I’ll start with a clip from a band whose music was a ‘guilty pleasure’ of sorts: Limp Bizkit’s ‘Rolling’:
It’s the second consecutive match now:
Real Madrid had to play without Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid had to play without Sami Khedira.
Two Consecutive Home wins
Two Consecutive Four-goal thrashings
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Last night was also Barca’s first loss (playing with no Messi, Alves, Valdes, etc.) – their points total now equal with Atleti and within 3 points from us. Alas, leadership is now looking more and more within touching distance. The team is now on a roll.
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A Touching Surprise
A Big Thanks for the Thoughts and Prayers for my Countrymen in Need
As a Filipino supporter of Real Madrid, the past 2 matches have been marked by touching surprise to see messages of solidarity (from UEFA during the midweek match vs. Galatasaray and from Real Madrid during last Saturday’s match) to the people of my country, particularly the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. A shoutout must also go to Real Sociedad, who donated the ticketsale proceeds of their Celta match to the humanitarian cause. While I am fortunate to have no relatives affected by Haiyan’s carnage, many others have not been so fortunate (my wife’s friend lost her 12 month old child). A big thank you goes to those who have spent a moment in prayer to my countrymen.
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Shelving the 4-3-3 and Rebooting the 4-2-3-1
Going back to the football, perhaps one of the most significant talking points after the international break has been the return of the 4-2-3-1 formation. It was the injury to Sami Khedira that has led to the change. Perhaps it’s of no interest to some, but I’ll attempt to explain anyway:
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Excluding the fullbacks, a 4-2-3-1 entails the use of 4 attacking players. The 2 ‘pivots’ are given responsibility for the team’s midfield shape and have mostly a restricted role in terms of offensive contribution. At its worst: it can remarkably boring (think Capello’s Madrid with M. Diarra and Emerson in the pivot) and creates a ‘broken team’ – with an invisible line between the 2 pivots and that 10 which demarcate the players who can license to attack and those designated to sit back. At its best however, it can still be utilized as an attacking formation – the likes of Heynckes’ treble-winning Bayern side have used it effectively. It is still however mostly a system that suits a team with pace which can transition from defense to attack very quickly to play a very direct-style of football which many critics dismiss as ‘counterattacking’. Its current foremost practitioners include Klopp’s Dortmund, Rafa Benitez’s Napoli and of the recent past: Mou’s Madrid.
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The 4-3-3 (with a single holder) on the other hand IN PRINCIPLE – allows up to FIVE men excluding the fullbacks to participate in an attack: the front 3 plus the 2 CMs flanking the holder.  The caveat however is that the 2 CMs are not given the license to carelessly roam like a classic ‘10’ lest the team’s spine
becomes to weak. And given a brief to play more attractively and perform better in possession, Ancelotti envisioned a Modric-Alonso-Khedira trio through the middle combining, mobile combination passing (Modric) and steel (Khedira) with a passing fulcrum (Alonso). And it started to look like the team’s 2 young Spaniards and ex-Castilla player would become understudies to the roles of the 3 vets.
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Without Khedira however, whose understudy was Isco, Ancelotti wouldn’t have the benefit of fielding his best XI while using that system. The use of the 30m Isco, who is yet to ‘master’ his role in a 4-3-3 was paramount. Thus the reason why I THINK that Ancelotti has opted to return to the 4-2-3-1. For the past 3 matches, I would have to say that the most interesting point to note about the lineup and formation was the combinations of pivots which Carletto employed. Against Almeria, he played with 2 passing pivots (Alonso and Illaramendi), against Galatasaray at home, he played a utility man (Casemiro) alongside with Alonso. While last Saturday, Alonso was partnered with linkman Modric at the middle of the park. In all 3 matches, Isco started as a ‘10’ and wowed us all with his class. Against the weak Valladolid at home, the Alonso-Modric-Isco trio completely dominated the midfield. I do suspect however, that Ancelotti will opt for the Alonso-Illaramendi-Isco trio in a tougher match and will consider the use of a 4-3-3 featuring Alonso-Casemiro-Modric in other tough matches too. Methinks that Modric has now evolved away from being a classic ‘10’ and thus lineups that involve Modric but not Isco will become a 4-3-3.
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On a personal level, I’m not partial to any system or combination as of yet. We will only know which system is suited best once we see it deployed against tougher opposition. Needless to say, that the familiarity of the 4-2-3-1 plus the increased levels of the team’s overall confidence has seen us transition back to our familiar system seamlessly with great results. Freed of his defensive responsibility, Isco has spent the last 3 matches tap-dancing his way around opposing defenders and defensive midfielders and I’ve really enjoyed watching every minute of it.
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The Prince of Wales
I always knew Bale would be a Star for Madrid one day. I just didn’t expect that he’d reach that level this season. He and Ancelotti have proven me dead wrong.
An Arsenal-supporting friend of mine euphorically asked me yesterday how much I was enjoying ‘our Welshman’ (suggesting that he too was enjoying his team’s Welshman Aaron Ramsey). Last Saturday, he scored the ‘perfect hat trick’ (one with his left, one with his right and one with his head), apart from assisting the also-in-form Benzema. Bale now has 9 goals and 6 assists in 13 matches – making him directly responsible for 15 goals thus far (slightly above a goal per game). A Big congratulations to my friend, to his Aaron Ramsey (who he’s been talking up since 3-4 years ago) and to his Arsenal, but it’s impossible to argue against Bale being the more enjoyable Welshman to watch.  Last Saturday, his latter 2 goals where a showcase of the physical specimen that he is: accelerating into the box, leaving his defensive markers eating dust as he got into position to score. My Arsenal supporting-friend noticed something about Bale too – in Spain, his frame is visibly larger when compared to many of his opponents, most of whom are Spanish or South American. Thus, with his power, and sheer explosive pace, most of his defenders are at a loss trying to figure out how to stop him.  A big congratulations should also be put forth to Carlo Ancelotti: for successfully integrating Bale into the team whilst recovering his physical condition. I said before that this season would be a writeoff for Bale and Carletto’s work proved me dead wrong.
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The Pauper Prince
The Madrid and British media have had a frenzy over Gareth Bale’s performance. While much of the praise is deserved, I admit that I’m deeply irritated by the British press’ overkill horn-tooting over the success of a Briton in the continent. Headlines that spout ‘Who needs Ronaldo?’ have honestly disgusted me. Thus I urge Real Madrid fans to steer clear of the British horn-tooting rhetoric. It’s important to keep things in perspective and look beyond the surface.
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Last Saturday’s unsung hero was not the Prince of Wales, but the Pauper Prince – Angel Di Maria, and Ancelotti rightly singledout ‘El Fideo’ as deserving praise (he said: “Di Maria’s performance was fantastic. He was our most dangerous player and he adapts to different positions on the field). If I was a Valladolid defender, I would have considered Bale as the player to fear but Di Maria was the player to hate. The Argentine was absolute pest who wore down the Valladolid defense.
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Time to Roll On and then Crank it up some more.
As Barca appear to show signs of running out of steam (their play has been criticized these past few games and they’ve now lost 2 on the trot), the time has come for Madrid not to just keep rolling along, but to crank it up yet another gear higher. After the midweek CDR fixture, a tough trip to Pamplona to face the gritty Osasuna awaits us. Let’s hope that the time has come for the good times to roll: the varying midfield mixtures can all create magic, the kitty cat has not become a Lion again (Benzema), the team is clicking, the 2 Princes have found their form… and of course, King Cristiano returns.