All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘cannavaro’

Real Reborn

Posted by hiphopmama on January 14, 2009

real-madrid-mallorca1

Mallorca 0-3 Real Madrid

  • 0-1 Robben, 3′
  • 0-2 Raul, 17′
  • 0-3 Sergio Ramos, 66′

It was only Mallorca, a slumping team that was missing a few key players due to suspensions. Their injury list is still replete with all-star caliber players (as if that meant anything in a European football context – bear with me). And they still sit woefully behind Barça in La Liga standings. 

Yet even with all that, there has been a certain transformation of the squad since Juande Ramos took over. Other than that stinging loss to their Catalan rivals at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid has not lost a game under the new coach and, what’s more, they haven’t even conceded a goal, beating Zenit 3-0 in Champions League, Valencia 1-0, and Mallorca 3-0. That is quite a statistic from a team that had looked abysmal in defense under Schuster. It helps that players like Pepe and Cannavaro are starting to come back from injury, but that is far from the whole story. The team as a whole just looked more composed in the new system, holding their lines better and playing better positional defense than any we had seen previously in the season. Bringing in Lassana Diarra has helped considerably, and so has his partnership with Gago in central midfield, effectively shielding a back line that has looked susceptible this year. Oh, and Iker Casillas looks superhuman again. One of the Real Madrid bloggers made the point that Schuster had to go if for no other reason than because the porous defense was causing Casillas to slip from his best-in-the-world form. With Ramos at the helm, he is once again San Iker, making world-class saves routinely and maintaining all those clean sheets Real has accumulated.

With the three consecutive wins, and the 3-all Valencia-Villarreal draw, Real Madrid now magically sits in second place, ahead of Sevilla on goal differential and eight points adrift of league leaders Barcelona. With reinforcements coming in the form of new signings and players returning from injuries, it’s hard to believe they won’t continue to pour it on. The question I have is how long will the honeymoon last? It’s like with a new pitcher in baseball – at some point, the other teams are going to catch up with what you’re doing and devise a way to deal with the onslaught. That isn’t quite as true when you can dish out ever increasing amounts of money to improve your team, but the other well equipped teams will eventually pick them apart and at least slow them down, and then we will see how Ramos counters. 

In the meantime, Raul just keeps creeping up on Di Stefano…

Highlights, set to some absurd background music:

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Happy Transfer Window

Posted by hiphopmama on January 1, 2009

It’s a brand new year, which means it is also officially mercato time. Now is the hour for ridiculous and absurd speculation to spill forth from every news source, reputable or not, about the never-ending rumors concerning players’ futures with their clubs. This is the first January I’ve really paid attention to it, so I’m hella excited for what will transpire. Here are a few of my hopes, in more or less vaguery:

  • Mikel Arteta to Arsenal. Good ol’ Arseblogger has been calling for this one, and I am all in favor. I have been a fan of the Everton midfielder since I saw him drill one of the goals of the season in ’05-’06, and with Fabregas out for essentially the rest of the year, he would be a wonderful candidate to fill in for him. He is a seasoned player with plenty of Premier League experience who is great on free kicks. Unlike so many in the Arsenal squad, he would be ready to make an immediate impact, and he seems well suited to the Wenger style of play. Please make this happen, guys.
  • Some kind of defensive help at Real Madrid. They’ve already inked Diarra (the second) and Huntelaar, but neither will directly solve the defensive woes that have proven so costly this season. To be fair, they played remarkably well in their match-up with Barcelona, holding them scoreless for 80+ minutes with a limited squad, but Canna and Salgado are old, Pepe is iffy, Marcelo can’t be bothered to defend, and Heinze is shit. That leaves the always stellar Sergio Ramos and  a rejuvenated Metzelder as the only working cogs on the Madrid back line, which doesn’t bode well entering the second half of the season. I would also like to see a legitimate goal-scoring partner for Higuain up front, but I believe the offense will sort itself out if the defense can do its job at even a marginally functional level. It hasn’t been doing that so far, and you’ve seen the results.
  • Anyone non-primadonna under 30 for AC Milan. This squad is ridiculously stacked with big names that cannot or will not get the job done. Ronaldinho is an enormously talented player, but the money they shelled out for him could have been better spent elsewhere, as this season has made clear. What’s done is done, but they need to avoid sinking money into hopeless products that can’t deliver on their promise. Names like Shevchenko and Emerson sound nice, but they are well past their prime and far from productive with this team. Not that anyone wants them, but they, along with others like Dida, should be off-loaded to free up room (and money) for some younger players with less notoriety who might be persuaded to play within the team concept to achieve better results. With Kaka, Dinho, Pirlo, etc., there’s no reason some talented youngsters couldn’t shore up the side.
  • A new mentality for Chelsea. While thinking about this little wish list, I was easily able to come up with desirables for the other teams I root for, but I got stuck at Chelsea. There is clearly something amiss lately, despite the fact that they’re just 3 points back of league leaders Liverpool, but it’s not because of any major holes in the team. Essien’s injury has been the most costly, but Mikel has been a wonder as his replacement. Carvalho’s absence was painful as well, and if Scolari would have played Ivanovic in his stead more than Alex, the damage might have been more limited. Anyway, Ricky’s already making his way back into the lineup, so that’s a non-issue. (If Terry can keep his ass on the pitch, that is.) With a healthy Drogba and a surging Anelka, the strike partnership has all the makings of greatness, although recent (and not-so-recent) grumblings suggest the Ivorian may be on his way out. Bosingwa has been a revelation at right back, emerging as one of the team’s most consistent performers, and with Lampard leading the midfield there aren’t many gaps to fill. I suppose you could wish for better than Malouda on the left and perhaps find someone better to partner Anelka up front – especially if Drogba continues the histrionics – but the team’s biggest deficiency is psychological. It’s cliche at this point, but some of the old Mourinho toughness needs to come back. They were playing pretty football at the beginning of the season, building up an insane goal differential, but teams have adjusted and now they can’t pull out close victories either at home or on the road. Terry’s red card exploits surely cost them, but it’s hard to imagine them conceding the kind of painful late goal that hurt them against Fulham in years past. I’m not smart enough to know how something like this gets fixed, but if you’re being paid the big bucks to steer the ship, you better be able to figure something out, and fast. Oh, and stop playing Deco so damn much. Almost everyone else can see that he’s worthless out there. Joe Cole has no business fighting for playing time with him. Barça didn’t want him, and neither should you after this display.

Like I said, not much in the way of specifics there aside from Arteta, but that’s all I’ve got. For serious transfer rumors, I’m sure you’re consulting a much more reputable source anyway. However you slice it, Arsenal and Real Madrid are two of the big name clubs that desperately need some reinforcements and I hope they get them. Especially the Gunners, because they are a treat to watch when firing on all cylinders, and injuries have absolutely ravaged them this season. The same is true for Madrid, but I feel less sympathy over their plight seeing as they’ve won the last two Primera Liga titles and are generally a detestable bunch. Why I continue to root for them, I have no idea, but at this point it is what it is. Best of luck to all parties in the transfer market and the rest of the season.

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Political Fandom And El Clásico

Posted by hiphopmama on December 14, 2008

Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid

  • 1-0 Eto’o, 83′
  • 2-0 Messi, 90′

After watching this game, I have decided to never again give any grief to Yankees fans. Sports are not nearly as politicized in the U.S. as they are in Europe – I can’t imagine ANY game in the States having the same tension or potential meaning as this one did – but people often like or dislike teams for reasons other than anything having to do with their geography or personnel. I root against most teams from Texas because I believe the state should, indeed, be messed with, while my dad hates all things Boston because of the city’s history of racist treatment of its players (and, I suspect, because he’s a Lakers fan with a natural beef with the Celtics). The Yankees are the easiest to hate because of how incredibly high their payroll is, especially compared to smaller market teams, and it seems vastly unfair.

European football has a similar wealth disparity between teams, but the leagues don’t even pretend to regulate it so it’s less of an issue. What often matters more is what the teams stand for socially, politically, economically, perhaps none more so than in the match-up between Barça and Real Madrid. And while every bit of my conscience and political judgment compels me to root for Barcelona – or anyone besides Real Madrid, really – I still end up rooting for Los Blancos. I’ve given up trying to explain it. After watching the organization eat itself from the inside out, I’ve been somewhat turned off and have started to shift allegiances, willing myself to convert to the Blaugrana. But after this game, I realized I just can’t do it. I am stuck liking this team and will try to quit beating myself up about it. Because sometimes you just like a team with no good explanation, and that’s all there is to it. Yankees fans are no better or worse than me for rooting for an obnoxiously stacked roster and royally cocky management. Those things are just accidents and not the basis for moral judgment. I still choose to hate the team, but I will refrain from dissing its fans. And here ends my mea culpa.

The game itself was an embattled one rife with intensity from beginning to end. From the opening touch to Canna’s last-ditch attempt to prevent the second goal, both teams gave everything they had and it was refreshing to see. In an age of jaded, overpaid players, here was a contest that really mattered to all involved, and it showed in their committed play. 

Real Madrid played their hearts out, as was evident in their mud-caked uniforms, and they came painfully close to a 0-0 draw, which would have been as good as a win for a struggling Madrid team. Instead, it was a case of too much water eventually breaking through the dam. Real played better defense than I have seen them play all season long, holding a surging Barça side scoreless for upwards of 80 minutes, a moral victory in and of itself. Casillas saved their butts on numerous occasions, none bigger than the save on Eto’o’s penalty, and Madrid went into the locker room knowing they had had the best chance of the first half on a brilliant volley by Sneijder. Drenthe should have scored in a one-on-one encounter with Valdes, and there were a couple other chances left hanging. Barcelona utterly dominated possession in both halves, but Madrid defended with a fury, attempting to kick Messi into submission and playing wonderfully as a team. Sergio Ramos was started at left back in what turned out to be a great tactical move. He did his best, with lots of help, to keep track of Messi, and the team took turns chopping him down. The ref eventually started pulling the yellow card on it and it slowed down, but it had the desired effect early on. Yaya stormed forward a few times in the first half, as did Abidal, with Alves, surprisingly enough, being quite defensive-minded and making a number of key tackles. While it was a good half for Real, holding Barça scoreless, it felt more like they had survived than anything else.

Like the well-coached team they are, Barcelona remained patient and effective all game long, knowing it would pay off in the end. Real continued the good defensive effort, but it just wasn’t enough. When Busquets was brought on for Gudjohnsen, Barça immediately increased their upper hand as the sub was awarded a penalty after being brought down by Salgado in the box. When Eto’o stepped up to take it, you could feel hearts sink across the capital. And then the amazing happened. Iker saved it. Not just saved it – he blocked it out of bounds so there was no chance for a put-back. It was in-fucking-credible, and it was then that I knew I could not convert my allegiances so easily. I raised my hands in triumph and got set for what was sure to be a slog the rest of the way. From there it only got better as Iker made an insane double save against Eto’o and then Messi to keep the clean sheet. And for a while it seemed like we might have a chance at getting something from this game. 

It was not to be, though, as shortly thereafter Barça broke the deadlock on a corner that Puyol won in the air and headed to Eto’o, who calmly slotted it home. It was pandemonium in the Camp Nou. I was 100% in Real’s corner by this point, but I couldn’t help feeling good for all of Barça’s players, for whom it was clearly the most important goal of the season. After that, the resistance was broken and Barça got their second a few minutes later on a lightning quick counterattack that saw Henry set up Messi for the chip over Casillas. Iker could not have prevented either goal and was visibly devastated in the aftermath.

Despite the result, the Real players should be proud of their effort. They played possibly their best game as a TEAM this year, something that speaks highly of Juande Ramos in his early days with the club. I can’t imagine Schuster eliciting this kind of performance from the team, so Ramos should be applauded for his team’s preparation. Literally everyone gave all they had in the defensive stand: Ramos played valiantly against Messi; Salgado did his utmost tactically to stay with Henry and protect the box; the midfield and forwards tracked back with abandon to help out; Cannavaro stuck his nose out there every time, sustaining a knock against the goalpost trying to prevent the final goal; and Metzelder had his most impressive game since joining the side. It was a well orchestrated effort that showed what they were made of, which was much more than I previously suspected. Even with all the injuries, they gritted their teeth and made a game of it till the final whistle. As a newly minted bandwagoner, I couldn’t ask for more.

Highlights:

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Thoughts Ahead of El Clásico

Posted by hiphopmama on December 12, 2008

el clasico

Real Madrid makes the daunting trip to the Camp Nou tomorrow struggling to impart some semblance of order to their season against a Barcelona side displaying utter dominance in La Liga. Against any normal team experiencing Real’s current run of form and injury list, Barça would be virtually assured of a comfortable victory. However, with the contentious rivalry at stake and the symbolic importance of this match-up, you have to figure Real will be playing like their season depends on it and will have a decent shot at a good result because of it. 

That said, Barça are still odds-on favorites to win the game, especially in front of their home fans, and any tactical analysis points to an easy victory for the Catalans. With the ridiculous number of Real Madrid players struggling with injuries and suspensions to be served by Robben and Marcelo, the Merengues are really up against it even in terms of fielding a squad of their usual caliber. Based on their play midweek against Zenit in the Champions League and available players, it seems likely that Michel Salgado will have the unenviable task of tracking Lionel Messi around on the right flank. While Salgado has a great tactical sense and plenty of experience in big games, there is no way he has the pace to keep up with Messi and will need every bit of help he can get to keep him under wraps. The rest of the back line is likely to be filled out by Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos, and Metzelder in some formation with Gago, Guti, Van der Vaart, and Drenthe in midfield. And of course Raul and Higuain up front.

For their part, Barça’s lineup is likely to look something like this: Valdes; Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Yaya, Hleb; Messi, Eto’o, Henry. There’s not much to say about this group – it pretty much speaks for itself. This general assortment of guys has been kicking ass with no need to even take names all season long, and I expect nothing less this weekend. Xavi will, as always, be central (no pun intended) to the Barcelona attack, and Messi will probably be free to run wild all over the pitch, although with Salgado at left back he might be content to stay on the right. Henry is coming off an incredible hat trick – three goals all taken on one touch – in Barça’s 4-0 romp over Valencia last weekend. Gago will have a lot of work to do to protect a Real back line that has looked as porous as SpongeBob this year, and Hleb (or possibly Keita or Gudjohnsen) will surely look to stretch the Madrid  defense and create space for the three forwards. 

In particular, Gago will have to keep Xavi off the ball as much as possible to limit his ability to initiate the attack. Gago is a capable player, but I doubt he has the wherewithal to snuff out Xavi or the help from his team to effectively patrol the midfield. Yaya will have a similar role to play in stopping Guti from engineering Madrid’s offense, but I foresee more success for the younger Toure. I don’t think Guti has the ingenuity of Xavi, but more importantly, Guti has fewer real threats around him that Barça has to watch out for, which will allow them to zero in on him. 

In the end, I think Messi will run rampant and Alves will be a constant thorn in Real’s side, while Raul will continue his good form and Higuain will have another solid game, but all three Barça strikers will hurt Madrid and get the win for the cules. Prediction: Barcelona wins fairly easily, 3-1, and earns further breathing room at the top of the table.

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Good News, Bad News For Real Madrid

Posted by hiphopmama on November 24, 2008

After running some tests in his office, a doctor returns and tells his patient, “I have some bad news and some worse news. Which do you want first?”

“How bout the worse news?” the patient asks.

“You have cancer,” the doctor says.

“Wow, that’s horrible. So what’s the bad news?”

“You have Alzheimer’s,” the doctor informs him.

“Well,” the patient responds, “at least I don’t have cancer!”

The situation isn’t nearly so dire for Real Madrid, but the whole “good news/bad news” thing always reminds me of it and it’s funny. So there you go.

As for Los Blancos, here’s the good news. They beat Recreativo, although just barely, at the Bernabeu this weekend, while Barcelona was held to a tie against Getafe. Combined with Valencia’s 0-0 draw with Sevilla and Villarreal’s 3-0 loss to Valladolid, this week’s fixtures saw them jump to second place in the table, just three points behind Barça. It was the first glimpse of sunshine Madrid have seen in some time, after consecutive losses to Juventus in the Champions League and a mediocre run of form in La Liga, including last week’s loss to Valladolid. Sneijder’s brilliant (and deflected) strike in the first half was enough to secure all three points, but Real escaped by the skin of their teeth in a nervy home match.

And the bad news? Higuaín left the game after suffering what looked to be a serious injury to his left leg. The way he pulled up had GolTV’s always emotional announcers pondering a possibly season-ending knock, but fortunately it has turned out to be no more than a severe ankle sprain. It will prevent him from traveling with the team to Belarus this week to face BATE in a crucial Champions League match. After those two losses to Juve, they find themselves in need of some good results to ensure their qualification for the knock-out stage. This doesn’t even include the recent injury news that saw Van Nistelrooy undergo season-ending surgery and Cannavaro sustain a groin injury. Real have officially become the most injury-stricken team in the Primera, with the tally currently at 20. 

In an interesting article at Goal.com, Cyrus C. Malek argues that Los Merengues should sign “for need, not want,” however you determine that one. He provides some convincing analysis of the team’s form the past two years and puts forward the two players he feels the side needs to pick up: Ezequiel Garay, the central defender currently on loan from Madrid to Racing Santander, and the Zenit St. Petersburg man Andrei Arshavin, whose stock rose dramatically after this year’s Euro 2008 competition. The only drawback in Arshavin’s case is the fact that he is cup-tied, having already played for Zenit in Champions League games this year. I can’t proclaim to know as much as analysts like Malek surely do, but I find his optimism about Saviola a little bit questionable, and I tend to believe Real could use one more quality striker to help them this season. Yes, Alberto Bueno has a good upside, but I can’t see basing the team’s future around him. Of course, with the news that Higuain’s injury won’t keep him out for an extended period, it may make it easier to soldier on until his return, but that assumes he will continue on the blistering pace he has set so far this season, which has him at third place in goals scored with 9, behind Samuel Eto’o (13) and David Villa (11).

Even with all the injury woes, given Madrid’s hefty checkbook, I expect the good news to outweigh the bad come January.

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Primera Liga Big Five

Posted by hiphopmama on November 18, 2008

Eleven rounds deep, this year’s Primera Liga is starting to take on a definite form, with a few things becoming clear about the top teams. There is a pretty clear division between the top five teams and the rest, although the league is competitive top to bottom as usual. Here are some thoughts on the season so far, with a focus on the biggies.

  • No one is touching Barcelona. They have a ridiculous goal differential of +28, with more goals scored than anyone else (36 – Real Madrid is closest but still trails by 8 goals with 28) and tied for fewest allowed (8 – with Sevilla, who have only scored 18 themselves). More importantly, they are playing just as well as those numbers indicate. They started a little sluggishly, drawing with Racing Santander and losing to Numancia in their opening matches in La Liga, but they haven’t slipped up since then, winning their next nine league games. Their only mediocre showing was a 1-1 draw against FC Basel in Champions League play, but this came after beating the team 5-0 in the home fixture. I don’t see any other team in Europe playing as well as Barça are doing right now, especially if you take consistency into account. Chelsea are playing good football with a similarly spectacular goal differential, also +28, but they have suffered more slip-ups than Barcelona, particularly in their 3-1 loss to Roma in Champions League and a 0-0 defeat to Championship side Burnley on penalties in the Carling Cup. Pep Guardiola has the team playing at a higher level than anything I’ve seen in recent years from them and probably better than anyone else on the planet right now.
  • Valencia and Villarreal have yet to prove they have real staying power at the top. That might be unfair considering they both currently sit ahead of Real Madrid in the standings, but it still feels true. Both suffered disappointing outcomes this week, with Valencia losing to Sporting and Villarreal settling for a draw after giving up an injury time goal against Malaga. Villarreal are still the only unbeaten team in the Primera but have five draws to go with their eleven wins. Valencia have lost two consecutive home games but are doing better than just muddling through without Spanish international David SIlva playing up front alongside Villa. Villa is carrying the goal scoring weight disproportionately, as expected, and the team will have to prove they don’t need to rely exclusively on him as the rounds continue.
  • Sevilla may be tied for third, but they are not easy on the eye. They have scored far fewer goals than anyone else in the top five (a mere 18) and seem content to scrape by. In their defense, they have been without important striking options, including last year’s Pichichi runner up Luis Fabiano and Kanoute. They have been playing better their last few games after a poor run of form that included losses to Malaga and Valladolid in league play, to Ponferradina in Copa Del Rey, and to Standard Liege in the UEFA Cup. They have a tough end to the month with home matches against Barcelona and Valencia, both of which will be important in gauging how they intend to go forward.
  • And finally, Real ain’t got nothin’ on Barça. Whereas Madrid have been undergoing some soul searching regarding their current coach, Barcelona are reveling in the new level of intensity under their new steward. Real has been scoring at a decent clip, although nothing like Barcelona, but the truly troubling thing has been their weakness at the back, which has been repeatedly exposed. Gabi Heinze in particular has been suspect, as has Marcelo and even Cannavaro on occasion. They have had some serious injury woes which have only worsened with the news this week of Van Nistelrooy’s season ending knee surgery, but that doesn’t account for the poor defensive performances. Given the team’s propensity to spend, a significant pick-up or two in the January transfer window seems likely. Tevez has reportedly been in their sights, as has Mario Gomez, although one might wonder whether they aren’t more in need of a stronger defensive presence or even a winger to replace Señor Vidrio, who is once again out injured. Whatever the case, their moves will play a big role in deciding how their season ends up and seeing whether they can pull off the three-peat.

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