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

The El Clasico Review

I know I’m a little late here, but the El Clasico was unbelievably defining, not just for Real Madrid, but more so for Barcelona. They had so many opportunities to score during this match, and they will continue to have more opportunities as long as Luis Enrique doesn’t switch back to his rotational lineup. The cohesion that Barca displayed was top-notch, and Messi, despite ending the game without a goal, lit up the soccer world with his performance at the right wing/forward position (where he started his career).Messi El Clasico

While Rakatic and Mascherano ran up and down the field constantly, Iniesta was free to be a bit more creative, and while he no longer glides and shifts like he used to, he still was able to spot the correct passes throughout the game. Rakatic would support the team in attack when necessary, and Mascherano seemed content playing back in front of the center backs, leaving Dani Alves and Jordi Alba the chance to do what they do best (support up the flanks).

Real weren’t terrible… in the first half. In fact, the game should have been a draw – considering Bale was onside for his “offside” goal. That being said, for the most part, Real were lethargic, despite a moment of sheer brilliance by Benzema to setup Ronaldo with his goal. Ronaldo had one more opportunity earlier, but he just couldn’t finish as the post denied him the brace.

Real seemed to miss something this game: Isco and Modric are great players, but they’re not pacey, and they’re certainly not able to produce speedy runs like Di Maria, or just put themselves in the perfect position to score goals like James Rodriguez. And Kroos is like Xabi Alonso, but much more attack oriented (which can be good, but not against quality teams like Barcelona). Real will need James moving forward, and they will need Modric to get back to full fitness since his injury – while he has been playing well, he doesn’t look as great as he was last year. It will be interesting to see how the calm Ancelotti handles his team moving forward, especially considering Bale’s lack of form. Saurez El Clasico Goal

Barca on the other hand… Suarez is the missing link on that team – he finishes chances with such precision, and he has the pace and technique to keep up with both Messi and Neymar. I’d go as far as to say he’s just as good a dribbler as Neymar (call me crazy). Barca seem to be on a roll, and with Messi being used on the right, and coming back into midfield to help create chances, Barca truly look unstoppable at the moment.

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Clubs, Real Madrid

Ballon D’or: Victorious Cristiano and the ceremony’s lack of recognition for other players

Without a shadow of a doubt Cristiano Ronaldo deserved the Ballon D’or for his efforts this Cristiano Ballon D'or 2014past year – everyone knows that, except there is one issue that grinds my nerves: there is so much bias in the footballing world, and the media plays such a huge role in both that, and in picking the winner, that the true meaning and expectation of a Ballon D’or is somewhat screwed up. What I mean by that is this: There is no science to how the Ballon D’or winner is selected, and while I suppose there can’t be, it still hurts me to see how much of an affect an individual’s goal scoring record, media attention, and media speculation can affect the outcome… There is so much emphasis put on the La Liga title race, the feud between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate, that much of the world forgets about other players, and leagues (and how effing competitive the Bundesliga and Premier league are).

Let me put it to you this way, if I were to decide on the top three best players in the world last year shortlist, I would no doubt put Diego Costa and/or Toni Kroos on that list (and probably take out Messi)…  Costa won La Liga last year, lead his team to the Champions Cup final, and scored a hell of a lot of goals. Kroos won the Bundesliga and the German league with Bayern, and the World Cup with Germany. And,  as we all know, Messi didn’t win anything, but he did make it to the finals in the World Cup (and scored a lot of goals last year)… As well all know, Cristiano won the Champions league, the Spanish Cup final (which he didn’t play in), and scored a hell of a lot of goals.

The question that remains though, is this: how do you set yourself apart from the rest of the pack when you’re not in a position to score a lot of goals? Clearly it’s not win? Because, if you win, the guy that scores all the goals is still going to be crowned the Ballon D’or Champion. It’s kind of messed up, isn’t it?

I’m of the opinion that too many players aren’t garnering the love, respect and admiration that they deserve in this age of football. Unless you possess the flash, flair, goals, and more importantly: the media intrigue, you will never really be crowned the best player in the world. Again, let me reiterate, I think Cristiano deserved it this year, but there needs to be new metrics for measuring the success of and impact of other players on the field like the midfielders and defenders in the world, and how they contribute to the success of everyone around them. It’s sad that over the last couple years, the media has dramatized a feud between Messi and Ronaldo, rather than marveled at the fact that Manuel Neuer revolutionized his position, becoming the first of his kind as a sweeper keeper.

All that being said, I could be completely wrong on this Ballon D’or debate. In other words: perhaps Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in fact just that much better than everyone else in the world and perhaps historically it’s been an award that’s given to attackers — But, if that’s the case, then they should have a best player award for each position, and I don’t mean individual position, I mean one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and one attacker. Fifa, the media, and the world would eat up the intrigue involved in three separate awards. Furthermore, players like Neuer, Kroos, and Lahm would get the recognition that they truly deserve.

Such a system would motivate younger kids to be the “best defender in the world,” rather than have a whole generation of young players obsessed with being on the pitch as attackers – which would be awesome, because I don’t think their are that many pure defenders anymore, something I discussed this blog post about Carlos Puyol last year.

Anyways, let me know if you agree through taking part in the poll below 🙂

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Clubs, Real Madrid

Why sell an Angel?

A couple months ago I wrote an article with a poll question that asked readers who Di Maria pic for blogthey thought to be Real’s most valuable player this past year, obviously Cristiano Ronaldo won, but, Angel Di Maria ran away with second place – you can check out that article and poll question here.

Anyways, this brings me to the point of this article, and a question – why in the world is Angel Di Maria so undervalued by Real Madrid? I angrily ask this question because I think he’s been so integral to Real’s success this year. Not only did his run against Atletico set up Gareth Bale’s game winning header in the Champions Cup final, but, Di Maria also proved invaluable to the successes of Argentina at this past summer’s World Cup. He’s truly been solid all year, and I think he deserves much more respect and praise than he’s been given.

Di Maria and RonaldoFurthermore, why would Real sell a player that Cristiano told them to keep last summer? Clearly then, Ronaldo knew of how talented Di Maria was then, and that he could blossom even more over this past year…. It seems ridiculous that Real would sell him after such great form last year. When assessing Real’s transfers this past summer, I’m of the opinion that Di Maria is far more talented than James Rodríguez. I understand that James performed well at the World Cup, but I don’t believe that that merits Di Maria’s starting role. While I do think that it would be terrible for James not to start for Real this year, I also think that if I had to make a choice between Di Maria and James, I would pick Di Maria in a heartbeat, especially as he’s already used to King Carlo’s system of play.

With that said, if Real do sell him to PSG or Man United, and they don’t have a great campaign this year, Real’s management will take more slack than they would if they decided not to sell him. Moreover, I find it truly bothersome when the forces that be (management) take something that works, and try to make it better; in the footballing world management should adhere to this one old adage,  if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (or attempt to make it better)…

But back to Di Maria… His importance goes way beyond just his talent… He’s proven Messi and Di Mariahis ability to play well with the two best players in the world, with Ronaldo on Real, and Messi on Argentina. And, more importantly, he’s won their respect – which is an extremely difficult thing to do considering their God-like standard of play. The footballing gods that they are, have played well with their Angel, and Real’s management need to respect him more than they are by squashing transfer rumors and not even letting them begin.

From Di Maria’s perspective, I understand his desire to leave Real… I would also want to leave if my club’s management didn’t appreciate my efforts. Plus, considering that he’s at the pinnacle of his career, it’d make sense for him financially to make a big money move to a club like PSG and cash out… especially as his salary isn’t even remotely close to that of Gareth Bale’s.. Di Maria makes 3 million euros to Bale’s annual haul of 10 million… Which to me seem very ridiculous.

In review, it makes sense for Di Maria to want to leave, but, it doesn’t make sense for Real to want to sell him. Let me know in the comments section if you agree with my assessments or not!

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