Friday, May 8, 2009

Fiesta, Siesta and Iniesta

Posted by: A Spaniard in the works, India.

Okay. I have to tell the truth here. I have been hurt as much as every one of you here because of the match result. The blog had a very good preview for the El Classico, but the match report (more of a post mortem I guess) was conspicuously absent. I am still hurting from the loss. I will be even more honest here. I wanted to write an article that night itself about how we should learn from Barcelona and how I would not begrudge them a victory in the champions league and how Nadal's victory in Rome was an omen that a Spainsh team would triumph again. But, due to my fraility I waited. Why? All my words of praise and judgement would come crashing to the ground had Barca lost on the pitch in London yesterday. In a way, I was bothered about what my peers would think of me because of my actions. It is sometimes convenient to think of football clubs and managers as massive personalities. Some of the decisions taken about playing style and tactics is also about personalities and public perceptions. And that is why I believe it was a huge difference in the style of the match and also the result. Which one did you like?

......2-6- Game, Set, Match, Championship

It did indeed read like a tennis scoreline. I had a dilemma here. Our match was right in between the two legs (now, now lets all be adults here.) of the two champions league semi final fixture. Yet, here I will treat it as one event and deal with it later. In reality, there was much to learn from the way Chelsea played the game, atleast tactically. But again, did we go wrong so much? The two scenarios were very different. Chelsea were playing to get a result. We were looking for pride and probably dent our rivals' chances. In hindsight, Barcelona approached all the three games in the same fashion. Looked comfortable in possession and were not afraid to play one touch football even if it was to play out of trouble. It was another matter that Real had some baffling tactical stupidity behind some of its decisions. Juande Ramos has disappointed me tactically in all the big games this season. Let us take this game and dissect where we lost the game:

a) Extremely high backline- Juande thought that Real was a popular actress going to one of these red carpet events and used an exposed high backline. This is of no use against a team with extremely fast attackers like Messi, Henry and Eto. When a ball is played to a frontline, it is common knowledge that the attackers face the goal and defenders have their backs to goal. Beating the offside trap means that a forward has an advantage of not having to turn for the ball and hence has the edge. The problem is compounded if it is a fast forward scenario (pardon the pun!!). The goal being a game changing event, the offside rule was recently tweaked to protect a defender. Now, any part of the forward must not be ahead of the last defender when the forward pass is made for a non offside call. Earlier, the line used to be drawn at the feet. Leaning in would create a major advantage for the forward. Even then, when you are playing a very fast attacking team, you don't play a high backline unless you have very fast defenders who have the legs to recover the ball. We have Pepe and Ramos who are quick. The rest of them would not win a sprint for sure. In that scenario, how do you explain having a high backline? Most of the attacks were because of the lack of pace in defence. One more essential quality of a high backline is co operative forward movement to lay the offside trap. In the Classico, that was absent. The positioning of the fullbacks was abysmal. They lagged in pushing up and paid the price.

b) Absence of a central offense- All our attacks barring a couple of passes lacked invention in the centre. Most of it was directed through the wing. Higuain was left to dribble past three players multiple times and most of it was directed through the wing. If the wingbacks are busy in trying to cope with torrential rain, you are not going to receive much help from them either. I don't understand his reluctance to play Van der Vaart. I believe he has not got enough chances to play in his preferred position behind the strikers. In too many games he has played on the wing or come on too late. If I were Ramos, I would have played VDV alongside Lass. He is a a handy passer for the Netherlands. Raul was invisible except for two chances as a consequence of that.

c) Sergio Ramos- He has not been looking like himself of late. Looks jaded and surprisingly looks suspect defensively. I used to rate him alongside Maicon and Alves as one of the 3 best right backs in the world, but his form has been disappointing to say the least. And, to make things worse, we have no viable alternative in his position. Gabriel Heinze was worse.

I sympathise with Juande Ramos. He has done well in his spell but has failed in all the big matches. But we should not forget why we gave Barcelona this kind of space. We had to win the match. And if we had won it in Chelsea style, the fans at the stadium would have never forgiven us for playing soporific football. Even though they were vastly outnumbered in the Bernabeu, the strengh of (her)cules took them through. There was no necessity of Real yelling "Eto'o brute?". He did not show up, much to my delight. Barcelona could have scored more if Messi was more clinical and Iniesta not that unselfish.

Stamford Bridge has fallen down, my fair lady....

"As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal." -Jose Mourinho

It is sort of ironic that a former Chelsea manager came up with this iconic quote for occasions where lower teams played for not conceding against the big teams. This is the funny thing about the world. When lower teams do this men behind the ball approach, they are ridiculed for being afraid and very defensive. Yet, when a big team like Chelsea does it, it is tactical superiority and super commitment. It is not just in sports. I would like to highlight the power of perception in two other real world scenarios. I must warn a discerning reader that these are stereotypes and not necessarily true:

a) A rich guy drinks for culture. A poor guy who drinks is a wifebeater.

b) This is a question and answer scenario to a person X.

Q: Why is the sky blue? A: I don't know.

Let us see our reactions for two cases who are the people who have given the answer.

X= Nobel prize winner= "Ooohhh..... he is so modest! He has an attitude of wanting to learn everyday".

X= Tenth standard student= " What? You don't know that? You are retarded, man!"

Unfortunately, the power of perception happens to be real and that is why life is so interesting so many times. Anyway, the matter of how we come across as a football club and philosophy is worthy of a lengthy article in itself.

I will not mince my words. I have massive respect for Guus Hiddink and Fabio Capello as I believe they have the ability to get the best out of even limited resources. Guus Hiddink has shown time and again that he can overachieve even with the most modest resources in the case of PSV, Australia, Russia and South Korea. In many of these cases, he had a job to do- to qualify. And it was obvious in the first minute with any of these sides that they were the weaker team when they slayed fancier opponents. So, it was almost second nature to him to ask his players to stay behind the ball and not give any space whatsoever. Chelsea actually defended in two lines- the midfield right in front of the penalty box and the backline was extremely deep to sweep any through balls. It also served another purpose; it negated all the movement and pace by Barcelona in the box. In my opinion, it was anti football. I don't like this approach. To be honest, I almost had an aneurysm at the end of the match. But, this approach exists solely because it is successful, even though a lot of fans might feel it is boring. Chelsea are not afraid to bruise their opponents in the EPL. But here, only Messi and Eto were marked heavily. They were happy as long as the ball did not come close to their box. They did not come snapping at the heels. Eric Abidal's sending off was a pivotal point in the game. For more than twenty minutes, Barcelona played without a defensive midfielder- just Xavi and Busquets- and Chelsea did not capitalize. They took off Drogba who could have caused some problems. Chelsea played only in the counter attack which was mostly off the wing. This signalled lack of intent to kill the game for me. Iniesta's goal was very good. Essien's goal was even better. Chelsea will feel hard done by. They have been to five semifinals in six years now and have not won the trophy even once. They have a set of talented players who will probably never lift the trophy- like the game's biggest bridesmaid- Michael Ballack. But this is a victory for the game of football. Barcelona have clearly been the best team in Europe and it would have been a shame not to watch them play in the finals. So, the decisions taken by managers are a product of their environment and their situations. I am sure SAF will not follow the same tactics as Hiddink. I personally believe that doing so gives an impression that you feel that you are a weaker team. Many might disagree with me, but I am interested to know which of the two approaches would any footballing fan prefer? I would love it if fellow madridistas gave me their opinions on this one.

32-26-36? Va Va Voom!

This is the vital statistic this season, with Barcelona playing sexy football in popular footballing parlance. These are the number of goals scored by Eto'o, Henry and Messi in all competitions this year. Even though this number looks humungous, it is easy to forget the under rated Andres Iniesta. Not too long ago, he was Ronaldinho's understudy. He has been instrumental in getting the ball moving on the pitch. His biggest weapon is his two footed dribble, which allows him to keep the ball not too far away from his body and that makes it very difficult to dispossess him. Due to this, he can move both inside and outside the fullback with equal ease. I will not forget the way he danced around Essien in both the legs. He is extremely unselfish as well. I have seen numerous occasions where he is happy to grab the assist. The Classico had two such examples. Against Valencia too, he had a chance and he passed to Messi. It is players like these who win matches. In fact, there is a legend that our own Ferenc Puskas was one such man. He made many goals for Di Stefano when the latter grew insecure about the top goalscorer status.

Iniesta the Redeemer.

Any resemblance to the statue in Rio is simply coinicidental. Here is to a man who I believe is one of the modern wonders of the world!

Barcelona's high possession, short pass football has been nice to watch. What is interesting is the unusually high pass percentage. A team with 60% has had a very good day. Yet, in all the three matches, it was more than 80%- something that would be associated with a defensive midfielder or defender. United are going to trouble them with set pieces. I feel that the balance has shifted slightly to United as Barca are going to miss their regular fullbacks and I just hope Barcelona's victory against Chelsea was not pyrrhic. I am hoping for one good football match. Hopefully, we can reach such a stage next year at home!

Hala Madrid!

A Spaniard in the works.

P.S: I kindly request those of you who have managed to read through the whole article and are somehow awake to give me feedback about what sort of tactics should Real have employed? Our attempt at attack failed. Should we have taken a Chelseaesque route? I don't think so. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Squad Analysis

Posted by: Paulo Martin, Spain.

The bloody defeat to Barcelona on Saturday at the Santiago Bernabéu has provoked a veritable earthquake in Real Madrid. The history, philosophy and fighting spirit of the club has kept us fighting until the final whistle, but this time it has become clear that our chances of victory were not real. The club lived in a fantasy that Guardiola and his players woke us from as sharp and harsh as possible.

Now, just over a month for the election to the presidency Madrid, the club movements are accelerated. Regardless of who wins the election the Merengues demand and expect changes. Deep important changes. It has been made clear that the squad is not good enough and making a couple of signings will not be enough to strengthen it if the club wants to compete in all 3 competitions as is expected from it.

Before making additions to the squad some casualties will have to be made and among them could be some major players. It will be a long and difficult process, but at the start of next season, the squad could be very different from today.

Here is my analysis of the squad:

Casillas - Nontransferable: Although during Florentino`s first term at the club he was being questioned by the president, he has earned his right to stay and become a club and world icon. For many, Iker today is the real "galactico" of Real Madrid.

Dudek - Transferable: The Czech has not played, and when he has not had an outstanding performance to close the door to the youth keepers. His function could be carried out by Codina.

Codina - Nontransferable: The canterano has demonstrated a good level. Is able to replace Casillas, and until he plays he can continue learning to play from the worlds best keeper: Iker Casillas. If he wants to progress away from Madrid, youth team has alternatives.

Salgado - Transferable: The Galician is in the twilight of his exceptional career and looks set to pack his suitcases bound for Qatar. No longer is he able to dominate the right-back role. His character does not compensate his physical shortcomings.

Pepe - Nontransferable: Assault aside, the Portuguese is one of the best center backs in Europe. If he can control the outbursts he will once again be very important for the team.

Sergio Ramos - Nontransferable: The Andalusian has not had a good season. Was very confused throughout the season and has made grave mistakes, but if it regains his focus he will again become a great player.

Cannavaro - Transferable: The Italian central back has reached the end of the season at an average level, but you begin to notice the years on him. Furthermore, it appears that he has committed himself to Juve for the coming year. We shall miss his professionalism.

Marcelo - Nontransferable: Not very active in defense but in attack was great as is expected from the Brazilian. Has not shown that can be a regular starter as left back but looks like a good left winger, still young and has room for improvement.

Miguel Torres - Nontransferable: While not spectacular, always done well playing in either the right or the left. Great squad player for next year.

Heinze - Transferable: The Argentine is no longer the player he first was when he arrived at Madrid. Has gained strength in the dressing room because of his strong character but has lost strength on the pitch against rival forwards, no longer is his presence respected and feared and he is surpassed with ease.

Metzelder - Nontransferable: The German has been shown to be a great solid reliable central defender, he has made it clear that he has sufficient quality to play for Real Madrid.

Javi García - Transferable: Canterano. He has not played too much this year and when he has he had to switch between two different positions: centermidfelder and center back. It seems like he is not Real Madrid material.

Drenthe - Transferable: He arrived in Madrid as a diamond in the rough. He had room for improvement, but it is clear that there will be plenty of polishing to do before he becomes a diamond. Has not gone down well with the public of the Bernabeu and is considered not worthy of wearing the white shirt.

Diarra - Transferable: In past seasons he was the only players keeping our midfield together, but little more. Much of the balls that recovers he gives away again in the after a bad pass. Unable to launch the offense from our area.

Gago - Uncertain: The Argentine has quality to spare, and is great physically and is not afraid to fight for the ball. His problem is his irregularity. Has been "absent" in all the big game, the games where we expected the most from him.

Lass - Nontransferable: If Madrid wants to keep a midfielder that offers any containment then it should be him. Since his debut he has shown class and character and has become a key part of the team.

Guti - Transferable: An institution within the club, but is still questioned by his ever lasting problem: his irregularity. He is capable of best (while being marked can give an impossible assist) but also the worst.

Parejo - Nontransferable: This creative center midfielder has barely been able to demonstrate his quality. Alfredo Di Stefano`s favourite canterano has a lot to offer.

De La Red - Nontransferable: He is recovering from heart problems and should be important part of the squad in the future (if his medical condition allows it). His vision and his quality of play have never been questioned.

Sneijder - Uncertain: The player who struck it big in his first games with Real Madrid, his power and his class have been diluted over time. Only if he recovers and regains focus will he remain as part of the squad.

Robben - Uncertain: There is no doubt about the quality he has. However, a team as big as Madrid can not afford to have a player that plays only 45 percent of the matches of the season due to injuries.

Faubert - Transferable: No comment. The signing inexplicable. Has barely played.

Van der Vaart - Transferable: He arrived with the hype of being a "superclass", but perhaps having played far from his natural position or adjustment problems have resulted in him not delivering what was expected of him.

Raúl - Transferable: The captains time has come for him to pass the torch. Thanks to his intelligence and quality he continues to have good stats, but a young striker with more quality and pace will surely bring more and better things. Madrid would miss his winning mentality and his Madridismo.

Saviola - Transferable: He is not a striker for Real Madrid. Last season took the few opportunities he had coming out from the bench well, but when played full games hardly saw him at all.

Van Nistelrooy - Uncertain: The Dutchman is one of the worlds great goal scoring mahcines but is at the downhill of his career. Ensures goals, but maybe someone younger can bring more to the team.

Higuaín - Nontransferable: The Argentine grows and grows every day. Not world class yet, but a very good player. He has been improving his finishing and demonstrated being strong and having character and faith in his possibilities.

Huntelaar - Nontransferable: "The hunter" has shown he can score goals in the league. The Van Nistelrooy of the future.

Friday, May 1, 2009

El Clasico Special: Fan Vs Fan

Posted by: Ashay K, India

Photo Credit: Saurabh (Cule)

So in line with the “El Clasico” preview, our blog team did a small “Fan vs Fan” bit on Orkut. We invited Cules and Madridistas from the Real Madrid vs Barcelona community on orkut to participate in a common questionnaire. We got some really interesting, some whacky and some spiteful answers. One thing cannot be ignored though; although the two sets of fans absolutely loathe and despise each other, there is a kind of grudging respect for the rival teams, if not for anything, then simply for what the rival club symbolizes.

So, we move on with the questionnaire and let the readers come to their own conclusions about the matter…

What do you think of your rival team’s squad?

Joan (Cule) put it straight and up front about Real Madrid: “They have little depth in certain areas of the squad. The squad is totally uncompensated. No right wingers, no quality reliable left backs; they only have 3 center backs, they lack pace in all departments but especially up front. They lack a consistent creative midfielder who dictates the pace of the game. And they have too many injury prone players”

Sachin Chandra (Cule) took a slightly diplomatic tone: “well they are a young squad with pretty good talent even though not world beating talent; they have excessive squad players who are not worthy enough to play in a club of such a big stature but still play. The squad lacks any kind of creative spark in its play”

Rai Krol (Madridista) was full of praise and gushingly commented: “I think they are the best technically gifted team i have seen play. They do not just play football; sometimes what they do is art”

King (Madridista) answered it limerick-ishly: “Youth, Flair, Speed, Skill, Possession, all summoned up by the brilliance of Pep can be summed up as Barcelona's style”

What do you think about the chances of your team?
Overall, the mood from the Cule camp seemed to be quite confident. Same cannot be said about the madridistas though.

Joan (Cule) answered confidently: “Pretty good chance of getting a positive result. Its do or die for Madrid but it isn't for us, so realistically an away draw would be an excellent result for us where as it would be a terrible result for Madrid”

Kunal (Cule) wasted no time in putting it mathematically: “75 % chances of winning and 15 % of drawing”. We assume the missing percentages to total it to 100 are the chances of losing according to him.

Pradeep (Madridista) was quite frank about his team’s chances: “It’s slightly less than that of our rivals. We have many injury problems and many of our key players are missing. Real Madrid need a win and any other result wont do for us which is a big advantage for our direct rivals!!”

Paulo Martin (Madridista) also tried his hand at being mathematical: “I think we’ll push very hard, especially at the start of the game and at the end again depending how close the game is. We have the advantage of playing at home and crowd carrying the team and the fact that Barça will be fatigued. I’d say its 60/40 in our favour”

What strategy do you think the coach of your team will employ in the clasico?

Saurabh (Cule) quipped: “Same as always: Attack, Attack & Attack, and a 4-3-3 formation. We'll play our usual passing game”

Karthik (Cule) had something different to say, other than the above mentioned (patented) answer: “I think we will be given a bit more physical strength in the midfield by adding Keita. I think the coach will let the team play just as they had played the season and he would ask the players to press for the ball a bit more so that the opposite team will get frustrated”

Paulo Martin (Spain) put it quite laconically: “Probably cautious counter attacking football but strategies tend to go out the window in a clasico.”

Pradeep (Madridista) sounded a bit apprehensive: “With many of our players missing, I dont think we will be attacking from the first minute! We may try to play defensively and will step up our play according to the score line at half time.”

What strategy do you think the coach of the opposite team will employ in the clasico?
There seemed to be a divide in the Cule camp about this. The madridistas seemed to have a common consensus.

Karthik (Cule) expects something out of the ordinary: “Well i think real madrid would come and attack us a lot. They have a very good holding midfielder in Lass and I think VDV will be up to the mark in the clasico since he is very intelligent on the ball. Their defence will be a bit weak but i think they will attack and defend together as a team. Higuain can cause lot of problem to our defence since he is doing spectacular and he has been an absolute revelation this season.”
Joan (Cule) is more in line with the feelings coming out of the camp nou: “I think they`ll be fairly cautious and try to counter attack us at all times. I don't think Madrid are capable of carrying the game and keeping the ball, they are much more comfortable giving the possession away and counter attacking.”

King (Madridista) commented: “The same strategy they have used all season; Pass, Pass & Pass till they find a hole. Keep possession and be wary of physical contact”

Rai Krol (Madridista) seconded: “Same as always; possession football at its best”

How confident are about your team winning this match?

Prashanth (Cule) had the disposition of taking whatever comes his way (except defeat, of course): “Would love Barca 2 complete the first double for us since 98-99 is it. But a draw would be fine with us as well!”

Kunal (Cule) was quite confident though: “I m a bit jittery keeping in mind that the team will travel to England, but then since it's the Classico our team will leave no stone unturned and will surely do a double on RM this season.”

Kashan (Madridista) was a bit philosophical: “I believe in destiny and Real Madrid is all about Winning”

King (Madridista) sounded a bit desperate: “It’s a do or die situation for us. We can only go for a win if we are to have any chance at the liga. But barcelona have always been a super stubborn side and defeating them will not be the same as defeating sevilla or the others. How ever if we lose or draw, we can say goodbye to la liga. Fans will play an important role in this fixture”

What is your match prediction for the clasico?
Most of the cules predicted a draw and their predictions do have a ring of truth about it. Barcelona hasn’t really done the double on Real Madrid for a long time. So the overall mood coming in from the cule camp is that of cautiousness.

Karthik (Cule): 2-2
Saurabh (Cule): 3-2 to Real Madrid (Probably the only cule in this whole world predicting a loss for Barcelona)
Sachin Chandra (Cule): 1-1
Kunal (Cule): I think Barcelona will win 2-3. Iniesta , Yaya Toure and Dani Alves will play a big role in it and perhaps Eto'o.
Kashan (Madridista): 3-1 to Real Madrid
Paulo Martin (Madridista): 2-1 to Real Madrid
Siddhant (Madridista): 2-0 to Real Madrid
Pradeep (Madridista): 2-1 to Real Madrid

We only hope that the predictions by Madridistas come true and they don’t end up like our current interim club president.

What does your rival club symbolize to you as a football club?

Prashanth (Cule) summed it up in a very short sentence: “Never say die attitude, determination who want attractive football !”

Joan (Cule) seconded: “Fighting spirit, grit, determination and its never give up attitude.”

Kunal (Cule) had a grudging tone about his reply: “They believe in : Hit, Hit, Hit, Hit; Keep on Hitting until the opponents die or they die themselves; But never say die.

Karthik (Cule) put it as neutrally as possible: “Madrid has a great history, a great captain, a great goal keeper. They are sure to bounce back soon enough to their glory days”

Rai Krol (Madridista) admitted he was a bit envious about Barcelona before going to reply: “Admirable footballing philosophy, excellent brand of football and excellent youth set up”

King (Madridista) didn’t hold anything back as he said: “They are our arch rivals and both sets of fans dont like each other at all, but I will be frank here. I think barcelona are a wonder ful team and they have a very good way of handling their youth, they play beautiful possession football and are among the best clubs in the world. I hope they keep playing the way they are and make spain proud by kicking those lazy english clubs (read here as Chelsea, Manchester Utd / Arsenal) out of our sight”

Paulo Martin (Madridista) put it as neutrally as possible: “Brilliant style of football, never vary their style or change their philosophy of football. Always look to the youth system as a solution and not a problem and I admire them for that.”