Commentary on Real Madrid and Spanish fútbol.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Citing the lack of sporting direction the club has taken, as well as a bit of complacency among the players, Florentino Pérez has resigned as President of Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. Mr. Pérez will be most remembered by casual fans for his much-publicized "Galácticos" strategy, but his most enduring legacy will no doubt be the remarkable financial wizardry he showed in bringing the club out of heavy debt and transforming back into the most marketable club in the world, extending its influence beyond its historical sphere and into the previously untapped markets of Asia and North America. Fernando Martín Alvarez will take over as the new President.
Personally, I feel this is a bitterweet moment for the die-hard fans. Thrilled as we are by the astounding turnaround in finances, the past couple of years have led many of us to become disenchanted by the lack balance in the squad, the managerial instability, and the [perceived] attitude of some of the stars. It will certainly be interesting over the next half year, as answers to the following questions come to light: - Does the manager have control over the squad? It has been speculated that Pérez has wielded a heavy hand in determining that certain players must always start when healthy. Another side to this question is whether or not Caro will be able to keep hold of the reins in the locker room to the end of the year, or whether [part of] the team will revolt in apathy. Perhaps this being a WC year will help mitigate the latter question. - Who is staying? Pérez was personally responsible for bringing in most of the big-name stars currently on the squad. With Ronaldo dropping bricks, Zidane and RC nearing retirement, and Beckham pondering a contract extension, at the very, very least, this summer will provide a fascinating study in the restructuring of the squad, perhaps from the manager on down. By stepping down this early, Pérez has given the incoming President the time to lay down a strategy for doing this properly, I believe. - How will the team perform? This is tied to the first question, of course, but it bears restating the difficulties Caro will be facing as he tries to keep the team pointed in the right direction. Titles are a longshot (let us be honest!) this season, so it is of UTMOST importance that the team maintain or improve upon its league position to ensure Champions League participation next season.
(And here I was thinking that I would get up and have only the Mallorca game to write about!)
¶ 9:39 AM0 comments
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Champions League Real Madrid 0 - Arsenal 1
Well, that was a bugger of a match, was it not? Poor play all around from the boys in white, I would have to say. Fortunately, it seemed they were simply out of sorts (or sync) as opposed to being disinterested in putting forth a proper effort. I thought the effort and desire were there, but the touch and creativity were not.
Arsenal must be credited with sticking with their game plan of counter-attacking and doing enough to disrupt the Madrid attack. Henry, Reyes and Ljunberg were thorns all night, with the Frenchman scoring a nice goal after having muscled his way through the Madrid defense (but if you expect me to put up that video clip, you can stick it up your arse...nal!).
And speaking of the defense, it should be noted that Woodgate managed to injure himself once more and is expected to miss about a month. This is certainly a blow to Madrid, as he had been playing exceptionally well the past month.
The tie is not over, but the climb is surely a bit steeper now that Madrid must pull off a win at Highbury. Perhaps it is in that very return leg that Arsenal's youth will begin to feel the pressure.
¶ 6:54 PM0 comments
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Ronaldo on his way out?
Brazilian astro Ronaldo has indicated he may choose to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season, citing the fans' lack of appreciation as the main motive of his unhappiness. This is big news, of course, as Ronaldo has been one of President Perez's sacred cows since signing on in the summer of 2002.
He is dead-on when he states that the home fans have a tendency to boo and whistle him when they are unsatisfied by his performance, lately a common occurrence, it must be said. He is sadly misguided when he [essentially] says that it is due to their lack of appreciation and patience with his mistakes. It is not your mistakes they are jeering, it is the lack of effort and sacrifice for the team which rankles the feathers, Ronie.
He has always had and will always keep his defenders who cite his goal record and his otherwordly talent, which are undeniable; however, his lack of movement, [apparent] laziness in getting back, and inexistent pressure on the opponent have worn much to thin for the fans to be appeased. The team no longer plays as though he were the only viable scoring option, and the good results are there to justify this shift in strategy. The fans can sense this and grow frustrated with a player who 1)does not appear to put the team first, 2)often lacks fitness, and 3)is injured more often than not. They get upset because it has become apparent that the team can aspire to the highest level of play if everyone gives their maximum effort. One only has to compare the whistles for Ronaldo with the applause given lately to Bapista, a strikingly less-skilled player, to see that effort combined with team results is the determining factor in winning over the public in Madrid.
¶ 10:25 AM0 comments
The top four remained unchanged over the weekend, but you still get the sense that things are really heating up in Spain as we head into spring. Let's take a look at the main action:
Real Madrid 3 - Alavés 0 -- Two early goals put the game essentially out of reach for struggling Alavés, as Madrid continued their good form. The main points of attraction for the match were the re-appearance of Raúl (back from a three month injury layoff) and the mighty circus over which Alavés club owner (read: Master of Ceremonies) Piterman presides. Alavés, now on their fourth manager (read: Piterman lackey) this season, was the subject of ridicule for most of the week and did little tactically to remove the smirks from the onlookers, having started the match with three abandoned strikers up top. Result: two goals in ten minutes for Madrid. There was some improvement for the visitors in the second half, but the result was never much in doubt. Cicinho continued his bright start in white with the third, nail-in-the-coffin, goal. (Videos below)
There were quite a few positives to take from this match, if you are a Madrid fan (which I am!), although it is always a bit tricky to draw conclusions about how your team has played when the competition was rather lacking in key areas such as midfield pressure and attacking skills. Still, these are the things I liked: Guti was very classy in the middle and set the tone right away with his strike at the five minute mark. It was good to have him back on form, as this week marks a return to Champions League action with a game against Arsenal. Baptista played his best game for Madrid, despite not scoring. He looked more comfortable and confident on the ball, having only the post to blame for not having scored on his incredible overhead shot. It really was a great effort which he followed up later with some very good strikes. It is telling that his efforts are being applauded by the home crowd, whilst those (lack thereof) of another, more prominent Brazilian are being jeered. Diogo played in the DM role for the first time (to my recollection) and looked surprisingly comfortable. He tackled well, did a decent job anticipating the flow, and moved especially well off-the-ball to make himself available as a passing outlet. This is a very important, yet sometimes overlooked, aspect to playing DM. I know not whether he will get a chance against Arsenal, but I sure wouldn't mind seeing him in that position again. Ramos was again quite solid in the back and even had a couple of well-timed runs forward. He is really beginning to look in his element. Raúl played again! He even had some nice touches, a legal-looking goal called off, and a hand in Cicinho's goal. It will be interesting to see where López Caro plays him once he is back to full fitness. --- And now a look at some of the other action around the league: Barcelona 5 - Betis 1 -- Catalán supporters will point to the scoreline as evidence their team's form is "back," but I am not yet convinced. This was a strange game with nearly all of the good fortune falling to Barça's side. Own goals, strange deflections, and an inspired Valdés minding the net all conspired to gloss the result. Still, it must be said that good teams create their own luck, and perhaps that is what we saw here. Everyone is waiting to see their match against Chelsea this week, though! Meanwhile, Betis find themselves back in the relegation zone (on goal difference) and will likely have as much trouble finding comfort as they do finding the back of the opponents' net.
Real Sociedad 1 - Valencia 2 -- Very good win for Valencia coming off their victory against Barcelona last week. La Real always seems to make things difficult when the top teams come visiting, but Valencia, thanks to two Regueiro goals, dealt with the challenge.
Cádiz 1 - Osasuna 3 -- Things seem to be back on track for the side from Pamplona, who are still hanging on to the last CL spot. The Andalusians worked hard but came up against a side that matched their workrate and finished with more class, punctuated by a nice goal from substitute Raul García, Osasuna's teen sensation.
Villarreal 4 - Espanyol 0 -- Is the yellow submarine back from the depths? Probably not. It was, by all accounts an inflated scoreline that bore little resemblance to what actually happened on the pitch. Still, it should raise their morale a bit before their CL match against Rangers.
Other results Getafe 0 - Atlético de Madrid 3 Sevilla 1 - Celta 0 Málaga 0 - Mallorca 2 Racing 0 - Athletic Bilbao 1 Deportivo 1 - Zaragoza 1
¶ 9:26 AM0 comments
Monday, February 20, 2006
Goal videos Real Madrid - Alavés
Thanks for your patience. Some nice goals this week from Guti, Robinho (after a spectacular attempt by Baptista), and a clinical Cicinho. Commentary on this game and others will come later when I have a bit of time.
Robinho after Baptista's effort
This one is a little lengthy, so you might need to pause it to let it load. Worth the wait to see Baptista's effort off a great pass from Guti.
Sorry to those waiting for video highlights of last night's game. I'm having a bit of trouble getting a hold of the match. It'll probably be another 12+ hours. Thanks for your patience.
¶ 8:39 PM0 comments
Friday, February 17, 2006
Zidane back for another year?
I saw this report indicating everyone's favorite Frenchman is leaning towards returning to Madrid for the final year of his contract, despite reports that he would retire after this summer's World Cup. The report claims an improvement in fitness has lifted his morale and desire to play. Wonderful news, but I say let's wait until it's official.
¶ 11:27 PM0 comments
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
90 minutos en el Bernabeu
In an incredible display of verve and emotion, the men in white came excruciatingly close to pulling off an absolute miracle of a comeback in the return leg of their cup tie with Zaragoza. Needing to win 5-0 in order to move on to the final, RM scored three in the first ten minutes of the game and a fourth with half an hour to play in the second half, only to come up one goal short. As it is, the match will endure the test of time and be remembered as one of the all-time greats for Madrid. Enjoy these videos:
Referees have a tough job and get more than their share of abuse, but the fellow whistling the Athletic - RM match last Saturday should be reprimanded for not knowing the rules regarding yellow and red cards. A disgrace that only rewarded the ugly play by Athletic.
Exhibit A: And the referee thought García was faking it? (no card given)
Exhibit B: How many professional fouls does it take? (no card given)
Exhibit C: Guerrero gets a yellow for tackling from behind
Exhibit D: Ramos gets a yellow for ... talking from behind
OK, I don't usually put this kind of thing on here, but with things not exactly rosy in the gardens of Madrid right now, I thought I would indulge in a bit of Maradona fun. I found this video and it is pretty darn incredible. It is a bit lengthy, so be sure to let it load up if your connection is a little slow (pause the video to let it buffer)...it's definitely worth the wait.
¶ 11:50 PM0 comments
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Oy vey! Zaragoza blasts Madrid - Copa del Rey
We all knew Zaragoza was a tough team, well organized, with a top notch attacking duo, but I do not believe anyone could claim to have predicted a shellacking of quite this proportion. Madrid let in three in each half in an absolutely pitiful display of defending that combined with career nights for the two opposing strikers, Milito (four goals on his first four shots) and Ewerthon (2 goals, including the most beautiful volley he has ever struck. Zaragoza came into the match with very clear tactics and were well marshalled by their influential captain, Cani. Hats off to them for thoroughly outplaying my team.
That said, there are some serious tongue-lashings that need to be made. Let's start with the most obvious:
Helguera - Probably his worst ever game for Real Madrid. Where to begin? Poor positioning, tackling, and marking. Only played part of the first half and bore part of the responsibility on each of the first half goals.
Ramos - Yes, he is the wonderboy, but he looked awfully naive out there. Milito burned him on the same move at least twice. His marking was also poor.
Pavón - Came on for Helguera and was just as bad. It is no wonder Mejía has taken his playing time, as he still cannot make a decent pass, nor does he possess the speed to make up for any mistakes.
R. Carlos - Was, along with Helguera, god-awful in the first half, particularly. Errant passes that led to easy breaks, late coming back... It was as though his head just was not in the match. Bad game, RC!
Gravesen - Did nothing in his task as DM. He is there to disrupt play and support the defense, but he did neither. His passing was also worthless.
Guti - Where was he? Invisible and a complete non-factor. Compare him to his captain counterpart Cani...
Baptista - The lone goal scorer for Madrid, off a Beckham free kick, he was not truly bad, but I still do not see what he brings to the side.
Ronaldo - The people who defend him against his critics must be blind. He made ONE meaningful run. One. He was consistently late getting back. "So what? He's a striker," they say! "He doesn't get any service!" "He needs to save his speed for the runs!" I will tell you what: his not getting back is one of the big reasons RM often looks slow to attack. Instead of streaming forward when the ball is won in the midfield, with a striker making a diagonal run for a through ball, precious time is wasted waiting for Ronaldo just to get himself in position to make the darn run. By that time, the defense is re-organized and prepared to thwart the [slowed] attack. And THAT is why he doesn't get service. He provided zero pressure and botched several touches, to boot.
López Caro - I have certainly been pleased with the changes he has brought to the squad, but he deserves his share of the blame for this one. Baptista needs to sit. Period. There has to be an attacking threat in the middle of the attack formation, for crying out loud. Next, Ronaldo needs to sit. He is simply not the answer up front, difficult as that may be to believe - at least not until he shows he is willing to increase his workrate in every game. If you read the above paragraph, you know how I feel about his effort. Gravesen played poorly against Celta and Espanyol, with his temper starting to get the better of him. I think it is time to get García back in there - remember, he played very well early in the season before getting injured. I do not understand why Woodgate was not in the lineup, but perhaps there were fitness questions. Playing Woody also affords the possibility of playing Ramos or Helguera in front of the defense (two DM's) and moving Guti to the AM position. Hindsight is 20/20, though, isn't it? The mister still has my support.
¶ 10:36 PM0 comments
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Quick hits - Liga week 22
Never a dull week in the Liga, eh? Let's take a look at some of the more notable action over the past weekend:
Real Madrid 4 - Espanyol 0 Madrid set the tone early in this one by tightening the screws in the center of the pitch, attacking the flanks with speed, and keeping possession of the ball away from an Espanyol squad that brought little in the way of danger. A clever goal by Guti started them off right in the 15th minute, and the persistent white attack was rewarded with two goals just before half (Zidane, Ronaldo). The rout was confirmed early in the second when Zizou struck a brilliant shot into the lower left side of the goal. The poor quality of the opposition would mitigate enthusiasm were it not for the total team effort that was on display. RM got very good-to-great games from nearly everyone on the pitch, the possible exceptions being Gravesen and Ronaldo, though he did score a goal (with his head!). The two shining stars were Zidane and Cicinho; the Frenchman with his goals and orchestrating, and the Brazilian with his brilliant runs down the right flank and his assists (Ronaldo's and Zidane's second).
Zaragoza 4 - Betis 3 Zaragoza looked to have put this game away very early with four quick-strike goals between the 10th and 22nd minutes of the first half - much like the blitz they put on Barcelona in the first leg of their cup tie. Betis, one of the offensive lightweights of the league surely wouldn't make a game of it, would they? Never say never to Dani, who brought his team back with a hattrick. Zaragoza, down to ten men for the final stretch of the match, were able to hold on in the end, but only just. Still, I think the point to be taken from this (if you didn't already know) is that Zaragoza (when they don't let their guard down and think the game is over) are a very dangerous squad who are playing very well: 6 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss in their last nine league matches...also into the semifinals in the Copa del Rey. Look out!
Deportivo 0 - Valencia 1 David Villa's brilliant goal from the half line was the highlight of a strange match that started off very intensely but waned after the first half hour. Deportivo's Victor saw his first half PK saved by Cañizares, then proceeded to blast the rebound over the crossbar, only to get another chance after the referee ruled Valencia had entered early. What happens on the next PK? Yep, Cañizares saved it easily. After that, Deportivo played rather poorly, clearly missing Valerón in the attacking midfield, and Valencia mostly played not to lose. I must say that I have a problem with Depor's Caparrós' managing of the game. He started his lone creative spark, Tristán, on the bench, clearly resting him for the Cup tie this week against Espanyol. I can somewhat see that logic, but only if you feel you can actually beat the opponent without your best remaining player, which he apparently did not feel, as Tristán was brought on in the second half. Make up your mind, here - if you're going to rest a player, REST him...if you're going to depend on a player, START him. Oh, and who is Deportivo's usualy PK kicker? Yes, Tristán. Which brings me to another beef - how can you let Víctor take the first PK, much less the second??? This is a guy that doesn't want to play for Depor and who was a couple of details away from moving to the Premiereship a couple weeks ago. Ok, fine, maybe he was still the best kicker for the first try (sure didn't look it, though), but he struck it SO badly - how can you let him take the second? Bah!
Sevilla 0 - Osasuna 1 Phew! Their first win of 2006. To do it against a quality opponent and fellow UEFA / CL contender was clutch. What a difference having Savo back makes, eh? Tightening the defense helped, too.
Villarreal 1 - Cádiz 1 Riquelme is hurt and the yellow submarine is looking rudderless. Tying at home against Cádiz is bad enough, but having to thank the referee for disallowing a legal goal at the end of the game in order to preserve the tie is downright shameless. Those Rangers up in Glasgow must fancy their chances later this month.
Racing 0 - Celta 1 Two hot teams faced off, but the match was a bit of a dud, goal-wise, until the very last minute of the contest, when Perera gave the visitors their first ever win in El Sardinero in their 22nd try. Notably, Celta now occupies a UEFA spot - not too shabby for a promoted side.
Barcelona 1 - Atlético de Madrid 3 The big upset (but is it still an upset?) came to fruition as Atlético frustrated, then pummeled the giants on their home turf. Barcelona were bound to lose at some point, being the mere mortals that they are, but I think there is still some good information to be gleaned from this match regarding how Atleti were able to pull it off. 1) Defensive patience -- Atleti did not, in fact, play a high pressure match a la Barcelona. They ceded the weight of the match to the hosts and played a containment game in the middle of the pitch, in order to not let Deco exert his influence. The entire team defended in their own half, fouled a fair amount, but kept these fouls, generally, far from the box. 2) Two skilled, speedy strikers -- Atleti had Torres and Maxi running around and working very hard on their runs into the heart of the Catalán defense. I think having two legitimate threats upfront was a big key to unlocking the defensive barrier - a lone top striker without a close partner might not work as well because... 3) Not selling out in the attack -- Atleti did not often attack en masse. The attacks were targetted and mainly carried out by the two aforementioned strikers and the wildcard, Petrov - the Bulgarian speedster often seen blazing down the left flank. This leads to... 4) Vertical attack -- If you think of attacking styles, you usually have either a fast and direct, get-to-the-opponents'-goal-as-quickly-as-possible, counter-attack style, or you have the patient, probing buildup that relies on creativity, possession, buildup, and flair. I think of the first style as being very vertical, and this is exactly what Atlético were in this match. They kept their defensive positioning in tact while having their fastest and most lethal trio of players streaming forward at breakneck pace.
Those, for me, were the critical underpinnings of Atlético's victory, much as they were for Zaragoza a couple weeks ago. In fact, Zaragoza and Atlético have recently looked VERY similar.
Other scores Real Sociedad 2 - Mallorca 1 - A win for the new manager. Málaga 2 - Athletic 1 - Um, ditto. Getafe 2 - Alavés 2
¶ 10:20 AM0 comments
Monday, February 06, 2006
Goalfest at the Bernabeu - videos
Here are the four goals that delighted the crowd in Madrid last Saturday, as the team in white dismantled Espanyol. Thoughts on this and other weekend action to come soon.
Zaragoza went down 2-1 to ten-man Barcelona, but made it through on goal differential, having taken the first leg 4-2 at La Romareda. This match was not without its share of controversy, as Ronaldinho was questionably sent off with a straight red - perhaps a bit of payback for the botched refereeing in the first leg, when Barcelona were gifted two goals.
The other match saw Deportivo coming back to tie 1-1 and win passage to the next round. You will recall this match was suspended after 44 minutes when the linesman was beaned in the face with a coin. The remainder of the match was played last night in a closed Mestalla stadium.
The semis will thus be Madrid - Zaragoza and Espanyol - Deportivo to be played February 8th and 15th.
¶ 11:07 PM0 comments