Monday, August 27, 2012

Gracias Valdes (Barcelona 3 – Real Madrid 2)

Guti thanks Valdes for his act of 'generosity' on Twitter

It was the second consecutive Super Copa Espana featuring Real Madrid and Barcelona as the combatants. This time however, it would be Real Madrid coming in as La Liga Champions and Barca as the Copa Del Rey Cup Holders (a reverse from last year). And while many Madridistas started the season looking forward to giving Barca a beating in the tie, many (including me) found their sense of anticipation watered down after our sobering draw to Valencia and Barca’s triumphant 5-1 over Sociedad last weekend.
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Barca also celebrated emotional return of Carles Puyol and David Villa from injuries as well as new signings Jordi Alba and Alex Song. Real Madrid in contrast, are still embroiled in the 200-year old pursuit for Luka Modric while still reeling from the effects of Pepe’s collision last weekend (for those who may not know, he actually thought that his name was ‘Pablo’ and had no idea where he was when doctors were speaking to him after he ‘regained consciousness’ from the collision).
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It was these conditions that had all of a sudden tilted towards Barca becoming the Supercup favorites.
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Phase One of the Two-fold Game Plan – Sit Tight and Watch Out for Opportunities
Apart from the predictable starts given to Khedira, Albiol and Benzema to replace Lass, Pepe and Higuain as changes from the Valencia game, Mourinho made another change that surely disturbed many Madrid fans: Callejon starting for Di Maria. While many began hypothesizing that Mou had been drinking or smoking weed before the match, I developed a theory that I thought Mourinho had devised (he later on denied it and insisted that he wanted the team to play well going forward during both halves of the match).
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I find that teams who plan to attack Barca and those who opt to defend when facing the Catalans will suffer a loss if they choose to do it naively for 90 minutes. Teams who PLAN only to attack Barca eventually get out-possessed and tired out by Messi and Co. and eventually find their defensive lines sagging and dropping deeper to render their game plans useless or get caught out (just like what happened to us in the SuperCopa last year, scoring an early goal by attacking them immediately but eventually getting tired and allowing them to settle in and get back at us). Teams who plan only to defend, eventually concede a goal and with little ambition to strike back, find themselves in the middle of a 90-minute siege.
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What I thought was Mourinho’s plan last night was to have the team sit deeper in the first half to absorb Barca’s attack and relied on long outlet balls to the front 4 to counter. It wasn’t about battling for possession (thus the 73% possession for Barca) or have his guys to out dribble or out pass when in possession. This is why, I thought he opted for Callejon. Vanilla Joe offered the same defensive effort that Di Maria does, but going forward, Callejon was more about directness with little elaboration.
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Real Madrid accumulated 3 yellow cards during this ‘phase’ of the match – all of them on fouls to Busquets (I think), none of them being anywhere close to being deemed a red card. The boys held on to a 0-0 draw at halftime playing in this manner. ‘What if they managed to score???’ some might have asked – well, that’s what ‘phase 2’ of the plan was for…
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Phase Two of the Two-fold Game Plan – Hit ‘Em!
Ronaldo scores at the Camp Nou yet again

Real Madrid looked a different side in the second half. The defensive line that had been sitting deep and pushed up midway between their penalty box and the halfway line at the most, moved up even higher. In the 2nd half, Real Madrid kept the ball more and sought out more passing moves too – pushing Barcelona back, gaining territory and best of all, winning set piece situations in dangerous areas. It was from here where Ronaldo managed to score his 4th consecutive goal in the Camp Nou.
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Pedro's goal was offside - but he was just off by very little. It's only human for the linesman to miss it 
Going out to Hit ‘Em however comes at a price: it opens up the game for them too. Yes: Pedro’s goal was offside. But let’s all get real – it would be unreasonable to crucify the linesman for that mistake given that Pedro was offside by only a very slight margin. The effect of Madrid’s move to attack them clearly stunned Barcelona, but it didn’t take them long to figure out that the game had also opened up for them.
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Andres Iniesta was imperious throughout the game. He was of course involved in the 2 following goals that followed Pedro’s opener: winning a penalty from Ramos’ poorly judged lunge and being key to the buildup to Xavi’s goal. Barca took full advantage of the game opening up thanks to Madrid’s being on attack mode in the first half – it was a condition that Madridistas who simplistically insist that we should attack Barca should keep in mind.
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Gracias Valdes
Gracias Valdes!

The key event of the match however would have to be the goal conceded by Barca c/o Victor Valdes. It was the second consecutive Super Cup tie where Valdes would concede such a goal: by literally fucking about with the ball via those backpasses. The first time of course resulted in last year’s Karim Benzema goal. His teammates, particularly Messi, managed to bail him out of that one given that the Frenchman managed to score within seconds of the kickoff and there were still 90+ minutes of football left to play. With less than half an hour to play though, his blunder not only gave Madrid 2 away goals and brought down the Barca lead to 1 goal, but it also effectively terminated the momentum that Barca had gained in the match.
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The beginning of that ‘termination’ of Barca’s momentum, coincidentally began with Iker’s brilliant save/s prior to Madrid’s second goal. It was borne not just out of his athleticism and raw reflexes, but also by his ability to telegraph the opponents’ offensive play as it unfolds in front of him: a fact not lost on Barca-sympathizing ESPN journalist Graham Hunter.
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I also believe that this blunder caps off nicely the ridiculous debate started by members of the Catalan media as well as Blaugrana fans who have hopelessly lost their sense of perspective with their arguments that Valdes ought to be Spain’s #1 with the ridiculous assertion that he (and not Iker) is the best goalkeeper in the world. What horse shit! And how beautifully was that proven in those few seconds last night. Make no mistake about it – Victor Valdes is a good goalkeeper with outstanding abilities with his feet. He is by no means however, a great goalkeeper, nevermind the best. So forget those arguments of whether or not Victor Valdes ought to be Spain’s (or Planet Earth’s) #1 – the real question should in fact be: does he even deserve a place in La Roja’s squad at the expense of youngsters like De Gea?
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Denying Phase 1 and 2
“I did not like our first half, but in the second half, it was a different game.” Said Mourinho after the match – making it easy for us to interpret that the intent, ambition and attacking coherence that the team displayed in the second half was the way he wanted the team to play in the first place. I take that however as a means to appease many Madridista purists who unrealistically expect Real Madrid to attack Barcelona consistently and effectively for 90 minutes. Evidence as reflected in the contrasting levels of attacking aggressiveness as manifested by Madrid’s defensive line however, suggests otherwise. The ultimate proof however is not in the pudding, but in the “noodle”. Angel ‘El Fideo (the ‘noodle’)’ Di Maria did not start the game and was the injection of energy, technical ability and frenetic attacking pace that facilitated the attack of Real Madrid in the second half.
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“…Callejon played well. He prepared the game for Di Maria. This was an important game and I liked his work.” Mourinho went on to say, ultimately revealing that Callejon’s role to ‘prepare’ the game for Di Maria was part of the plan for ‘phase 1’.
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Role Reversal
Apart from who the La Liga and Copa Del Rey holders were in last season’s tie, there is another interesting role reversal in this season’s edition. It is not Real Madrid this time who are looking razor-sharp during the tie coming off a preseason with a slew of players in form. It is Barca this time. And just like last season, the team that dominated the game early on, would go on to leak the fatal goals. This time, it is Real Madrid with the 2 all-important away goals and who have managed to neutralize the form that Barca displayed as they gained momentum.
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And here’s the part that I’m liking the most: last season, it was the not-quite-there-yet-in-terms-of-form team who took the trophy home. This season, that team is Real Madrid.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, err I've never met a Madridista that actually gives credit to Barca.

    Very nice tactical post to read from a Madridista perspective.

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  2. Hi Mac, I am a fan on your Real Madrid analysis, I think it level headed and well balance account of the ups and downs of the team.
    At least you don't pretend that you know more about football tactics than the JM and you gave your humble opinion and more importantly so the way to look forward with optimism.
    Reading your article certainly enjoyable and hopeful. Please post more and comment more.
    Repect,
    Marc,

    ReplyDelete