Are we there yet? No.
Mornings after Clasico defeats are always terrible. It kind of sucks that we have gotten so used it. It sucks even more that that didn’t really look like changing except for maybe the first fifteen minutes of the match. This isn’t your usual review, Madridista Mac will provide that in a day or so, just me rambling. Obviously not everyone will agree with it, but there are just so many thoughts in my head and I just had to put them down somewhere, to see what fellow Madridistas think regarding them. I thought going in to the match, maybe we are finally at the level to beat Barcelona, and maybe we were physically, but by the end of the game it is clear we are not, definitely not mentally ready to face and defeat such a high quality team. And in fact, excuse me for the hyperbole but I think we are really far away, and my confidence levels for a match in May, when you can never predict what will happen in between, is incredibly low at the moment.
Something didn’t sound right, right from when the lineups were announced. I was initially surprised with the selection of Lass ahead of Khedira, but I think he justified it through the match. Coentrao at right back was a strange one as well, and contrary to what many people thought, he did okay there as well, at least for someone who is playing on the wrong side, when you are that dependent on your favoured side. But there was a familiarity to the shape, and the way the players lined up. Ozil’s selection was a bit puzzling as well.
We were donated a goal in the first minute. Valdes’ obsessive short passing cost him, and we almost, almost messed that up as well, thankfully Benz slotted it home. After that there were a lot of yo-yo moments but we had a great chance to put things beyond control when CR decided to sky the shot instead of putting it in the back of the net. More on CR and other individual critiques later. Barca were always going to score, we know that, and it has almost been the flavour of these derbies in recent years. We have many chances, fail to convert. They get 3 or 4 and convert all of them, and nothing changed last night. Sounds like a familiar story right? As someone was telling me last night on twitter, it felt like we have seen this match, these set of events, these feelings, a thousand times over. It was the same match from last year again. It really felt like we had learnt nothing. Same in terms of us not putting our chances away, same in terms of us failing to track spaces and let Barca score those goals, rather easily. It was the same, we didn’t seem mentally ready or prepared to make sure we were in charge of changing the cycles. The only positive? In prior seasons we would have gone into the match chasing them, and this would have been the moment the season fell apart, as the catchup is really futile. Now we have a potential 3 point lead should we win our tough match against Sevilla, and maybe, just maybe if things go our way in one of the remaining weeks, we could go into Camp Nou in a position that the match really wouldn’t matter. Because I have zero confidence at the moment, especially after yesterday, and wouldn’t it be great if that match didn’t matter? May is still a long time away, but confidence is at a low at the moment. I hope the players can come out of it better, and hope Mourinho can inspire that.
I’ve seen a lot of comments here in the blog, and in the internet in general as to how it went wrong, who performed well, who did not and all that. Here’s my take on all of that. The first person I want to talk about is Cristiano. What can I say, I am not pissed with him, or calling for him to benched like many extremists are, but I am just disappointed. Not upset, just terribly disappointed. He is our best player, and so much is expected from him. To set him apart from the great players to the legends, it is in matches like these that these best players, these leaders carry their teams. And he did not. Holding him responsible for not converting chances sounds criminal, but aren’t we as fans allowed to set that high standards to those that we bank on most? More than the chances, he was just not influential at all. I don’t know what it is with big matches or clasicos, its a different Cristiano. Does he put too much pressure on himself? Or does he simply not have the mental strength? I think the latter is too harsh, and hence I’ll choose to pick the former. Take a moment to think back why Cristiano fails often in big situations, definitely worth chewing on. Ozil is another player I was disappointed in. Firstly his not being in form, made the selection puzzling as I mentioned earlier, but being responsible for the creatives of this team in such an important match, and holding the keys to the attack as they say, comes with fans expecting much more than an average game. It was sad because even Kaka when he came in, wasn’t too much better, but perhaps he wasn’t match fit yet. Brings me to think maybe we should have played with a 3 man midfield, due to lack of influential options. I saw comments that said the team must be built around Ozil, as great a player as he is, am I right in thinking that he doesn’t have the mental strength to be that guy? Its that chicken and egg problem again. Does Madrid not play well when Ozil isn’t playing well? Or Does Ozil play bad when Madrid is playing bad?
Marcelo got a fair amount of criticism too, which I fail to understand. He played a very restrictive role and was pretty good with respect to him not losing the plot that he is often accused of when he ventures forward too much. Yes this had an impact as we weren’t that big a threat on the left wing but its all tradeoffs isn’t it. Coentrao at right back was not too shabby either. Its probably easier to find faults, and perhaps more correct to point fingers at our centre backs. I really don’t think Ramos and Pepe had their best games. Hard to find out what exactly went wrong, but they weren’t in their comfort zone and it showed. Its a bit hard to judge Xabi’s game as well. He was good in some parts, not so good in others.
Lass was fantastic, and the substitution of Khedira was surprising. Khedira who came on, was very average and that’s the problem I have with many of our players in crunch matches. Many don’t understand how big the occasion is and how good they have to be for those 90 minutes. And with average performances, hell even with just good performances it is not going to cut it against Barcelona. Sometimes I question the kind of players we buy, on this basis, but maybe that’s too cynical of me at the moment. Benzema was fantastic, at times it felt like only he had truly shown up and was on fire. He was pressing well, he was going shoulder to shoulder on 50-50 challenges and taking the game to Barcelona. That’s what you need. Big props to both our frenchmen. Also to Di Maria, his last ball or shot still needs work but boy does he have pace! Few people unsettle Barca like he does, and why he was subbed off I will never understand. Higuain had way too little time in the game to make any impact but at that point it was a case of too late in the game for anything. And to those doubting Iker, I am simply shocked and the lesser said the better.
Ultimately, there was nothing wrong with the referee, no diving, no play acting nothing, no excuses for any of us except that we weren’t good enough. I wouldn’t say Barcelona won this match, its more appropriate to say we lost this match. There are two ways to look at this. One is saying that its just a match, 15 consecutive victories will not be spoiled by a loss. The other is to think negatively, and think of the possible snowballing effect this match may have. Will we be able to bounce back quickly? Sevilla is a really tough place to go to. Whether we come away with a win or not from there, will go a long way in telling whether we will win the title or not. No, I haven’t lost faith in our club, its players, or Mourinho, but just terribly disappointed. Terribly disappointed that us fans, who were full of optimism and high expectations, were payed back with an average performance, a lack luster performance, that just doesn’t cut it against somebody like Barcelona. All we ask for is that, understand the occasion, play to it, and the results will come our way. Until then we are not there yet, and unless we change the way we think and approach these matches, that is not likely to change. That doesn’t change a thing for you and me, Madridistas, hasta la muerte.