Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dominance (Real Madrid 2 - Barcelona 0)


How can I be paying obscene amounts of money for 2 cable TV subscriptions (the only 2 available in Singapore) and still NOT be able to watch an El Clasico Supercup on TV? Oh yeah, now I remember, because I live in a country that thinks Paul Pogba is the best CM in the world after performing well against Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang, nevermind that he got abused by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos a couple of days before that.
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By the time I managed to find an ‘online resource’ to watch the match, Real Madrid were up 1-0 last night. When I searched for a clip of Asensio’s goal: I began cursing Singtel and Starhub once again. How could I have missed that!?!? Yes I named you 2 shit cable TV companies whom I pay good money to… because you take my money but can’t be bothered to broadcast an incredibly important match between the best team in the world, and the best team at deluding themselves that they’re the best team in the world (yes, I’m talking about you this time, FC Barcelona).
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Confidence or Contextual Tactics?

Luka, the man has a family, please stop violating his human rights

Last night, Zidane left Isco, Bale and Casemiro on the bench, abandoning the now-familiar 4-4-2 diamond and reverting to the 4-3-3. The midfield alignment was an interesting one too: instead of placing Toni Kroos as the team’s pivot (as we’ve seen post-Xabi Alonso, and many times without Casemiro), it was Kovacic who was assigned to the role. Was it to replicate his excellent tracking of Messi from the first leg? And up front, without Isco, Zidane opted for Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the wings.
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My first impression for this re-alignment was straightforward. Zidane wanted to rotate the squad, confident in the wake of the first leg result, but decided to keep the team’s cornerstones in place (defensive line, Kroos + Modric and Benzema as the front line facilitator). Should something go wrong, all it took was 3 substitutions, and we’re right back to a CR-less first choice XI on the pitch.
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Having several hours to mull over the match, I have another theory for Zidane’s team selection: He wanted us to be specifically geared to counter attack. This might explain the decision to place Kovacic in the midfield pivot position – since the Croatian’s first instinct is to weave his way out of trouble with a bursting midfield run (rather than the simple 5-10 yard pass Casemiro makes), which many times starts a counter-attack. This might also explain why the far more direct Asensio and Vazquez was chosen over Isco.
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Last night’s lineup might not just be about confidence in the result of the tie, but about adopting the team’s tactics to the circumstances of the game (facing a Barca team that needed 3 at least 3 goals to turn the tie around). If this is the case, then there’s even more reason to admire Zidane’s coaching.
Where Casemiro makes a 5-10 yard pass once he recovers the ball, Kovacic does filthy things like this (to Busquets in this instance) and then pushes the ball up to start an attack much more directly.
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What Happened, Barca?
The truth is that seeing Barca play 3 at the back isn’t a surprise. Deulofeu laid an egg in the Camp Nou over the weekend. Thus is was  logical for Valverde to opt for a lineup with more players he felt that he could rely on (e.g. Macherano) rather than guys who have let him down (Deulofeu). The lineup also acknowledges Barca’s  Neymar-less reality. It’s now a front 2, not a front 3.
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What was troubling about Barca however was how truly awful they were. Last night, they played as if all their fighting spirit has been drained from them. The wing backs, whose work rate determine the success or failure of a 3-at-the-back system, were lackadaisical in their duties and often left the back 3 unprotected versus Madrid’s front 3 + 2 fullbacks, creating 5 vs. 3 situations. Benzema’s goal, despite being a brilliant piece of skill was a result of just bad defending by Umtiti (a total lack of awareness, and a lazy reaction upon realizing his compatriot’s presence behind him to receive the ball in a dangerous area).
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Though it is true that last night’s Barca team played without Neymar and Iniesta, it is also true that the absence of those 2 should NOT mean that they should be as awful as they were last night. Forget being more than the sum of their parts. Last night Barca were less than the sum of their parts.
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Some might say that tactics played a part (Barca played much better with 4 at the back when Semedo came on). I’d argue however that the tie was dead by then and Real Madrid were just going through the motions looking forward to lifting the trophy and celebrating title #2 for the season.
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Goals
Like every Real Madrid fan, I love seeing how truly awesome and deep the squad is. This however does not change the fact that I worry deeply about the lack of final product and goals from the team’s front line. Cristiano turns 33 this season, Benzema is on the wrong side of 30 too, while reason tells us Gareth Bale will miss important stretches of the season to injury. Having lost Morata and James, the team is in need of players who can fill the goal-scoring void left by the 2. It is with this thought that I question myself if it is naïve to believe that perhaps Isco, on the cusp of superstardom and Asensio, whose current trajectory will demand a starting place, might put my fears at ease this season… that these 2 players, often capable of making go ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaah’ might also make us yell ‘goooooooaaaaaal!’ a lot too. 

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