Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Need to Grow: The 2011-2012 Season Was Great But...

Real Madrid, the first team to reach 100 points; We have the most league wins in a season with 32 out of 38, breaking the previously held record of 31 wins by Barcelona's; We scored the most number of goals away from home in la liga history with 51 goals; Not to mention the 121 goals we scored in total- most number of goals scored by a Spanish team in one season in La Liga history. The stats are endless but do they tell the complete story?

I'd hate to burst the Madridista bubble, but a good number of these stats are inflated. The fact that we reached a historical one hundred points is very impressive- we should be proud. However, ignoring the sad state of the league would be rather delusional of us. When Cristiano Ronaldo broke the record for most number of goals scored in one league season, it was hard to envisage anyone (including himself) breaking that record. Fast-forward 12 months later, and Messi has crushed the record by ten goals; Ronaldo beat it by 6. This is not to say that there is no quality in the league, but most teams cannot afford to have squads deep enough to compete on more than one front. Next season, I fully expect one of Real Madrid or Barca to beat the 100 point mark.

But back to Real Madrid... Here we will try to analyze what we did well this season and what we failed at, however few.

I would be stating the obvious by saying we had no problems scoring goals. Even when we got knocked out at the hands of Barcelona from the Copa Del Rey, we manged 3 goals over two legs. Against Bayern, we managed 3. 121 league goals speak for themselves. Even more impressive was that it was not a case of bullying small teams and struggling against the big ones. We won at every "big" stadium, and in most cases scoring more than one goal. In terms of taking chances and scoring goals, we were an example for the rest of Spain, and Europe.

Our pass completion rate increased from 83.2% in 2011, to 85% in 2012- a clear sign of improvement in a part of the beautiful game that has evolved over the past few years. Long balls are frowned on, and short passes lauded. But in a desperate attempt to not crack a Xavi joke at this juncture, I will go ahead to add that our improved pass completion rate has not had enough of an impact on another important facet of our game. This brings me to my next point:

Pep Guardiola brought with him, a new way of seeing the game of football. Whether your average "Pep critic" is willing to accept this or not, the former Barcelona coach and player revolutionized certain aspects of the sport, some of which included the emphasis on short passes and an obsession with possession. A football team's performance is no longer judged on solely the number of goals scored (which incidentally is the only stat that really matters), but on the style of play, which usually involves how well they kept possession. Seeing as Real Madrid has traditionally been viewed as an attack-minded team, Mourinho was faced with the task of yielding to modern day tactics, and getting the results. In 2011 the team averaged 56.3% in possession, which increased to 58.8% this season. Good improvement, but not quite good enough. Against some of the "big" teams we struggled to keep the ball for sustained periods of time. At home to Malaga, we managed a mere 47% ball possession; Barcelona reduced us to just 28% Ball Possession; Away to Athletic Bilbao we managed 49%; and over two legs against Bayern we averaged 45% of the possession. The possession based system is also the new way to defend. Since keeping good possession of the ball involves staying compact as a team, and utilizing spaces effectively, it tends to rub off on the team defensively. Defending was not Real Madrid's forte this season, and to compete against some of the best in Europe, it is imperative that the team improves. If the system is going to evolve next season we will need to address this issue. But to solve it we have to know what the problem is in the first place:

Tactics vs Fatigue:
How much of our inability to hold the ball for sustained periods of time was down to the coach's orders and possibly ignorance, or just fatigue? From the end of March until the penultimate game of the season against Granada, the boys played more than a game a week-  with fixtures that were sure to wear them down. Did Mourinho intentionally make the players defend deep and reduce their tempo to conserve energy for the more important games? There was an obvious drop in energy during this period as was evident against the likes of Rayo Vallecano, Real Betis, Malaga, Villarreal, and the like. We narrowly survived the first two thanks to individual brilliance but we were not so lucky against the latter two. The "broken press" as Micheal Cox of Zonal Marking calls it, was something we saw very often with Real Madrid this season. It happens when the forward players are asked to press high up the pitch while our central midfielders and defenders sit deep. This season it often led to embarrassing amounts of space in the middle of the pitch for opponents to work with, which in turn led to poor ball possession and overwhelming of our CMs. A clear example of the Coach's tactics gone wrong.

Conventional belief states that the problem is the formation; that the double pivot does not leave enough players in the middle of the pitch to control play or even defend. I would disagree. Apart from Barcelona, most of the other possession-based teams play a double-pivot: Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Arsenal, to name a few. However what most of these teams have that we don't is discipline.

4-2-3-1 vs 4-3-3 
With the speed of our play, and the number of goals we racked up this season, I would advise against a complete restructuring of our formation by switching to a 4-3-3. This will compromise our speed on the break. That speed happens to be one of the main strengths of our current group of our players.  

I sat down to re-watch the Borussia Dortmund-Bayern Munich German cup final to see what it was that Die Borussen have done so well to enable them dominate Bayern Munich consistently (They've beaten them 5 times in a row now). What struck me was the way they defended. Every time they lost the ball, they dropped deep and covered spaces, countering Bayern every time they dared to cross the half way line. Dortmund played a 4-2-3-1 formation with Gundogan and Kehl as the CMs. To illustrate the strengths of a properly executed 4-2-3-1 formation defensively, I took a screen photo of Borussia's shape at the 45:24 minute mark; a point where they had to defend against one of Bayerns attacks.

Good execution of the 4231 formation defensively
It must be said that for all the praise Jurgen Klopp gets for his possession football, they are actually an effective counter attacking team. When Philip Lahm proclaimed that despite the scoreline his side were the better of the two, football fans wondered how they had missed the news of Xavi signing for Bayern. However, having watched that game twice now, the skipper actually had a point. Borussia countered well but a good number of their goals came down to luck. But their defending was excellent.
At the 45:24 minute mark (as seen above) Kroos lays off the ball to Lahm, who's guarded by Schmelzer, then Kroos makes a dashing run forward, but is tracked by Gundogan. Kehl runs to support Schmelzer in guarding Lahm. Notice that both central midfielders have already been dragged out of position so naturally there should be wide open space in the middle for Bayern to work with. No, Kagawa drops deep to occupy the space between Robben and Gustavo, thereby limiting Bayerns passing options. Eventually Lahm finds Robben who then has to make a long diagonal pass to find Ribery, but the pass is intercepted by Piszczek; they counter, and Lewandowski gets Borussia's third goal of the night.
The problem with having super stars is that often times they lack discipline, and efforts to forcefully instill that discipline in them could prove counter-productive- Point and case AVB at Chelsea. For the double pivot to work, our forward players must be willing drop deep and cover up space especially when both of the central midfielders (Alonso-Khedira) are drawn out of position either by wingers or due to our full backs being outnumbered. Ozil should be able to drop deep in such instances and cover spaces. Ronaldo and Benzema should not be too high up the pitch either. Whoever is playing the No. 9 role could be the highest of the front 4 to be prepared for counter attacks, but ideally the remaining three should be behind the half way line when the opponents have found their way into our own half of the pitch. The key is to defend as a team and be compact. To actually have possession of the ball, we must win it back, and the way we win it back is crucial to how likely we are to keep it. The problem with the broken press is that when the ball is won back, the midfielders are outnumbered, and in cases where they are composed enough to actually hold on to the ball, they are faced with the task of making a long pass to one of the forward men. As was mentioned earlier, Borussia's defending directly led to their third goal of the night. It was due to the fact that their compactness gave them viable outlets when they eventually won the ball back.

 There is a reason Barcelona has consistently conceded the least number of goals for the past three seasons or so. They win the ball back quickly and effectively. In fact, the purists prefer Pedro to Fabregas as part of the forward three, for this reason. Pedro has the speed to close down players which Cesc does not have. The way Barcelona defended under Pep was different from the example I gave of Borussia in the sense that the Spaniards defended much higher up the pitch, but the similarity in both methods is the compactness. We tend to lack that compactness when we defend.  There's an obvious oversimplification of things here, but the main point remains that for this team to evolve, they must be willing to learn and adapt. Mourinho is often criticized for being a defensive coach; a reputation he has done well crush so far at Madrid, but this is where he should make his money. Great season we had, but he must figure our a way to grow this team, not just statistically, but in our style of play.It will be fascinating to see what changes he makes this summer in terms of buying, selling and promoting players.

The 4-3-3 is an option, but not exactly a solution. The concept of "having more bodies in the middle" hasn't exactly worked out on the few occasions that we employed that strategy. Against Valencia at the Mestalla we had no control of the middle whatsoever, and the same was the case against Malaga, at home. I would also mention that when we lost by 5 goals to zero against Barca, our switching to a 4-3-3 in the second half did not exactly help matters as we conceded 3 of the 5 goals during that period. "If it ain't broken don't fix it". In our case we have a crack that needs to be patched up by way of closer attention to detail, and adaptability on the path of the coach; and discipline on the path of the players.

"Barcelona is living the dream, but when they wake up, Real Madrid will be waiting"- Jorge Valdano's eloquent words in reference to Barcelona's dominance. But we must realize that this works both ways. It was exhilarating to see the boys celebrate the 32nd after such a long, and often times, heart-wrenching season. The team worked hard all season long and got its just reward, but we will be competing with Barcelona again next season. Losing the league to us will have rejuvenated their hunger and thirst for blood. We will also be facing tougher opposition in Europe with the likes of Juventus, Man City, and Borussia coming into the competitions stronger than ever. It is for this reason that we have to grow and evolve. The 2011-2012 season was great but... we must improve.

Hala Madrid

Monday, January 23, 2012

Real Madrid - Athletic Bilbao: 4-1: Another Remontada

Venue: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
Gameweek: 19

Starting Line-ups:

Screen-cap from:

So I start off this review by inserting a cheesy build up here where I lie and add how Real Madrid bounced back from the Clasico defeat and rallied after being 0-1 down in 13 minutes to win the match 4-1, blah blah blah. Truth is, I don't consider this as bouncing back from the 1-2 defeat at home because apparently the Clasico is another ball-game for Real Madrid since last season, and the problems of the Clasico are the problems of the Clasico. Anyway we are not here to discuss about the Clasico we are here to discuss about the attitude that has been missing from the Clasico, that attitude of not losing hope and winning matches despite going a goal down.

Everyone knew this match wasn't going to be easy especially when the away team were on a six match unbeaten run in all tournaments and hadn't conceded a single goal in those six games either. And it started off that way, aside from a tame shot from Granero with his left foot and a cross by Marcelo that was spilled by Gorkha Iraizoz, Real Madrid hadn't done anything of note before Athletic broke on the counter and Javi Martinez's cross was brilliantly turned in with his right foot by Fernando Llorente.

Before Real Madrid had woken up and scored the goal, quite a few interesting things happened in the game. Granero was in his "If I score a goal I will get noticed" mode and had taken three shots (all on target but fairly tame)—the only three shots that were on target for Real Madrid in that time-frame. Kaka hit the side netting. Cristiano crossed and created the same situation from which Llorente scored but Benzema who was on the end of this cross made an absolute mess of the finish.

Then it happened; De Marcos was freed up by a sweet chipped pass from Iker Muniain after he had sucked in every defender and even Iker Casillas. De Marcos had the goal at his mercy. But he misses, he misses in front of an open goal, giving Real Madrid a lifeline. Real Madrid finally woke up, Marcelo came charging down in attack, played the final one-two with Benzema, found his way in the box and slotted home brilliantly with his left foot to equalize.

The game became more interesting after Real Madrid equalized and it became a fairly eventful match. Both the teams exchanging attacks, attacking and countering each other, was fun to watch.

Mesut Özil turned on his silky skills and was causing trouble for Athletic, even got De Marcos booked for pulling him down after getting nutmegged. Kaka too had brought his A-game, even made a Zidane-esque rouletta turn and was a constant source of headaches for the Athletic defense with his runs. Fernando Llorente missed a glorious opportunity to put Athletic 1-2 up. Kaka brought down in the box, a definite penalty but not given. Iker hurting himself after coming out from the box, covering for his defenders were some of the events before the referee called for half-time.

The match restarted for the second half and inside 35 seconds Kaka had won a penalty for Real Madrid, Ituraspe bringing the Brazilian down. Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up and slotted the ball in the left-corner, Iraizoz despite guessing the right direction was never going to stop that, and Real Madrid were now in the lead 2-1.

This was not the first time Real Madrid had taken the lead after going a goal down in a match, the qualities are all there, that amazing attitude that despite going a goal down they keep coming at the opposition like a machine until they win. And that was it, Real Madrid never looked back after taking the lead.

Granero had finally settled down and was doing the right things instead of taking shots from distance, he was winning the ball back and distributing it immediately and effectively, even started a counter after winning the ball back and had an decent game, even looked solid defensively—which is not his playing style mind you. Granero had a total of 42 touches in the game, completed 28 passes with 96% accuracy—highest in the match.

At the 61 minute mark, Fernando Llorente was taken off for Toquero (reason being that Fernando was just back from injury). The big man was a constant threat and was causing Raphael Varane all sorts of problems, even Sergio Ramos had difficulty dealing with Llorente sometimes but he managed to control Llorente. After Llorente was taken off I heaved a huge sigh of relief, I knew then that Athletic Bilbao will be easier to tame. No disrespect to young Iker Muniain who had a brilliant game but Fernando Llorente was the real goal threat, with him off I was fairly confident no one could score against Real Madrid, and what do you know it turned out just like that.

It had only been a few minutes since Fernando Llorente was taken off, Real Madrid hit on the counter, Mesut Özil was one on one with the goalkeeper and was hacked down in the box by De Marcos. Benzema slotted in the the ball but the whistle had been blown, no advantage played and a penalty was given. De Marcos who was already on a yellow was shown the red and rightly so. Athletic Bilbao down to 10 men and looking at the possibility of going two goals down.

As usual, Cristiano steps up to take the penalty, and sends Iraizoz the wrong way this time, 3-1 it is, game over surely. Just after the goal Karim Benzema—who didn't have such a good game.....who am I kidding, he was poor in the game, his finishing and final ball were all off, was fairly invisible too; was subbed off for Gonzalo Higuain.

Gonzalo Higuain had an amazing chance to put Real Madrid 4-1 up after he had rounded Gorkha Iraizoz but hit the post after some brilliant covering by the Athletic defense who had recovered well by covering the goal and leaving very little space for Gonzalo Higuain to aim at from a tight angle.

Lassana Diarra who was brought in to replace Granero had a truly awful game after coming on, Muniain made a complete fool of him. Muniain nutmegged, bridged and always got past Lass too easily. Lassana Diarra had a sparring with Toquero too, where he kicked Toquero with the ball nowhere near, Toquero did kick him first but this is no way to react, if the referee had seen that, it would have been a red card.

Aside from a wonderful Özil backheel in the box, a remarkable run from Marcelo down the left wing, and stallion like run from Sergio Ramos from the center of defense, nothing else is worth reporting before the Callejon goal five minutes from time.

Real Madrid had hit on another counter, Özil to Higuain who played a sensational ball from near the halfway line to Callejon who slotted home from a very very tight angle after his first touch was a little heavy (deliberate perhaps to beat the defender on pace). And that was that, 4-1, three points in the bag.

The scoreline might be a bit too harsh on Athletic Bilbao as they weren't really as bad as the scoreline who will probably be thinking what if they hadn't missed their chances. But in all honesty the three points were completely deserved by Real Madrid who created clear chances and took them. A good morale boosting victory, just what was needed after the depressing week.

Hala Madrid!

Monday, November 7, 2011

[Exclusive] Twitter Q. & A. With Real Madrid Castilla's Alex Fernandez

Hola Madridistas, I apologize for our continued absence due to all of us having school or college, don't think that's going to change any time soon. But, we do have something for you, it's not the full thing that we were hoping for but something is better than nothing, right?

Pamela and I (mostly Pamela) run a fanpage of sorts of our academy's midfield genius—Alex Fernandez, the handle of that twitter account is @AlexFdez8Fans. Alex (@AlexFdez8) himself has been following that account since the first day. Hope you will too.

Anyways we decided to ask Alex a few questions about his Madridista memories, how it's been playing for Real Madrid, training with the first team etc etc.

Sadly he had to take permission from Real Madrid before answering our questions, and Real Madrid denied him permission, but he still agreed to answer to two of our questions because he had agreed to answer our questions before and he wanted to keep his word. He's such a nice guy, here's what he sent us:

"Hola, perdon por no haberte contestado pero tenia que pedirle permiso al club,me han dicho que no puedo responderte a tus preguntas. Te puedo contestar solo dos preguntas,eligelas y mandamelas.Un beso,gracias y lo siento."

We gave it a lot of thought and picked two questions out of fifteen where we thought he didn't need to be diplomatic and he could answer with his heart. Here's what Alex had to say:

Spanish [Original]:

Q.: ¿Cual es tu primera memoria del primer equipo cuando crecias? ¿Y quien era tu idolo en esos tiempos?

Alex Fernandez: Mi primera memoria era el Madrid campeon de champions en glasgow y el gol de Zidane es lo q mejor recuerdo de mi infancia como Madridista. Mi idolo siempre fue Fernando Redondo pero ahora Xabi alonso o Steven Gerrard.

Q.: De no haber escogido del futbol, que otra carrera le hubiera interesado? 

 Alex Fernandez: Algun otro deporte.

English [Translated]:

Q.  What is your best memory of the first team when you were growing up? Who did you look up to as a role model?

Alex Fernandez: My best memory as a Madridista is the one when Real Madrid won the Champions League in Glasgow and also Zidane's goal (against Bayer Leverkusen). Fernando Redondo has always been my idol, out of the players playing currently I admire Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard the most.

 Q. If you hadn't chosen football, what would you be doing?

Alex Fernandez: Playing some other sport.

Well there you have it, like I said before, it's not much, but it is something. We were expecting sort of a spicy answer from Alex regarding what he would be if not a footballer haha, but still we are extremely thankful of Alex for answering our questions. Hope this doesn't land him into any sort of trouble. 

Also we would like to thank @Galapago555 or Mr. Turtle or Señor Tortuga as we all call him for all the translations he has done for this post, all this could not have been possible without him. As they say in Spanish, Señor Tortuga eres un crack!
We wish Alex all the luck in the world may he have a bright, trophy laden career with Real Madrid. Hala Madrid!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Super Copa: Real Madrid-FC Barcelona: First Leg Preview

The Super Copa is very close at hand. League winners—Barcelona, will be facing current Copa Del Rey champions—Real Madrid, in a two-legged tie of the Spanish Super Cup. So far, both teams have completed rather contrasting pre-season tours/friendlies; with Real Madrid winning all seven of the matches as opposed to Barca's 3 wins out of six. The Catalans looked far from impressive during said pre-season friendlies, with most of their first team players, either out injured, or resting from the Copa America.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, had a perfect pre-season, and Mourinho's men looked all but ready to start off the new season. Playing time was properly distributed among the whole team that was called up for the pre-season tour, barring the injured Nuri Sahin, and a lot of goals were scored. Real Madrid scored 27 goals in 7 games, while conceding 5. Not bad.

However, the pre-season forms of both teams don't say too much of what to expect from both teams as the season commences, because as stated earlier, Barcelona were with most of their first team players, and Real Madrid didn't face the toughest of opponents during their voyage. So whatever game plan Mourinho has going into these games should be independent of what form the Catalans were in, during pre-season.

Without further ado, let's look at the starting lineup I think will be used come Sunday. Let me preface this by saying that I do not expect us to go all out in this game. I say this because, one of the many things we achieved last season was a good defensive structure against Barca. One that they found difficult to break down no matter how many passes they strung together. So I expect us to maintain that structure, but what has to change is the way we handle the ball when we are in possession.

The Champions league Semi-final 1st leg from last season was a typical example of what we should not do (when in possession) this time around. Last season we depended on kicking the ball up to the forwards without linking up play from the midfield. Needless to say it failed woefully.

What I expect this time around are build ups. Pep Guarliola's men press aggressively, so build ups must be quick, and direct. It's easier said than done, but we should at least try. But as always, don't expect us to win the possession battle. Enough said, now to the starting 11:

GK: Iker Casillas: I don't think I need to explain why I've chosen him. First choice goal keeper, captain, and best keeper in the world; these things speak for themselves.

RB: Alvaro Arbeloa: If recent reports, have been anything to go by, then Sergio Ramos will probably miss the first leg of this tie. In his absence, we have an able-bodied back up in Alvaro Arbeloa. The Spaniard is tactically astute, and has a very high concentration level on the pitch. Mourinho never shied away from singing his praises, and they were well deserved too. One of his drawbacks, however, is his reluctance to attack and we can be rest assured he won't be attacking a lot against Barcelona.

CBs: Pepe & Ricardo Carvalho: I think Pepe is going to be playing at centre back this time around, mostly because with Sergio out, we would have to throw Raul Albiol into the fray. Seeing as Albiol doesn't have the full confidence of the coach, Pepe will have to play in defense. His obvious partner would be Carvalho. The 33 year old centre back, is sure to start this game.

LB: Marcelo: The Brazilian full-back has matured (football-wise) a lot over the past one or two years. He went from the player most Madridistas didn't want to have on their team in the big games, to one of the most important players for team. He could easily be rated the best attacking left back in the world, now, and with good reason too. He scored our last goal against Barca, in the Camp Nou, and while it wasn't enough to see us through o the final of the Champions league, that goal must have given him some confidence, on an individual level, at least. He still has the tendency to lose concentration every now and them, but whatever he lacks defensively, he makes up for, going forward. A definite start for him. 

DMs: Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso: The best player on our team is Ronaldo, but our most important player, is Xabi Alonso, without a doubt. Barring some weird happenings, Alosno is sure to start this game. His calmness on the ball, coupled with his pin point passing, are enough to seal a spot for him in the starting 11, come Sunday. In fact, how well we play, will depend (to a certain extent) on how well the Spaniard plays.

Sami Khedira is going to be a lot more involved in our attacks this season. Judging from our pre-season friendlies, he's going to be playing higher up the pitch than Xabi Alonso, which means, he'd be more involved in goals; scoring, and assisting. I see him starting on Sunday, especially with Lass out of the team, and Nuri Sahin still injured. He will play a huge role in how well we pressure Barcelona high up the pitch. 

RW/DM: Fabio Coentrao: The big question is: Who will start, Di Maria, or Coentrao? In my opinion, Coentrao will be starting this game. Why? Because with the Portuguese, we kill two birds with one stone. Seeing as he can play in the middle and on the wings, he could slot into the middle and form a trivote with Sami and Alonso when we defend, switch to the wings, to provide some width when we defend. On paper, it's a brilliant idea, but whether it can be properly executed, is an answer that can only be made available to us, on the field. If this happens, then it's safe to say, Fabio Coentrao will be a very important part of this team, come Sunday; even more important that Alonso. His work ethic will be tested, and his tactical discipline too. Will he be caught out of position often? Can he keep up with the constant movements of the Pep Guardiola's men? It's a tough task, but the 30 million price tag would be a steal, if he can pull this off. 

CAM/CM: Mesut Ozil: I expect the German to start this match ahead of Kaka, for the obvious fact that he's currently the better of the two. He has had a strong pre-season, and thanks to the German National team coach, Joachim Loew, he was rested during the week, while most of his teammates were on international duty. He links up well with the attackers, and is very comfortable on the ball. I do not see why he shouldn't start this game.

LW: Cristiano Ronaldo: The highest goal scorer in one season in la liga's entire history, looks set to start this game. Ronaldo had a good pre-season, scoring 7 goals in 7 games. He has continued with his scoring form from last season, and would probably be the first name on the team sheet, going into this game. 

ST: Karim Benzema: To be honest, I do not think Benzema should start against Barcelona. Yes he has been in good form as of late, but his style of play might not suit the game we would have to play against Barcelona. With him, we need a lot of possession; something we won't have too much of against Barca.

But how do you reward somebody who has worked so hard to make the starting 11 this season, and has done so well during the pre-season friendlies, so much that he is the the highest goal scorer with 8 goals in 7 games? You reward him by trusting him in games that count. His first real test this season will come in the form of a home match against Barcelona. I Hope he passes in flying colours, because if he does well, the whole team does well.

It could be argued that playing him will be a mistake, but (in my honest opinion) it is a mistake that must be made. I think he should start on Sunday, at least.


Well that's it folks. This is the lineup that I think will work against Barcelona, but as cliched as this may sound, it is still the truth; "Nothing is for sure in football". I expect a cautious game from us regardless of who starts for Barca, because let's face, this is not a matter of "will power", it's about what has to be done. Like I said, we've established one thing against Barca, and that's our defense, so we cannot just throw all that away because we look like favorites after a more "impressive" run of pre-season friendlies. That's a misleading theory, to say the least. We must take one step at a time, if we're going to eventually supersede Barcelona.

Hala Madrid!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pablo Sarabia Joins Getafe: The Complete Story

Pablo Sarabia is considered to be one of the most talented and promising players in Real Madrid's youth ranks. He is so highly-regarded that scouts from all over Europe attended several Castilla games this season to watch him play.

Clubs such as Arsenal, Benfica, Braga, Barcelona, Manchester United and many more were keeping a close eye on him. His agent had admitted that Arsenal, along with a couple of Italian outfits, had expressed an interest, and that Real Madrid were aware of that, but he later stated that Sarabia wants to triumph at Madrid.

Pablo joined La Fabrica as a 13-year-old in 2004, moving up through the youth ranks over the years, until he made his professional debut in the Segunda B against Alcorcon with Real Madrid Castilla in 2009. He improved immensely under Alberto Toril who was promoted from Juvenil A's coach to Castilla's in the second half of the 2010-2011 season.

With Castilla, Sarabia made 49 appearances and scored 15 goals. He made his first-team debut last season in a 4-0 win over Auxerre at the Bernabeu in the group stages of the Champions League after coming on for Cristiano Ronaldo. On his debut, he looked comfortable, didn't get lost chasing the ball or forget orders and also showed some great passing and dribbling abilities, all signs of his maturity despite only being a teenager with very little high-level experience.

On Sunday, July 3, Real Madrid officially announced the departure of Pablo Sarabia. In a brief statement, the official announcement reports that an agreement has been reached with Getafe, reserving the right to buy him back:

Real Madrid C. F. and Getafe C. F. have reached an agreement for the transfer of RM Castilla player Pablo Sarabia. Real Madrid CF reserves the right to repurchase the footballer.

Sarabia had a contract with Real Madrid until the summer of 2013; however Real Madrid cashed in on him for a reported €3 million, also inserting a buy-back clause in the deal. The buy-back clause can only be activated after he completes 2 years of his 5-year-contract with Getafe.

There's a lot that can be written on the complexity of the issue of non-usage of Real's cantera graduates, but most of the problem primarily lies at the doorstep of Florentino Perez and his over-the-top 'I know it all' tendency.

Also, Mourinho is under pressure to deliver and taking risks with youngsters is certainly not included in his plans. No matter how hard he tries to make fans think he cares about developing our youngsters, he doesn't, which is unfortunate because this generation of La Fabrica players is the best in years, and I, along with many other Madridistas, would hate to see what happened to Mata and Parejo happen to them.

However, I don’t think this will be the case with Sarabia. In recent years, we've had De La Red, Granero and Parejo leave to Getafe and come back at a later date, under similar circumstances to Sarabia's move. De La Red and Granero were able to make it back and Sarabia will be hoping to do the same.

With Getafe, Sarabia will get plenty of playing time in the Primera. This will give him the opportunity and time to fully develop. He has all the raw talent and ability. Playing regularly at such a high level will aid him by providing him the confidence and experience he needs. Hopefully, he will impress Perez and Mourinho (or whoever is the manager when Sarabia starts dazzling), and we’ll see him wearing the white shirt again.

Good luck, Pablo!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keeping It Real—Why Promoting a Canterano Might Backfire

Joselu: Scored on debut
"Ten youth teamers debut this season"Just as the last match of the season in Liga BBVA had ended for Real Madrid with a 8-1 victory over Almeria; Real Madrid's official site ran a post with the above mentioned headline, to remind us all of the greatness of Jose Mourinho—the big risk taker who despite having the pressure of winning every trophy invested in not two or three but TEN youth teamers.

What Real Madrid's official site wanted to convey didn't sit well with me, this post of ten youth teamers debuting was a way to please the fans who have been wanting to see the youth teamers with the first team, wanting to see another Raul, another Casillas, another De La Red; this post reminded me of what these debuts meant for Jose Mourinho—another way to please the fans.

I won't deny it, never have, never will—I'm not the biggest Jose Mourinho fan (but still I'm glad he is continuing with the team because he marked an amazing season with the club.). So there, you can use this against me, say that my hate for Jose Mourinho is the reason I see this as a way to please the fans. But you can't change the facts, can you?

Juan Carlos, Mateos, Antonio Adan, Pablo Sarabia, Alvaro Morata, Alex Fernandez, Nacho Fernandez, Tomas Mejias, Jesus and Joselu made their debuts for the first team this season according to the post, but lets not count Alex Fernandez because all he got was a little above 30 seconds at Racing and not single touch of the ball. So that means only nine canteranos properly debuted this season.

What makes me question Jose Mourinho's actions, and say that all these debuts were just to please the fans is because out of these nine, only two players have made more than one appearance—Adan and Nacho. Not counting Morata as despite the Levante tie in Copa del Rey being dead and buried, he only got a substitute appearance.

Sarabia: Impressive on debut
Had Mourinho been genuinely interested in using them, surely more canteranos would have gotten more than one appearance and Nacho wouldn't have been the only outfield player to get a start and play a full game; especially when Pablo Sarabia impressed in the 30 minutes he got to play against Auxerre and has been performing brilliantly for the Castilla week in and week out.

Many of these canteranos in the beginning got in the team because of Jose Mourinho's helplessness. Mateos was given a professional contract at the start of the season because, Pepe and Garay were out injured, and there was no back up in central defense.

Adan got a start because Casillas wasn't called up for the game and Dudek broke his jaw, then later Dudek's injury saw Adan make more appearances. I think you catch my drift, by the end of the season, Mourinho had realized what the impact a canterano appearance makes on the fans, still Nacho's start was more due to suspensions.

I'm not saying, I'm not thankful of Mourinho to start so many canteranos, but I'm not particularly thrilled about their future if they were used as a tool to make the fans happy. The last player to get promoted to the first team was Mateos, he was loaned out to AEK Athens in the January transfer window. I'm sure had he stayed here longer, he wouldn't have notched up 90 minutes in a season.

Talking about Mateos isn't fair, because surely there was no way he would have started over Carvalho, Pepe, Garay or Albiol. But we can definitely use Sergio Canales as an example; Canales was supposed to be going on loan this season before Jose Mourinho himself requested to keep him with the squad for the season.

We all saw what happened with him. If Sergio Canales—who had a decent season in La Liga before joining, wasn't trusted by Mourinho to get enough minutes, I don't see a way how the canteranos who play in Segunda B can gain his trust if they are promoted.

The way that Jose Mourinho has acted, promoting the canteranos is not an option that will be any good for the canteranos, because once they get promoted officially they are no longer eligible to play for Real Madrid Castilla, which will mean they're most likely to notch up 300 minutes a season at most, if they're lucky enough.

Will they be used like Higuain?
I won't complain about the canteranos getting 300 minutes if they are sent in crunch situations, like Gonzalo Higuain was when he was new at Real Madrid, during the time when the scores were level or when Real Madrid were behind; he was sent in to get a goal, get a result; that is positive reinforcement for a young player.

But how the things have gone so far, these 300 minutes will most likely come when the game's result is beyond doubt; which will hardly help build any character, they'll never be ready for the first team like this. It's better they stick with the Castilla or join another La Liga club with a buy-back clause, because that is a strategy that seems to be working.

I feel that I am being a little too harsh on Jose Mourinho, it's not exactly his complete fault that he doesn't trust the canteranos, it's a little too hard to put the blame on him when you know what kind of pressure to succeed is on him.

The man who has to be blamed for this is none other than Florentino Perez, had he not sacked Vicente Del Bosque, there wouldn't have been a period of instability at the club, and the managers would have taken the risk to give chances to canteranos.

Hala Madrid!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wolfsgang Stark & FC Barcelona: Pre-Match Team Meeting

"Go! Get HIM!
 If you are following me on Twitter, you probably know that I ran a sting operation to get my hands on the "exclusive" Barcelona pre-match & post-match team talk, and am going to publish it as 2 part post. Our reporter was in Catalonia a few days before the match, and this is EXACTLY what he saw and heard.

Location: Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper

(Pep Guardiola is rejoining the team huddle after a phone call, Pep looks pleased with himself, and starts talking with the Barcelona players.)

Pep: Just got of the phone with Michel (Platini), he had called to say he was sorry about picking the Portuguese referee without asking us first, and he was saying he would do just about anything to make it up.

Puyol: *growling like a caveman in approval*

Valdes: Has he made arrangements so we can play our game?

Pep: Yes, he has, our "special player" would be arriving to train with us soon, jejeje. Pique what are you doing? Hang up the phone and come back, we are talking here.

Pique: I was just telling Shakira to get a nose job, a bigger nose would be so much more sexy, don't you think? It looked so good on Ibra.

Pep: Didn't I tell you we don't take his name here, he broke my heart. Anyways, all of you do your stretching, then we'll start the practice with a little diving followed by some face-clutching till our friend drops by. By the way where's Villa, I don't see him.

Xavi: He's with Ramos and Arbeloa, they sent me a text saying he got drunk last night and they had to pick him up, and he's with them, they even sent me a photo, look.

Pep: He isn't their teammate, it's your duty; did you go pick David up? What did you tell them?

Xavi: I told them we are the only team that wants to play football.

Pep: ..........

Xavi: I'll go pick him up.

[Xavi leaves to get Villa while the team continue their training, they take turns diving, clutching their face and ganging up on a person, who our reporter assumes is supposed to be the referee.]

[Some time passes, our reporter notices a grown German man wearing a Lionel Messi kit reach the gates of Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and is stopped by the security and is being thrown out when Pep Gaurdiola notices the man and intercepts. Apparently the security guards were throwing him out because they had banned him from the premises for stalking Lionel Messi during training.]

Pep: Wow, you came a lot earlier than expected, were you close by? And why were the security people stopping you from entering.

Wolfsgang Stark: Yes, I was near Messi's hom.....I was close by. By the way where's Lionel Messi, he's like the best player EVER, I want to meet him. I don't know man, they did that the last time I was here too, I was just going to the player's shower after the training to meet Messi, that's all, I still don't get why they threw me out.  Now when am I getting to meet Messi?

Pep: Umm...........yeah, I can't figure it out'll be meeting Messi soon enough, when we'll talk game strategy in a while.

Wolfsgang Stark: OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! REALLY?!

Pep: .............yeah.

[Pep and Wolfsgang Stark oversee the training (video), Xavi and Villa join the group, Pep and Stark wait for them to finish "practice" before they start the discussion.]

Pep: Okay, huddle up people, here's the "special player" I was talking about.

Puyol: *sniffs Wolfsgang Stark*

Wolfsgang Stark: Hi Leo! I am your biggest fan, can you sign my shirt, my shorts, anything?!

Pep: Can we focus?

Wolfsgang Stark: Alright. *whispers* I love you Leo.

Pep: Can I call you Wolf? Okay Wolf, as Platini might have already told you, to play our beautiful game of football, we have some special requirements that only you can provide. *winks* Aside from those we require shorter grass to play, but those bastards in Madrid just won't cut the grass, and that's why we only drew in the league, see:

Xavi: We were the only team that wanted to play football, but couldn't because of the jungle, you need to help us save people's lives, and also save the game of football Wolfgang!

Wolfsgang Stark: I'll be glad to help the team of  Leo, do you want to me get rid of Pepe? He got all over in the face of Leo, he needs to pay for his actions.

Pep: Good, good, you already know what to do, less work for me. Excellent.

Wolfsgang Stark: Can I get Messi's shirt right now?

Messi: *runs away*

[They are all sent to the showers, Wolfgang Stark follows Lionel Messi.]


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