Resuming Business as Usual (Real Madrid 5 – Real Sociedad 1)

Real Madrid's 3-Headed Attacking Monster: When Ronaldo, Benzema and Pipita work TOGETHER, they're unstoppable
Well, we all missed that didn’t we? A 5-1 scoreline at the Bernabeu off an utterly dominant performance from our boys in white – the sort of performance that reminded us of Real Madrid circa late-2011: dominant in possession, fast and direct in attack and elegant in defense (yes, that’s how I’d like to describe Varane’s defensive style). The match it must be remembered, took place after Barca’s 0-2 win vs. Mallorca meaning that Real Madrid started last night’s match with a mere 3 point lead. And with the club’s ‘protest media blackout’, coupled with Mourinho’s absence, the pressure was clearly on us. Can you even imagine what the fallout would’ve been like if we dropped points again with the suspensions and the media blackout?  It was a darn good thing that the boys duly delivered… and did so in a really big way.
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The Tridente + Semi-Trivote
The truth is that Mesut Ozil’s suspension and resultant absence last night was expected as I would guess that Mourinho probably wanted to interchange him and Kaka in that ‘10’ role during this stretch of playing 2 games per week. The unexpected loss however was Jose Callejon. My guess is that Mourinho decided to play a trivote on the road vs. Villarreal last Wedenesday and play the 4-2-3-1 last night with Ronaldo, Kaka and him in the line of 3 behind the striker. These plans of course were scuppered with abandonment of the trivote last Wednesday: seeing him feature for that match and eventually get injured. And while a look at other available personnel (particularly Granero and Sahin) looked to be an option (with Kaka playing on one of the wide positions in the 3 behind the striker), the overall situation somehow just craved for the use of the Tridente.
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Conceding goals late in a game to drop points is one part of the story. The other part of course (which is less mentioned) is the fact that we’ve only had a one goal lead to protect both against Malagaand Villarreal: what if, as some would say, we just built a mountain of a lead to climb for the opponent such that a late goal wouldn’t matter? The logical means to do this of course was to summon the full firepower of Europe/ The World’s best scoring trio (can someone help me check if it’s statistically true?)… or as they like to say in Spain, Tridente (Trident): Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain.
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It’s interesting to note that despite the fact that the trio combine for 69 La Liga goals among them, that they are actually in many ways perceived as rivals. Gonzalo Higuain is clearly the least favored among the 3 by the Madridpress: because of his supposedly brazen challenge on Ronaldo as Real Madrid’s top dog scorer (a feat he accomplished during our lone season with Pellegrini) while there are those who are now openly favoring Karim Benzema over him as the first choice striker. Last night, all these supposed rivalries were put to bed as the 3 combined wonderfully to become a nightmare turned reality for Real Sociedad. Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain took turns switching positions on Madrid’s front lines: from the Center, to the Left and the Right – utterly confusing the Sociedad defense and in doing so, making goals for each other to score. It was a tour de force performance for the 3: not just for their individual performances of scoring and assisting goals, but for their performance as a unit together. Thus while the formation looked like the ‘usual’ the 4-2-3-1 on paper, with Ronaldo and Benzema on the left and right respectively ‘behind’ Higuain, their constant interchanging of positions actually made them look like a front 3 rather than a striker supported by 2 attacking wingers.
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It was a performance that should serve as a statement to the Madrid press and the Madrid fans who pander to the idiots who propagate the rivalry between the 3: why is it relevant to be talking about the competition between them when the possibilities of the 3 of them playing together is so much more mouth-watering?
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Last night’s Tridente was then supported by a Semi-Trivote of sorts with Kaka playing ahead of Xabi Alonso and Khedira.
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The formation was likely intended to be as per our usual 4-2-3-1. What made it look so interesting however was how Higuain, Ronaldo and Benzema took turns in each others’ positions (interchanging) creating a sort of 4-3-3-cum-4-2-1-3. It’s great to note how the 3 forwards all looked for each other in the game with Gonzalo Higuain even showcasing his crossing ability. Only time and injuries (to Di Maria and Callejon) will tell how long we will see this lineup and played in this way – I can only imagine that it would be even more potent with Ozil at the helm (in place of Kaka) looking to thread passes forward to our 3-headed goalscoring monster. I do think though that Mourinho will revert back to his usual lineup of using Pipita and Benzema one at a time in the coming games – especially in this period of playing twice a week. It never hurts to day dream seeing the 3 of them together again though…
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Promising Signs
Even Rio Ferdinand took notice of Varane's commanding performance last night

With Pepe’s absence due to suspension, Raphael Varane was then tasked to man the defense alongside Sergio Ramos – and once again, the young Frenchman performed superbly. It is staggering to consider how a Centerback at 18 years of age who played 2nd division football last season can seamlessly slot into the heart of the defense (one of Madrid’s perennial ‘cursed’ positions) for the biggest club in the world during a time of apparent crisis and perform as a wonderfully mature, calm and even elegant presence on the pitch. Varane performed so well last night that he even earned unlikely praise from Manchester United defensive stalwart Rio Ferdinand on Twitter. Let me do him one better: the last teenager I saw play this well under difficult high-pressure circumstances was a dude named Iker Casillas – and he didn’t do too badly. Now before you all jump at me in outrage, let me clarify that I know full well that playing a Champions League Final is VERY different to playing Sociedad in a League game whose ‘pressure’ is in many ways, self-inflicted.  My point however is that like the teeny bopper Casillas back in the day, Varane displays a level of composure that belies his years… the kind that allows his talent to flourish without the limitations brought about by nerves and immature anxiety that commonly hound players his age.
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Another point to note from last Sunday were 2 interesting sightings on the Bernabeu pitch: the first was that of the Nuricorn… er… I mean Nuri Sahin. Sahin’s appearance wasn’t a let down too: constantly asking for the ball and eager to get things rolling, he has shown signs of life out there that will merit for consideration for playing time. I maintain my theory about him: that this season will be a ‘write-off’ season for him (much like Kaka’s was last season) and that we are likely to see him play a much bigger role next season. In fact, I continue to believe that he will be relevant next season to the point that we will probably have a 4-3-3 vs. 4-2-3-1 debate once again just because of him.
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The second sighting was that of Real Madrid Castilla Star Jesse finally getting a run out in the Bernabeu. Jesse looked confident, assured and well-measured out there and showed little signs of nerves and hesitation. During this season where we’ve seen many Madridistas clamor for the promotion of Alvaro Morata to be a fulltime member of the first team, I ask: why not Jesse too?
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Off to Cyprus
We’re off to Cyprus next for the Champions League to face APOEL Nicosia. Many are calling it David vs. Goliath and predictably giving us the Goliath tag.
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That’s a funny comparison considering the fact that Goliath never had 3 heads.

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