Friday, November 1, 2013

Moving On (Real Madrid 7 - Sevilla 3)



In a press conference before last Wednesday's Sevilla match, Carlo Ancelotti enthusiastically said that (I paraphrase): "We are very close to seeing his Real Madrid."
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I'm now wondering what he said to the boys before he came out of that tunnel in the Bernabeu. Did broodingly and menacingly tell his men (ala Russel Crowe in the opening scenes of the film 'Gladiator'): 'On my signal, unleash hell.' ?
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The match captures very much the fact that Real Madrid are moving on and transitioning towards getting right many of the things that went wrong in the Clasico. It also gave us a glimpse of what this team is truly capable of once things are able to click when ‘the Ancelotti way’ is done properly. We’ve had some very good wins this season (e.g. vs. Galatasaray to open the CL season), most of those wins however have come as a result of large spurts playing the ‘Mourinho way’ (counter attacks after gaining the lead). This is however, the first match I’ve seen this season where we’ve walloped the opposition playing Ancelotti’s system… and boy was it bloody entertaining.
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Playing the 4-3-3
I get really frustrated when people keep thinking that we still play a 4-2-3-1. It's a 4-3-3 guys! (diagram c/o whoscored.com)

Ancelotti once again played with a 4-3-3 which featured a single holder. Illaramendi’s performance in this role demonstrated his growing understanding of the system as well the growing confidence he has in himself as well as that of the team towards him. And in another bright spot of the game, Alonso was brought in for this role for some minutes to mark his return to the fold. Isco and Khedira played as the 2 roaming Central  Midfielders flanking Illaramendi. Isco looked much sharper and more active as compared to his last few performances. It has to be said however that post-match, after Ancelotti bemoaned the team’s lack of balance (which allowed Sevilla back into the game following the 3-0 lead we established), he was referring to the lack of defensive support offered by Isco and Khedira. It seems as if they enjoyed themselves way too much in roaming forward to participate in the team’s attacks.
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Also notable in the match was the role that Di Maria played when subbed in. Replacing Khedira for 10 minutes, the Argentine played as a central midfielder as well – taking up the Isco’s role in the midfield to Alonso’s left side (with Modric to Alonso’s right): allowing Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale to carry on playing as the team’s tridente. It’s an interesting ‘experiment’ to follow and a clear manifestation of a question that Ancelotti is asking himself out loud: “If a proper striker (Benzema / Morata) is needed in the front 3 and Bale plays to his potential, how can I set the team up to allow Di Maria into the team as well?” – and a sure sign of Ancelotti’s belief in the Argentine.
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Bang for Your Buck
It wasn't just that they scored. It was that they did so whilst playing beautifully TOGETHER.
If you’re going to spend 231m-Euro (96m for CR, 35m for Benzema and 100m for Bale) on a ‘strike force’, this is what you ought to expect: 3 goals for Ronaldo, 2 goals and 2 assists for Bale and 2 goals and 1 assist for Benzema. If there was ever a time to talk about a tridente, then perhaps it is now. They are after all starting to obsess about 'strike partnerships' these days (SaS - Suarez and Sturridge at Liverpool, Aguero + Negredo / Dzeko at City, Rooney + Van Persie at Man U, Ibra + Cavani at PSG and even Neymar + Messi at Barca). Let Real Madrid do all of them one better - we're not just doing duos or tandems, we're doing 'Tridents'... or as they say in the NBA 'Big 3'.
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Last Wednesday, Ancelotti played all 3 in their ‘logical’ positions – Benzema through the middle, the right-footed Ronaldo on the Left, and the Right-footed Bale on the Right… and was rewarded handsomely for it. The 3 players clicked magnificently, not only in terms of being able to individually score goals, but also considering the fact that they were assisting each other. Bale’s assists were to Benzema and Ronaldo. Bale’s opener on the other hand, was a juicy move that involved the 3 front players: with Ronaldo passing to Benzema and moving into a deep position, dragging an defenders with him – allowing Bale to make a late run into the box to openly receive the Frenchman’s pass. Minutes later, Ronaldo would thread another tasty ball through to Bale who struck a goal-bound shot first time, only for it to be saved spectacularly. It was the stuff of Florentino’s wet dreams, whom I imagine was giggling like a school girl behind his diplomatic, poker-faced expression in the director’s box.
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Commander / Commandante Cristiano
Commander Cristiano
A friend said it perfectly on Facebook: that the moniker ‘Commandante Cristiano’ would turn into the modern day equivalent of the cheer ‘Asi, Asi, Asi, Gana El Madrid!’ (translated: That’s how Madrid win) The cheer started amongst rival supporters who chanted it to sarcastically suggest that Madrid won matches unscrupulously through foul means. Today, it is chanted by Real Madrid fans as it to tell their opponents: That’s how our team whips your ass.
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Sepp Blatter’s ‘Commander’ quip re: Ronaldo might likely go the same route: that Madrid fans will now  take this mocking criticism of him and turn it around as praise and cheer for being the team’s commander. He has after all more and more embraced and increased his leadership role in the team.
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When I first read about Blatter’s statements, I felt that it was no big deal for him to be described as a player who ‘had more expenses with the hairdresser than Messi.’ Having seen the video myself though, I was aghast by the mocking tone by which he referred to Ronaldo as a ‘commander’ and pulled off his ridiculously embarrassing impression of him. I do not accept that he did not mean to insult Ronaldo when he did this because I am personally very good at doing mocking impressions of people. I did it as a naughty and rebellious student to mock my teachers in school in front of my classmates and I still do it now to mock and make fun of my bosses and clients in rebellious frustration – all behind their backs of course as any immature, insubordinate person would. But while it is not uncommon to see an immature and insubordinate student or employee (like myself) do such things, having the President of the governing body of the world’s most popular sport do it is appalling. Alvaro Arbeloa is right: if he says and does such things in public, one can only wonder what he would say in private.
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Kudos goes to Ronaldo, for giving the most wonderful response to Blatter: by doing it on the pitch with his 3 goals and showing that idiot how a REAL commander performs with his actions (scoring goals, leading his team) and gestures (a pretty snappy salute, eh?).
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Ronaldo’s goalscoring antics have now moved him past Puksas in the club’s all-time scoring list. All hail the commander.
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Subtle Rotations
Perhaps a less exciting topic of conversation are my observations on how Ancelotti has been subtly rotating his squad. Outside of the clasico, the changes in the match day team sheet could hardly be viewed as ‘tinkering’. Apart from a select group of mainstays (Ronaldo, Khedira, Ramos, Marcelo when fit, Lopez for La Liga matches, Casillas for CL matches), Ancelotti has been quietly shuffling his players and rotating them – keeping everyone fresh, alert and feeling relevant. This is especially important for a team out to play a possession game where intensity and absolute fitness are pre-requisites. The 10-minute experiment that saw Di Maria playing as a Central Midfielder, if it works out, further gives the team more alternatives in the middle.
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More football is coming guys! The team is off to Vallecas to face Rayo and then Turin for our group stage 'return leg' against Juventus. Having pulled off a great performance last Wednesday, it's now to take this show on the road and REALLY put this team and its newfound way of playing the game to the test.

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