The Devil Wears P̶r̶a̶d̶a̶ White:
Death week? Pfffft, at this rate, I would have death week every week. We have Celta Vigo (18th), Mallorca (19th) and Zaragoza (17th) next. Can we call that death week? Because at the rate we are going, we are more likely to drop points against those teams than we are against Barcelona. Because we beat the latter twice. Beat Barcelona twice. Twice beat Barcelona. Beat Barcelona twice in a row in less than 4 days. It never gets old does it? Well it does, lovely chaps, it does. Because Real Madrid just stripped the devil of his red suit and gave him a more saintly white outfit. It’s a quick review for you guys today. I’m subbing in for Mark, so that’s possibly the only negative about life right now. I know, I suck. But what can you do. Mark will, however, have a review up tomorrow. I just thought I could keep you entertained (?) till then with some 2000+ words…
Was it a red card or was it not a red card? If you ask any Man United fan, they would say it was not even a foul. After the game ended, football analysis shows all over the world called in every ref and their mother around to ask about the red card. What was the outcome? I would say, from what i read on the internet and saw on TV, the votes were down 50/50. Roy Keane, for example, a Man United legend, thought it was a red card. Salgado, a Real Madrid legend, thought it was not a red card. At the end of the day, with Nani going in very strongly and with his foot held high so much, it is easy to see why the ref went with the red card. And let’s think about this this way, if the experts are split on the decision even after seeing the replay over and over again, then is it that horrendous that the ref gave a red card in real life? I don’t think so.
But let us assume that the red was harsh. Then what do we call the offside on RVP for the own goal that was scored? RVP clearly receives the ball in an offside position in that play, and hence the goal should have never stood. And after the red card, Rafael clearly hits the ball with his hand to clear the ball off the line after a Pipita header. That would result in both a red card and a penalty. If it was up to me, I would much rather have had a red card and a penalty than just a red card. At the end of the day, I don’t think the referee should take the spot light from which was, IMO, a very interesting game.
Own Goal and Defense
Let us first discuss the own goal. I saw many people at first throw insults at Ramos for being at fault for the goal. I would tend to disagree with that assessment. Not every own goal is the fault of the player. I watched that play several times and my assessment is the following: Even though it didn’t seem like it in real time, the replay shows a change in ball trajectory that the ball takes right before Ramos hits it in courtesy of a Welbeck flick. With the move going by so quickly, it’s hard to blame Ramos for the flick in. Another point about the goal is that we witnessed one of the few (minor) mistakes that I’ve seen Varane make. This will come to him with more experience (astonishing that he is just 19), but Varane should have probably cleared the ball to a corner before Nani crossed the ball. With that said, how much we have struggled with corners, I can understand Varane’s reluctance to just let it go to a corner.
With that said, the defensive pair of Ramos and Varane were exceptional. Man United targeted our right side, knowing clearly that Nani and Welbeck can expose Arbeloa for pace. With that, both Varane and Ramos had the job to sweep in from behind to help clear the ball or impede the Man United attackers. The pace and athleticism of Ramos at the back and the calmness and exceptional tackling ability of Varane at the back was absolutely exceptional. Also, props to Coentrao, who made sure that his side of the field was facing no trouble. Unfortunately though, Arbeloa did not have the best of games, getting skinned on the flank over and over again. This was not helped by Di Maria’s lack of effective tracking back, leaving most of the work on Khedira to help out Arbeloa. On set pieces though, we noticed a trend of Vidic, marked by Varane, getting too many chances to score. This was not the fault of Varane (or Iker), but rather the law of averages again. When you are dealt with a big physical threat, even someone as dominant as Varane in the air (possibly our best header of the ball) will get beat.
It is no lie, Man United were the better team before they got a man sent off. It was like Barcelona vs Real Madrid, with Barcelona being Real Madrid and Man United being Real Madrid, if that makes any sense. Man United, not needing to score to go through, sat deep and were happy to see Real Madrid have most of the ball while attempting to hit them on the break. With two banks of four in front of Real Madrid, we faced what we struggled with all season long. If there was a theme for this season, then it for sure will be attacking against a team that sits deep and tries to hit on the break. The team clearly still set up to attack like they were countering, with players stretching the field way too much, leaving little options to actually pass the ball to. The man that usually unlocks such attacks, Alonso, was being man marked out of the game by both Welbeck and RVP, leaving most of the work of creating on Ramos and Khedira. With very little movement upfront from the other attackers, we saw Higuain having to move out to circulate the ball. When the team did get into a good position, the theme of the move was taking a touch too many or too slow. Di Maria, Kaka, Ronaldo and Ozil were all victims of this.
In the second half, we saw a little bit of an improvement. With Higuain dropping to the right (his position as a right winger should be considered seriously, as his driven crosses from the right are really good) and Khedira and Ronaldo bombing into the box to connect on crosses. But the problem remained the same. Slow ball circulation, team too stretched out and close to no ball circulation. The few times Ronaldo was able to get away from his marker, he either got nervous and blasted it right away or misplaced his pass (he ended up with 11 shots and 60% pass conversion). But our superstar is allowed an off game on a night that was clearly emotional for him. And how comforting is it to know that even when our super star is off form, he can still get himself on the score sheet and occupy so many defenders. Speaking of the goal, let’s move on…
Post Red Card, Pre 2 Goals
After the red card, Mourinho took off Arbeloa, who was on a silly yellow card, and put in Modric. With Man United a man down, Alonso had much more freedom on the ball to circulate the ball. With an extra creative outlet, Ozil was able to make more movements upfront while Modric handled supporting Alonso in the creative role. With two creative players out there, Man United had to portion who they mark tightly, giving our creative outlets more space on the ball. It also helps that despite not being the quickest, Modric is very skilled on the ball and can get past players very well. The space that opened up in front of the Man United defense is what allowed space for Modric to release a magnificent shot past DDG. The most impressive part about the shot is that Modric takes the shot while running at an angle, which takes a lot of technique.
After that, the Modric show remained. Then came what is possibly the goal of the season. Modric to Higuain to Ozil to Higuain to Ronaldo and boom, goal. I should note, the off the ball movement from both Ronaldo and Higuain exceptional here. A lot of readers on the blog seem to think that off the ball movement is “not important”, but any tactician would tell you that off the ball movement is possibly the best quality an attacker can have. It allows space to open up without having the ball. Higuain and Ronaldo are two of the best at that in the game.
Post red card, Post 2 goals
With the man advantage, Real Madrid had total control of the game and had them on the back-foot. But in true Real Madrid fashion, we switched back and allowed Man United to attack us over and over again. Here is what Zonal Marking had to say on it, which i agree with exactly:
Diego Lopez was forced into a couple of good saves, but more notable than United’s late strategy was Real’s complete lack of shape – they weren’t compact enough without the ball, with the defence sitting very deep, but the midfield strung out across the pitch, inviting pressure. Gonzalo Higuain went to the right, allowing Ronaldo to become a threat on the break, but it remained 2-1.
It was astonishing how the side was so not compact after going up. As ZM notes, the defense was sitting deep while Kaka and Modric sitting with Ronaldo up front. At the same time, Higuain was on the right, running more than the two players introduced were. At the same time, Ronaldo on the break was extremely dangerous, but lacked the end product and putting the game to an end. In defense, it was Man united players pumping the ball in while Real Madrid were hoping Ramos and Varane dealt with it. Mourinho expressed it in his press conference that his team completely lacked control after the 2 goals.
Diego Lopez had a brilliant second half, after being bombarded with one shot/header after the other. He was a great contributor to us staying in the game and then not losing the lead the team was capable of achieving. Sections of the fans that were at Old Trafford sang his name, which I’m sure meant a lot to Diego, who has is both a youth product and a fan of the club for years. He had a performance that would have made Iker in the stands proud, and that’s saying something.
The center back pairing, as i mentioned above, should have a special mention as well. They were vital in keeping Welbeck and RVP, who is considered one of the best strikers out there, at bay. Modric also deserved a special mention, as his introduction changed the game and gave us an extra creative dimension out there. As mentioned before, I thought the work rate and game that Higuain played was brilliant. Finally, props to Mou for making the substitution of Modric for Arbeloa quickly.
Finally, a mention to Man United, their fans and Giggs. Man United and Sir Alex came out with every intention to beat us, and for large parts of the game, they were the better side with the more dangerous chances. Giggs, who played his 1000 career game at the age of 39 made it seem like he was just a 25 year old running out there. And finally, for the Man United fans that were louder than ever and showed Ronaldo great respect.
We are off to the quarter finals for the third year in a row. Great challenges ahead, but we are Real Madrid! Today, the devil wore white, and hopefully, by the end of the season, so will the Champions league trophy! Hala Madrid. Vamos Real, Hasta El Final!