Monday, March 4, 2013

A Display of Dominance (Barcelona 1 - Real Madrid 3)


Wow. What a performance. The last time I saw Real Madrid dominate Barcelona like this was way back in the 'Pasillo' Match. That match however was played at the Bernabeu, not at the 98,000+ capacity Camp Nou (the largest football stadium in Europe). The last time I saw Real Madrid dominate Barcelona like that at the Camp Nou? I honestly don't remember - heck, it probably never even happened in all the years I have watched football and supported Real Madrid. "Dominate" is indeed a strong word to use, and it is a word that the Tiki Taka Taliban will be up in arms over. They will say that  they thoroughly dominated possession (62%). Many answer to that is "so f%cking what? - where did that get you?". Real Madrid did as Real Madrid pleased and Barca were only allowed to do what Real Madrid pleased - which was to mindlessly keep the ball with no end product (well except that consolation goal). Prior to last week's shock defeat at the San Siro, Max Allegri had a pretty good term to describe it: "Sterile Possession." Across the pitch, I argue that Real Madrid were completely dominant. Dominant in attack, Dominant in midfield, Dominant in defense.
.
Twitter Users exposing the kind of mindless Twat Barca's President is.
.
The match essentially took place as if Mourinho wrote a script on how each event of the match was to take place and in what sequence - and our boys executed it to perfection: Score an early goal, let them have the ball, press their midfield, keep them aware that we can hit them with a counter at any time, score at around the hour mark (not too early for them to still believe in a comeback) and then put them through the sword shortly after. The 'executioners' also seemed to have been cast hollywood style. The first scorer was our flashy, pretty boy super hero Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a brace (that's 6 consecutive goalscoring clasicos now for him) - testament to how brilliantly effective Mourinho's counterattacking tactics were. The second goal scorer was wonderkid Raphael Varane (his second consecutive clasico goal, not bad for a 19-year old DEFENDER) - as a tribute to the job well done by our defense and midfield who showcased tactical awareness, discipline, compactness and extraordinary workrate.
.
.
Barcelona's Terrible Defending and Tactical Clusterfuck
Sky Sports' Terry Gibson concurs with the observation that Barca's defending last night was awful.
.
Barcelona have now conceded goals in their last 12 games, stretching all the way to mid-January. The teams who have found the back of Barca's net are not necessarily the who's who of World / European football - it's actually a list that includes humble La Liga teams like Getafe, Osasuna and Real Sociedad. It doesn't take a tactical genius to figure it out: they're terrible without possession, especially on defense and extremely vulnerable along the flanks because this season, they now play with attacking fullbacks on BOTH sides (Alves & Alba). Every team has sought to expose the same weaknesses in the same way: long balls behind their fullbacks on the counter to force the vulnerable Pique and Puyol to turn and run backwards. I'm not keen to speculate on whether Pique is a world class defender having a poor run of form, or a mediocre one whose passing ability in Barca's tiki taka system has masked his true defensive frailties. Puyol on the other hand is on the wrong side of 30 age-wise and is beginning to show his age. In all Real Madrid goals, last night, the 2 Barca CBs were ruthlessly humiliated. Perhaps Pique would have been better off dancing Gangnam Style to unnerve Ronaldo as the Portuguese winger executed his stepover maneuvers rather than sticking his leg out foolishly to concede such an obvious penalty (what was he and Puyol arguing with the ref for on that one anyway?). For Real's second goal, Di Maria's 'crossover' move saw Puyol almost break his ankles and need hip replacement surgery. Di Maria's abusive gambetta on Puyol reminded me of Kyrie Irving's humiliation of Brandon Knight during the past NBA-All-Star weekend. You could almost admit that it was cruel for Barcelona to set themselves up in a manner that would subject their great captain to such abusive treatment by an opposing attacking player. Barca's defensive strategy was awful one which was made worse by even more awful execution. Ditto for Real Madrid's third goal which saw the 19-year-old Varane once again beat the taller and more experienced Pique to the ball for the second consecutive game.
.
End of the match for both legs of the tie: Dead Ball situation and a goal conceded from a Rafa Varane header... and look who was supposed to be marking him in the first place.
.
Barca look to me like they have reached a point where they believe in their tiki taka so much that they appear to believe that it makes them exempt from needing to apply basic fundamentals in defending.  To be fair, they are currently without a coach and their current acting coach (Roura) is on his first stint as an assistant. Organizationally, Barcelona football club only have themselves to blame for this (if Pep had an assistant capable of handling the reins immediately even if it's temporary in the form of Villanova, then why is Tito not given the same?). League matches are a different animal compared to cup ties - and at the highest level, the innocence and inexperience of the likes of Roura will see them get chewed up and spat out when faced with more seasoned tactical minds like Allegri and Mourinho.
.
Iniesta and Fagregas seemed to make each other redundant because they both wanted to play in the same space (yellow circle). Meanwhile, Alonso was fabulous in his positioning to deny Messi space in receiving the ball in his preferred area.
.
The second component to Barca's own undoing was the tactical clusterfuck they somehow got themselves into. Cesc Fabregas and Iniesta (who was named to a left sided role but  generally drifted inwards into his comfort zone as an attacking midfielder) seem to be playing too much in the same space. This redundancy not only constricted Barca's operating space and made them narrow, but it also denied them the possibility of having a wide man on the left (apart from Alba) to spread the play wide or be a secondary goal threat (e.g. David Villa). It must be noted that by the time Villa was introduced to the game, Barca needed 3 goals (i.e. too late).
.
.
The Madrid Monster
 Varane celebrating his goal with Mourinho made us remember that there was a time when players and the coach shared a close bond. Perhaps victory will build the necessary bridges to form those bonds again.
Barca's shortcomings as discussed above may have been glaring, but this is not to say that Real Madrid played brilliantly.
.
In attack, the decision to go with Gonzalo Higuain proved to be an inspired choice for a team looking to play on the counter. Playing a 4-2-3-1 without the ball, and a 4-4-2 with it (Ronaldo would charge up and become a forward), having a striker who would instinctively make an attacking run to a goalscoring position (Pipita) rather than one who is keen to drop deep and participate in build up play (Benzema) proved to be the right choice. Every Cristiano Ronaldo surge from deep would need to be tracked and defended in context to the fact that there was another forward making a run towards a goalscoring position. Turning backwards to chase after Ronaldo wasn't so simple when you had to worry about Higuain too. Yes - he didn't score last night, but he played a pretty important role out there too.
.
Behind Pipita, the line of 3 (Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria) would have to be the source of Alex Ferguson's (who in the stadium) anxieties. Ronaldo's goalscoring and Man of the Match heroics aside, Ozil and Di Maria played very well too. Ozil is clearly no longer spooked by the sight of 2-3 Barca players swarming him, partly because of confidence, partly because of his increased awareness through familiarity as to his teammates' positions on the pitch, the google-eyed German looked incredibly comfortable dribbling, wiggling and passing his way out of  Barca's pressing. As for Di Maria, who has been the subject of much discussion both positive and negative, he wasn't wasteful with his touches of the ball and did not make any Madridista feel like tearing their own hair out of frustration. Maybe its the big occasion, maybe it's the sight of Kaka slowly getting his mojo back (and thus threatening El Fideo's starting XI spot) - either way, it's great to see the Angel Di Maria we expected once again.
.
In the 'Engine Room', Alonso was superb in performing his function to deny Messi the ball and to force Xavi into back and sideways passes. Khedira on the other hand, whom most will remember for what initially looked like a speculative longball clearance (which would created the second goal), worked brilliantly with Arbeloa in controlling the space which Iniesta and Fabregas were 'competing' for. While on defense, Coentrao gave a measured performance, balancing his roles in attack and defense (he had one shot on goal).
.
Tonight however, apart from Cristiano's brilliance, we are also celebrating the fact that we have unearthed a jewel for our defense: Raphael Varane. We've seen him perform at home, last night, we all discovered that even in a place like Camp Nou, he  doesn't flinch and is capable of performing at the highest level. In a night whose only blemish for Real Madrid were Pepe's antics, I say that the just-turned-30 trouble-magnet better watch out. Pepe said that Varane will be one of the best CBs in 2 years - which means that it won't be very long before circumstances will mean that the club will no longer consider it worth the trouble to keep him and his antics around especially if he's getting in the way of Varane's development.
.
.
What I Meant
Sometime before, perhaps after last season's semifinal clasico of the Copa Del Rey, (where Barca won but left us with the sensation that we were thoroughly capable of beating them) or perhaps after the SuperCup, I made the comment that all the fear and hesitation within me on Barca's 'superiority' has totally washed away - that I believed completely and fully that Real Madrid had exceeded Barcelona's level already. I was of course sneered at, criticized and told off by many Cules for such sentiments. It is for this reason that the satisfaction of seeing us prevail is so great - because it was not just about winning, but doing so with complete mastery and dominance.
.
Today, those who thought I had lost it when i said that Madrid are better than Barca now know fully what I meant.

No comments:

Post a Comment