Monday, November 11, 2013

To the BBC! (Real Madrid 5 - Real Sociedad 1)


One would have thought that after bashing Osasuna 5-0 last weekend and having been able to withstand Manchester United’s onslaught this weekend that Real Sociedad would have been capable of putting up a much better fight last Saturday. They did not. They collapsed like a house of cards after some minimal prodding from our boys. I was confident of a Real Madrid win coming into the match, following a string of matches that saw the emergence of our front 3 clicking. I did not however, expect a whitewash. But who’s complaining, right?
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The BBC (Bale, Benzema and Cristiano)
Real Madrid's New Super Trio: The BBC - Benzema, Bale and Cristiano
So apparently, everyone at the club is now referring to our front 3 as the BBC. It might not be much of a coincidence that these initials which is commonly associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation were associated with our front line following the acquisition the man who is currently hailed as British Football’s  superstar: Gareth Bale.
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It is not just that fact that our normally-sullen French Striker has just snapped back into form or that the supposedly (and still not 100%) fit Bale has been starting, playing 90 minutes, handing out assists and scoring goals. It’s actually the fact that the 3 have been making and scoring goals FOR EACH OTHER. Last Saturday – Ronaldo had 3 goals and 1 assist (to Benzema), Benzema had 1 goal and 1 assist (to Ronaldo) while Bale ‘broke the rhythm’ by assisting to Khedira.
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The second choice front 3 are no slouches either AJM – Angel Di Maria, Jese and Morata are also more than enough to spook a defense.
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The match was also marked by the chanting of ‘Cristiano Ronaldo, Balon D’ Oro!’ from the stands of the Bernabeu. While I wholeheartedly believe that Ronaldo’s tenure and undisputably astounding accomplishments at Real Madrid deserve a Balon D’ Or, I have reason to believe that it won’t be this year. Blatter aside, Real Madrid haven’t won any silverware this year despite the fact that CR’s superhuman individual accomplishments deserving of the honor. I have a bad feeling that the FIFA mafia will still give it to Messi (over Bayern’s Ribery who also deserves a shot at the award). It doesn’t matter though – Ronaldo is hands down Balon D’ Oro for Madridisimo… and from Ancelotti’s post-match comments, I think he is only starting to REALLY understand how truly, truly special his no. 7 is.
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There’s also been much discussion re: Karim Benzema who was substituted to a standing ovation from the Bernabeu. He is rightly evolving into a role perfectly suited to his characteristics within this lineup. As a striker, Benzema has never been known to be a voracious scorer of goals (32 goals in all competitions for the 2011-2012 season was his best). He has however, a knack for assisting goals that is a tad unusual for a striker: his 32 goal season saw him with 15 assists whilst his disappointing 20-goal total last season was ‘compensated’ with a staggering 20 assists too. To put that number into context, Mesut Ozil had 18 assists last season – Karim out-assisted him! This season, he has 8 goals and 8 assists thus far and is very much becoming a sort of ‘playmaking’ striker.
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It puts certain things into mind:
1.)  That Karim Benzema shouldn’t be judged solely on the number of goals he scores in a season. It is his overall contribution to the team’s attack that must be considered (e.g. assists)
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2.)That replacing him with a player meant soley as a high-volume goalscorer (e.g. Falcao)  is quite likely not a good idea.
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3.)This does not mean however that he gets a free pass for missing 2-yard sitters or for not putting in the right amount of defensive effort.
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Midfield Balance? Or Sissy Sociedad?
Is Alonso the man to make the difference in Madrid's Midfield once again?
Last Saturday, Real Madrid started with a midfield of Modric, Alonso and Khedira. It was as close to Ancelotti’s ideal midfield combination which consisted of a veteran deep-lying midfielder tasked with ball distribution controlling the tempo of the match (Xabi Alonso), a mobile but defensively sound passer tasked with spraying short passes across the pitch (Modric) and a utility man to physically impose himself on both sides of the pitch (Khedira).
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Many envision a sense of symmetry for the midfield: of having 2 players of similar characteristics on either side of the holder (Alonso). This however has rarely been the case with the midfields of successful 4-3-3s – including Ancelotti’s. Both his 2003 and2007 sides featured a deep-lying ball distributor tasked with dictating the pace of their play (Pirlo) and to his right, a guy to provide muscle, ball winning, simple passing and the occasional attacking move (Gattuso).  The key midfield difference between the 2003 and 2007 midfield 3 was Seedorf (2003) and Ambrosini (2007, where Seedorf played as part of the front 3 of the ‘christmas tree’). Either way, they key thing to note is that the midfield was NOT symmetrical and that there is nothing if it’s not.
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Likewise for Madrid, Ancelotti has opted for an asymmetrical midfield with Alonso as his modern day Pirlo (with double the passing range plus the ability to tackle and win balls) flanked by Khedira (Gattuso) and Modric (Seedorf). Last Saturday, the midfield looked considerably more balanced. Was it the presence of Alonso, who not only provided passing and ball-winning, but also leadership at the epicenter of the Real Madrid Formation? Was it the fact that Khedira played a more balanced game? Or was it Modric’s incredibly dynamic display?
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Or was it also Sociedad’s shockingly bad midfield display? While Madrid’s players moved with such dynamic purpose with and without the ball, Sociedad were absolutely hapless. The truth is probably a combination of both. Either way, it was unexpected to see the match sorted out by halftime.
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All in all, beyond Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern and PSG winning, it was a mostly weekend of surprise results: Monaco only managing a draw in France, Borussia slumping to a surprise loss to Wolfsburg (and catastrophically losing Subotic for the rest of the season) while Arsenal, Spurs and City all stumbled in England. In Spain, Atleti dropped points once again – making them now only a mere 3 points away from us. There are promising signs all around and all in all it’s a great sensation to have heading into another International Break.
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A Call for Help
Before I end, I’d like to make a request to all RMFB readers out there, whatever color or creed – I’d like please spare a thought or prayer for my countrymen in the Philippines who have suffered through a massive super typhoon (for those who aren’t familiar with the situation, you can check out: https://twitter.com/ExtremeStorms to see what happened). It is estimated that there might be up to 10,000 dead. There is a massive need for aid in the area. Those who wish to donate can do so through the Philippine Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org.ph/donate). Let’s all count ourselves lucky that in times such as these – it is the beautiful game that occupies our minds and hearts and not the horrors that mother nature can inflict upon humanity.


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