El Clásico, Review of the last one.By: Kaushik | May 4th, 2011
To say we expected to comeback and win that tie would be expecting too much. I for one, thought that If we got to see a performance where our boys would show an attacking intent, a drive that embodies all the spirit there is in being a Madridista. And we saw that, I am happy to say we went out with our heads held high. Only disappointing bit is that, I keep wondering, had we set up like this right from the first Clásico wouldn’t things have been much better through these traumatizing 3 weeks?
1-1 was the final score. I think it was a fair result for the night. Yes, we should have had Higuain’s goal, and the referee was wrong, but then again he should have also sent Carvalho off twice perhaps. I will not blame the referee for his decision making like many are, but for his inconsistency in making them. But for a change, I was happy that all the talk, if any was left to make, was not about the referee, or UNICEF, or who is the boss, but the football. There was a football match, and this was the only match among all 4 when it looked like everyone just wanted to play. We probably didn’t have another choice, but that’s a different issue.
We started with the regular 4-2-3-1 with Higuain getting a start supported by Kaka, Ronaldo, and Di Maria. Xabi and Lass lined up as the pivots, while the makeshift defence of Arbeloa, Albiol, Carvalho and Marcelo stood in front of the patron saint of Real Madrid, Iker Casillas. Barcelona started with their first choice front 6 if you can call it that. Their defence was the same that played against us last Wednesday.
The first 15 minutes was fairly silent, with Barca more than happy to retain posession in their own half and Madrid barely getting a sniff of the ball, and when they did look to move from first gear to fifth in the fraction of a second. The game started to open up slowly as Madrid’s defenders played a dangerous but correct approach of getting to the ball (or man) before it reached the player. Its a bit like how I do it in FIFA 11! Like I mentioned before Carvalho got an early booking and was lucky to stay on the pitch only because it seemed like it was told to the referee to try his best not to send anyone off. The next few minutes will be best summarized as the Iker Casillas show. Time and time again, he keeps showing us that he can single handedly keep us alive. San Iker denied Barca many a goals, giving us some hope of remaining in the tie.
Then of course there was the incident of the annulled goal of Pipita. Here is what I think of it. Ronaldo was fouled by Pique, and lost control and ran into Mascherano, which I think was unavoidable at the moment. The ball ends up at Higuain, clearly onside, and doesn’t make a mistake with the perfectly placed shot past Valdes. Sounds like a goal to me. It is either a foul on Ronaldo + advantage, or no foul and goal regular, or at the very least a freekick for Ronaldo. Would we have gone through if that was allowed? Perhaps not, but the dynamics of match would have surely changed.
Iniesta, one of the very select Barca players I find it hard to not like, picked out an absolute peach of a ball which played Pedro through on goal for the killer. Adebayor then replaced Higuain in a bizarre substitution. Di Maria would later make an excellent run, resulting in a fantastic shot, which said hello to our good friend, the post. Props to him to have the presence of mind to square the rebound back to Marcelo who tapped it in. No fairytale though, as Barcelona ran down the clock efficiently with their ever famous passing and ratio which is a misleading statistic, adding to it being mildly irritating.
On to player reviews. I am truly at a lack of words for Casillas’ performance, in a good way of course. All I can continue saying is, Thank you San Iker, you are a legend, and that is understating it. The defence did fairly okay considering it was a bit makeshift and that we were up against the best team in the world. Arbeloa is the best utility squad man in the game, and he was excellent in defence. He has his flaws going forward, but it is not something you can hold against him. Albiol was instructed to be the last man in the defence with Carvalho lunging all over the park. The former did alright, although I cannot recall any particular incident which highlights anything good or bad about his performance. The latter, made a few good challenges, and a few rather rash ones. Marcelo had another good game. Yes he got beaten for pace again, but not many left backs in the world would have stayed up to pace against Afelaay and this week Pedro. The damage was done by Iniesta’s through ball more than Pedro’s run. In attack, he often lent a helping hand and was a force whenever he went forward.
Xabi Alonso had a much better match than his previous clásicos. Is it because Barca’s pressure was of a lesser intensity today? Or is it because Lass shielded him rather well? A bit of both perhaps, but Xabi’s long passing was at its best where time and time again he opened up Arbeloa, Ronaldo and Di Maria into free space. Lass, his partner though, was a total beast. My nomination for man of the match, contained Messi in a way that Pepe would have been proud of. A couple of silly challenges he got away with, were compensated with a couple of cheap calls for which he bordered on getting booked. That’s just how football works. I was also impressed with his dribbling, for a change, and he was excellent in realising his limited skills and playing to a plan. He has been very impressive in the last couple of months, putting on a show as a serious message to the management, that he wants to stay.
Kaka was disappointing to say the least. It is clear he is not match-fit. And for a match of this intensity he was never going to be ready, and even if he tried his best, he would last a half at best. Injuries have spoilt the man’s career it appears. It is hard to not be judging him, but it really seems like that was not the best 60 odd million we have spent. Ronaldo and Di Maria had good games in my opinion, albeit with a few criticisms. I absolutely adored the way Ronaldo was visibly looking to make more passes and playing people through. Maybe the occasional shot wouldn’t have hurt. Grass is greener on the other side? Perhaps. I had a friend say he felt bad for Messi because our defenders tried to kick him, to which I responded asking him if he ever felt the same sympathy for Ronaldo because he could have done with some decisions going his way. He responded saying Ronaldo is bigger, and should not expect that. I laughed, and then thought, this is exactly what referees will be thinking too. No disrespect to Messi, but it would be really helpful if Ronaldo gets half the decisions Messi does. Di Maria had a game that characterizes his whole season. He can frustrate you for most of the match with his decision making, or lack of it, and his passing, or again the lack of it. But he will produce that one moment of burst that will result to goals, like he did yesterday. He’s a gem, if he can cut down on diving, and work on his passing and ball retention over the summer, there’s no stopping him with all the potential. Good game from him overall. Higuain was also, a touch off pace, due to lack of match fitness, but he was the right choice to begin the match with. His off ball movement, is what this counter attacking team needs, and as we saw with the disallowed goal, is excellent. He tried his best, like he always does, and was a much needed different dynamic with our attack.
2 Substitutes came on. Ozil replaced Kaka and it is safe to say he was equally ineffective. Something has dropped with his game in the last couple of months. I need to go deeper to realise what it is exactly, but all I know is now, he is either tired, or just doesn’t do well when intense pressure is applied on him, because as good as his ball retention is, he needs someone nearby to pass to him, and our passes don’t tend to be so short all the time. Adebayor, well, to see a player with so little technique leading our line in the all white in Champions league semi-final was a tad depressing and painful. To add to that, he has another clothesline moment. It is clear he wants to stay, and play for Madrid, but given the chance so would I. It is unfortunate that he just isn’t as skilled as I would like him to be, being brutally honest and admittedly a bit harsh too.
Now that the Clásico series is over, there are multiple observations to be made. Barcelona is still a better side than us, but the gap is getting closer and closer by the match. Our team has the firepower to be the best in Europe but we need to start believing in ourselves. What I mean by this is, it was clear in the first Liga match that we looked out of confidence. The 1-1 started tilting things back, brought back some belief. The Copa win changed it significantly. I actually believed we went into CL Home Leg as the more confident team, and could notice Barcelona players and fans starting to sound a bit awkward. But playing defensive, a strategy I don’t agree with at home, brought things back to square 1. Which leaves us with the last game. With a much more expansive lineup, we played rather well, again bringing back some belief. And a great man once said, all of sports is a confidence game, as it will be all of next year. But I pray, nay, beg that we limit these to twice a year, and not have an overdose, for then we have hope of making it a football show, and nothing else.