Clubs, Real Madrid

Ramos rallies Real against Atletico

There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Real Madrid had been the better team than Atletico in the first leg of their Champions league matchup. They truly came out of the tunnel firing on all cylinders, and had a load of chances – one of which Bale (at his price tag and skill level) should have finished. That said, Atletico stayed true to their gritty nature, pulling off a defensive victory to grab the draw. Lucky for them, going into this second leg, they knew that a 1-1 draw would be enough to secure the victory, and they also knew that Modric and Bale were unable to play due to injury.The stars aligned in their favor, and going into this game I really expected them, with their experience and tenacity, to come through with a victory.

At the same time, visions of the future had me second-guessing myself: It’s so easy to imagine Cristiano bagging a brace, being the hero, and moving onto the next round. That being said, this would require that Jese and Isco (Bale & Modric replacements), come into the team and play like experienced veterans – and that Javier Hernandez uses his outstanding work rate to makeup for the skills that he doesn’t have (and that Benzema does have) … And to be honest, that’s what I thought would be most interesting about this game — even more than the Cristiano vs. Juanfran battle – which is always an awesome match. But then…. I saw the starting lineup… Javier Hernandez up front with Ronaldo, with James, Kroos, Isco, and of all people, Sergio Ramos all playing behind them… The back four was a bit more normal, with Pepe replacing the midfield Ramos, but I didn’t know what to expect from this lineup… and I was really surprised that for the most part, it worked.

Real’s lineup was a cautious one, but smart one, Hernandez had a decent chance but miss kicked it in the first ten minutes. And then at one point he flicked a nice pass to Ronaldo, who kicked it wide with his left foot. He also squandered a chance towards the end of the first half, but as we all know — he later made up for it with an awesome assist.

Throughout the game, Sergio Ramos really controlled the tempo from midfield – he Chicharito Champions League goal
possessed the technique and passing to keep up with the midfield teammates around him, and he played well under-pressure from the Atletico midfield. I truly think that he won the game for them – I mean… he also drew the red card that completely turned the tide for Real. It seemed as though the red card gave Real the confidence to attack and use the space available to them, and the one-two that Ronaldo played with Carvajal was truly representative of that. That being said, Chicharito deserves so much praise for his effort,  not because he scored the winning goal, but because he kept up with the always fit-as-a-whistle Ronaldo, and his positioning was outstanding. He’s truly the unsung hero that probably won’t get as much credit as he deserves for his performance, because at the end of the day, Real is Ronaldo’s club (and he always gets the credit).

Real Madrid CelebratingBack to Ramos: As a midfielder he reminded me of Xabi Alonso, only a fitter, more and more dominating Xabi Alonso. He’s one of the feistiest players in the world, and it looked like he loved being in the thick of the action at midfield. He won so many aerial battles, and though he isn’t as gifted as a passer as Kroos, James or Modric, he can certainly hold his own.

Moving forward though, Real must continue to win with like this… It’s not going to be easy without Bale, Benzema or Modric and this game could have easily gone either way. Whereas Barcelona can win it all through their chemistry as a unit, Real’s injuries put them in a very different position to the one that they were in last year: they must win through adapting: And Carlo Ancelotti understands that – thus the risk of using Ramos at midfield. I trust that Ancelotti has the the brains to continue to put together on-the-fly starting lineups, but I sincerely doubt today’s Real Madrid, could beat Barcelona or Bayern in their current form.

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Clubs, FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain

Barcelona dominate PSG, again.

I’ll be completely honest – the first leg of Barcelona vs. PSG was somewhat of a joke: Ibrahimovic, Saurez LuizPSG’s world class striker: suspended… Verratti, PSG’s pace-setting-midfielder: also out… Thiago Silva, PSG’s world class defender: came off early with an injury… His replacement David Luiz (fresh off an injury): did not look fit for the pace of the game. And, this caused a total lack of team chemistry, and it showed – Barcelona had 68% possession in that first matchup, and Luis Saurez made their entire defense seem (and feel) insanely ill-equipped with his spectacular goals. In summation, PSG didn’t have a proper go at Barcelona in the first leg, and this lead me to believe that in the second leg they would come out swinging. Against Chelsea, the shear tenacity of their players lead them to victory – but in this game, they were just outmatched, and outclassed.

Ever since Xavi’s been replaced in the starting lineup with Rakatic, Iniesta has experienced somewhat of a revival – and the way he set up Neymar’s first goal today is purely an example of that. Rakatic tracks back and it gives Iniesta and their defensive unit cover in ways that Xavi wasn’t able to do over the last couple years as he’s gotten older. When Mascharano plays defensive mid for Barcelona, both Iniesta and Rakatic are more easily able to attack with reckless abandon, but I believe Enrique started Busquets today because he’s a but more technically savvy than Javier at maintaining possession. But back to Iniesta… in his golden days he used to glide through defenses with unbelievable precision, and I truly thought he lost that ability as he’s gotten older, but it seems as though he can still turn on the flair. Neymar Second Goal

Over the last couple years Barca have been rebuilding… and last year, Xavi was no longer himself, Neymar was still settling into the club… and they simply didn’t have time to jell together as a team. This year, Neymar has completed his transition into a left forward, Messi has gone back to his right forward position – where he started his career – and no longer needs to exhibit the work rate of a center striker, because that’s where Saurez comes in. Furthermore, at the right forward position, Messi is more likely to come into midfield to set-up his teammates for the attack, something that he does better than anybody else in the world.

PSG have a lot to work on, they truly missed Thiago Silva again, and the injury that’s kept Luca Moura out has been devastating. He is truly a player that needs to be used more – not many players can dribble through teams like he can, and the offense needs to work through him. The next round of the Champions league will be one to watch, especially as Barca continues to roll through the competition, let me know if you think they (or another team) are the favorite in the poll below.

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