All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘gago’

Still Six Points

Posted by hiphopmama on April 20, 2009

Getafe 0-1 Barcelona
     0-1 Messi, 19′ 

Recreativo Huelva 0-1 Real Madrid
     0-1  Marcelo, 49′

Try as they might, Real can’t quite get over that six-point hump that separates them from class of the league Barcelona. That 1-1 draw with Atletico a few weeks back put a halt on their crawl-back on Barça’s tail, and since then they’ve been stuck six points back. Even worse, Barça seem to have refound their form and, while not exactly blitzing opponents like they did earlier in the season, they are winning consistently with little worry.

Both teams held ground this week by identical scorelines, 0-1 on the road to bottom-dwellers on the La Liga table. Barça were on the front foot the whole first half but only came away with one goal courtesy of Lionel Messi’s prodding run in the box on 19 minutes. Only Getafe’s new it-boy goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic kept them from pulling further ahead. A few failed efforts – and one incorrectly disallowed goal – later, Barcelona left Madrid with another three points.

Real Madrid had to slog it out a while longer to get their one-goal cushion as they looked mostly listless in the first half but came out firing in the second. Marcelo broke the deadlock on a lovely through ball from Gago and gave Los Blancos all they needed to stay within that magic six points of Barça. Robben created his typical slew of chances and, also typically, ruined most of them by being selfish and spurning the obvious pass. All in a day’s work for the Dutchman, who saw countryman Wesley Sneijder go out with a serious-looking injury. The latest word is that he will miss a month with a torn muscle in his hamstring, which means he will likely miss the rest of the season. Because Real haven’t already lost enough players to injury.

It continues to look like Barcelona will refuse to lose, no matter how much pressure Real put on them. The defending champs will obviously keep the burner on full boil to push them to the bitter end, as well they should, but I really don’t see Barça slipping enough to make it truly interesting. In the end, I could envision Real pulling to within 3-5 points, but Barça have too much of a mental and numerical edge to fade at this point. And congrats to them for it, because they have been the best coached and prettiest playing football club in the world this year, which is much more than you could say for Real Madrid. If Barça can continue their dominance in European play, they will likely be challenging for the three titles we all expect them to win. Take notes, Real – this is what a cohesive team looks like.

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Merengues Gain Ground…Still 10 Back

Posted by hiphopmama on February 15, 2009

raul-record

Sporting Gijon 0-4 Real Madrid

  • 0-1 Raul, 15′
  • 0-2 Huntelaar, 37′
  • 0-3 Marcelo, 49′
  • 0-4 Raul, 76′

After Barcelona miraculously drew 2-2 with Real Betis, Madrid were presented with an opening, however small, in their match against Sporting Gijon. They took full advantage, never looking the timid offensive team we have seen since Juande Ramos took over. They still managed to keep a clean sheet – their seventh in eight games – but they were also attacking aggressively and efficiently, and that was without their spark plug Arjen Robben.

Everything looked in sync today. Gago won seemingly every tackle he went for. Lass Diarra secured the midfield with him and distributed the ball nicely. Marcelo looked comfortable in midfield and began the long journey toward redemption by scoring the third goal. Huntelaar got his first for Los Blancos and displayed a deft first touch on multiple occasions. Higuain was simply marvelous with the ball at his feet, controlling it with grace and ease and finding teammates with beautiful passes from every angle. 

And then there was Raul. Once again, as always, now and forever, he got himself in all the right places at all the right times and capitalized on the chances that resulted. “Opportunistic” is too cynical a term for someone so keenly aware of positioning and timing on the pitch, and who has performed at such a high level for so long. “Savvy” might be a closer fit but still doesn’t capture the deadly lurking quality of his runs and finishes. Whatever adjective you choose, the result was the same: Raul finally passed Alfredo Di Stefano as Real Madrid’s all time leading goal scorer with his first goal today. It came off a fierce cross by Sergio Ramos, and it took a good deal of precision to make the right contact with it on one touch and steer it past the keeper inside the right post. It was a fitting way for him to grab the record, and the team was appropriately jubilant for its captain. 

The second was merely icing. After Huntelaar netted his first for the club and Higuain set Marcelo up for the third with a gorgeous backheel, Raul stalked around the six-yard box to clean up the mess and stab one home off the rebound from Higuain’s shot. Lafuente was under a lot of pressure but probably still should have handled it better, and when he spilled it Raul was there for the kill. 4-0 and game over, if it wasn’t already.

This might have been the first Real Madrid game in 2009 that was actually fun to watch. It’s always nice to see them win, especially after the shaky start to the season, but they have looked mostly tentative in attack as Juande Ramos worked to shore up a mistake-prone defense. Obviously, his project worked, because Real have conceded in all of two games since he took over – 2 to Barcelona and 1 to Osasuna – and have kept eight clean sheets in ten games under the new manager. Today it appeared that he finally felt comfortable enough with the defense to unleash the offense, and a four goal onslaught was the result. Yes, it was only against Sporting Gijon, but the way they played today very few would have been able to hang with them.

They have a tricky few games coming up, with Betis coming to town next week followed by Liverpool in Champions League play, but after facing Espanyol and Atletico Madrid in league play (and wrapping up that pesky Merseyside match-up), they have a fairly easy road to hoe: Athletic Bilbao, Almeria, Malaga, Valladolid, Recreativo, and Getafe all in a row. Plus whatever Champions League action they can earn for themselves. There are still plenty of opportunities for them to slip up in those games, but if they can stay in contact with Barça, they can at least make it interesting toward the end of the season. Do I really think they can catch up with them? Nah, probably not. Barcelona is too talented and, most importantly, too well coached to stumble as much as would be necessary. But it would be nice for them to at least have to think about it and know that SOMEONE was waiting in the wings if they should slip. With Sevilla 9 points behind Real and 19 behind Barça, Madrid is the only club that could conceivably keep pace with them and really challenge for the title. Whether or not that happens, they will have at least redeemed their season and made a statement about what to expect next year. Juande Ramos may or may not be around to steer them that far, but he has already done his job in stabilizing the team for a future run at the title. Good enough for me.

Highlights:

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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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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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