Monday, September 3, 2012

A Slap in the Face (Getafe 2 – Real Madrid 1)

“I like the [Getafe] coach Luis Garcia. I like how organised his teams are and how he puts them into practice. I admire his work." said Mourinho before the game.
My wife and I have started to teach our 15-month old son the nursery rhymes: “The wheels on the bus go.... Round and round (3x)… The wheels on the bus go round and round all through the town…” . With this tune stuck in my mind, I found myself singing to it with a new set of words in the wake of last night’s stinker vs. Getafe (with an ironic, sarcastic and creepy twist): “The Alarm Bells in Madrid are going… Ring, Ring, Ring (3x)… The Alarm Bells in Madrid are going Ring, Ring, Ring – all through the club…” . 3 matches, 0 wins. 2 La Liga matches – both with goals to lead the match scored in the first half by Higuain and assisted by Di Maria – both with goals conceded in the second half off dead ball situations. The similarities are as alarming as they are damning. Real Madrid looked sloppy, lacking sharpness/freshness and most disturbing of all: bereft of ideas. What the hell is going on? 
The Spanish Summer Heat? Every team in La Liga is putting up with it. 
Fatigue from Euro 2012? I see the core of Spain’s Euro 2012 team in Barcelona and they opened a can of whoop-ass on Sociedad and manage to inch their way (albeit unconvincingly) to victory at one of La Liga’s most difficult grounds (Osasuna’s Reyno de Navarre). 
A Lousy Preseason? The boys went to the US just like last year where last season, they came back looking razor sharp. And they didn’t go to Asia this preseason too. . The trend threatens to continue too – we face Barcelona in the 2nd leg of the Supercup – making it entirely possible to have a 4-match winless streak to start the season. Let us not forget that while Barca were slipping up at Getafe’s Coliseo and Osasuna’s Reyno De Navarre last season, we were picking up wins in such places on the way to the title. Last night, we screwed up big time away to Getafe as Barca managed to squeak past Osasuna away (nevermind the ‘controversial circumstances’). Looks like that disturbing telltale sign has struck us very early in the season. . . 

Tactics? Fitness? Personnel?
What's going on with you Cris?
Let’s call it what it really is: a lack of sharpness and fitness for certain key members of the team. Ronaldo is not himself, neither is Ozil and Marcelo looks like a bloody over-sized sushi roll in a Real Madrid uniform (he looks over-weight!). . Against both Valencia and Barcelona, Xabi Alonso looked to be in great form in his ball distribution. He was hitting balls long and short with absolute precision, in traffic and through traffic. Trouble was, no one was making use of his balls to create enough danger in enemy territory. Mesut Ozil is still incapable to bringing his best for 90 minutes and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the man he feeds assists to, or combines to build up the team’s attacking plays, Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly out of sorts. 
Ronaldo, on the back of a season where he broke his reputation as a big game and National Team choker, seems to be a step slower, less aggressive, less tricky, less dangerous. Ultimately – a noticeably far lesser player than he was last season. Last week against Valencia, Coentrao eagerly played the role of attacking fullback – the sort of wingman he loved to have on his side… yet #7 still looked off-color. Last night, his favorite wingman Marcelo was beside him, still below-par. Perhaps it didn’t help that Marcelo looked like he enjoyed one too many buffet meals…? 
People are also talking about signings and the lack thereof – some incredulously saying that if only Modric was around then perhaps he could have offered something different. We must remember that Modric has also had a pretty screwed up preseason as a result of the transfer saga involving him. 
Then people have been also critically targeting the use of players like Callejon and Morata into the mix as Madrid went for the winner. Once again, I do not buy this as these 2 were Mourinho’s best offensive weapons left on the bench. Tactically speaking one also cannot fault Mourinho for his changes. He has openly said that if the opportunity was there for him to win a match in a league game – he would take it over settling for a draw. And that explains his decision to risk one of his pivots (Diarra) and eventually one of his defenders in favor of more attacking players (Callejon and Benzema). It was just too bad for him that Getafe coach Luis Garcia, whom he has openly praised for his tactical acumen, telegraphed ‘The Only One’s’ moves perfectly as it would be substitute Adrian Colunga who proved critical in turning what looked like a draw (with Madrid laying siege on the Moya’s goal) into a Getafe win. 
Facing Up To It 
"It was an unacceptable game, in this match for me it is not a frustrating defeat. We totally deserved to lose…The only conclusion that I want them to get is that this was a defeat for Real Madrid and more than a well-deserved win for Getafe." 
I take heart from the fact that Mourinho has not shirked from what happened last night. There was no hiding behind the refereeing decisions, no sideshows (even the way he denied that Coentrao said anything to the ref was quick and without fuss), no quarrels. Mourinho just said what everyone needed to hear (especially Madridistas) – that the team played poorly and that the performance was unacceptable. 
That’s the plain, simple hard truth to explain last night’s debacle: that our team of La Liga Champions mostly played terribly as individuals, which, when put together, resulted in a poorly played game as a team that ultimately merited a loss. The consequence to this is brutal and it really does look like the road to recovery (compensating a 5 point deficit against a rejuvenated Barca after 2 league matches) will be long and hard. Perhaps this was the slap in the face the team needed to get their heads off the trophies and glory that they enjoyed in the offseason as Champions of Spain. 
Barcelona arrive at the Bernabeu on Wednesday for the Supercup. Real Madrid LAST SEASON, were the Kings of Spanish Football. Here’s to hoping that that slap we just suffered has finally knocked that heavy crown off our heads. Because what better team is there to pay for the broken plates but Barca? 
p.s. As I finish writing this post, Real Madrid have finally signed Luka Modric. Welcome to the team Luka. Get yourself fit, in-synch with the guys and we’ll talk about you soon enough…

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