All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘raul’

La Liga Talk: Modest Improvement For Madrid

Posted by hiphopmama on September 25, 2009

Game summary and analysis of the 2-0 victory away to Villarreal. Highlights below:

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La Liga Talk: Another Impressive Scoreline Conceals Real’s Frailties

Posted by hiphopmama on September 21, 2009

Recap and analysis of Real Madrid’s 5-0 win over Xerez at the Bernabeu. Read and comment, pretty pretty pleeease. =)

Another Impressive Scoreline Conceals Real’s Frailties

Highlights and goals below:

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Not My Day…Kinda

Posted by hiphopmama on August 29, 2009

As good as the early weeks of the season have been to me, today was not my day. All the well-intentioned advice keeps telling me to fastidiously separate my subject matter, but fuck it – I watch multiple leagues, so I’m going to write about all of them at once. If you only keep up with one and are offended by my mixing, a thousand apologies. But this is how the day played out for me.

Act I

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
0-1 Arshavin, 40′
1-1 Rooney (pen), 59′
2-1 Diaby (0g), 64′

Inter 4-0 AC Milan
1-0 Thiago Motta, 29′
2-0 Milito (pen), 36′
3-0 Maicon, 45′
4-0 Stankovic, 67′

First off, fuck your bitch and the click you claim. Wait, that’s Tupac, but it could just as well have been my intro to Manchester United and their showdown with my Gunners, as much as I hate those Red Devil bastards and their gum-smacking manager. Things started out promisingly enough, with an AMAZING strike from Arshavin on 40 minutes putting Arsenal ahead. It really was unbelievable, a good 20+ yards out, and he lasered it into the upper corner of the net while a hapless Ben Foster barely got a hand to it. As sublime as that strike was, the second half went completely in the other direction very quickly. Arsenal had a chance right out the gate to go up two goals when Arshavin slipped past his defender on the left-hand side, sent in a low cross with some pace, and then watched in agony as Ben Foster stuck out a leg to keep out Robin Van Persie’s point blank effort. Not long after that, ManU turned the tables and finally made good on their pressure when Almunia dove in front of Rooney and the Shrek look-alike went down. I know, I know, it was a penalty. The keeper didn’t get so much as a fingernail on the ball, and he made more contact with Rooney than Boruc did with Eduardo. ManU weren’t foolish enough to send Michael Carrick to the spot a second time, and Rooney converted the penalty easily. From there, you sensed it was going to be a matter of holding on for Arsenal, and they just couldn’t do it. Giggs, who had set up the penalty with a nice pass, put a decent free kick into the box, and Diaby inexplicably headed it into his own goal to gift United the lead and the win. I’m still not sure what he was doing – he didn’t get enough on it to be trying to put it over the bar, so I can only assume he either, a) was stupidly trying to head it back to Almunia, or b) had absolutely no idea where he was on the pitch. The second of those seems more likely, but the reason doesn’t matter because the outcome was determined. Arsenal put in some last-ditch efforts to even the scoreline, and they came as close as they possibly could without actually scoring. At the dead end of stoppage time, Van Persie actually put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out for offside, disappointingly the correct call. There was at least a little comic relief at the end when Arsene Wenger got sent off and then got into an entertaining back-and-forth over how far was far enough away from the action. Not satisfied with his initial departure, the ref ordered him into the stands. From there, he was instructed to put some more distance between himself and his bench, so he walked out to the front of the stands amidst the screaming United fans and smiled and shrugged his shoulders, asking, “Where do you want me to go?” It would have been hilarious had the game scenario not been so painful at the moment.

I couldn’t bear to watch any of the postgame wrap-up or listen to any of the talking heads give their two cents, so I immediately muted it and went looking for something else on my DVR to watch. It’s early, I told myself, and I have plenty of football available to watch to lift my spirits. The Milan derby was today too, right? Against all logic, I still thought AC Milan could pull off a surprise result, and I was bolstered in this belief by the teams’ week one performances. Inter draws 1-1 with Bari, Milan joga’s bonito over Siena to the tune of 2-1, and Ronaldinho was sure to be resurgent again in the pairing with Pato. Right? RIGHT?? Wrong. This one was a drubbing. I’m not sure there’s any point in going through the goals. Suffice it to say that, after a brief flourish of possession and attack in the opening minutes, AC Milan absolutely folded and Inter administered an embarrassing 4-0 defeat. Gattuso was sent off in the 40th minute, which didn’t help matters, but that was only after Inter had scored twice, including one off a penalty Rino himself conceded. After that, two great strikes by Maicon and Stankovic put the game on ice, if it wasn’t already, and left me hanging my head.

I then tried to move on to Real Madrid’s opener, but FUCKING GOLTV screwed up their guide listings AGAIN, causing me to miss the opening 40 minutes of their game against Deportivo La Coruña. Strike three.

At this point, all my hopes rested with Chelsea, who became my number two team in England when I realized a few years ago Manchester United losing was more important than anything else and Chelsea were the only ones with a hope of catching them. They’ve had a great start to the season, and I didn’t foresee them letting me down against Burnley. But then laundry, and cooking, and sweeping, and mopping got in the way and prevented me from getting in a decent result during the sunlit hours of the day.

Act II

Chelsea 3-0 Burnley
1-0 Anelka, 45′
2-0 Ballack, 47′
3-0 Cole, 52′

Real Madrid 3-2 Deportivo La Coruña
1-0 Raul, 26′
1-1 Riki, 30′
2-1 Ronaldo (pen), 35′
2-2 Valeron, 46′
3-2 Lass Diarra, 60′

Finally, with the family returned home, the daughter and husband in bed, and a kitchenful of dishes to do, I flipped on the TV and cued up Chelsea. It took them the better part of the first half to really find their groove (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), but once they did, they didn’t disappoint. Right at the end of the first half, Drogba broke out down the right and fired low across the face of the goal, setting the table perfectly for Anelka to tap it home from inches out. The second half continued in the same vein, with Ballack scoring on a diving header off a Lampard cross two minutes out of the break. The third goal was the real peach, though, and came off still more lovely passing in the set-up. Ashley Cole, who played wonderfully all game, played a little one-two with Lampard around the left corner of the box. Lampard’s lofted ball found Cole impeccably, and the left back volleyed home a stinger into the top of the net to cap the scoring.

With at least one victory under my belt, I scavenged through all the mislabeled GolTV programming I had recorded to find the Real Madrid replay and sat down to watch my most anticipated match of the new season. Despite all my best intentions, the Blancos have my undying devotion, and even my detesting (to put it mildly) of Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t put the damper on my support. An unrequited love for Raul, Casillas, and Kaka helps in that regard, though, so I was more than ready to get the La Liga season underway.

The first goal showed all the promise of what this Real Madrid might achieve, combining the old guard with the new. Kaka delivered a gorgeous ball, nutmegging TWO defenders to find a streaking Benzema (who may or may not have been offside). The keeper appeared to get a fingertip to his strike to deflect it onto the post, and the rebound fell to Raul to poke it home. It wouldn’t have been so easy had the Depor defense not stopped playing looking for the offside flag, but no matter, Real had a 1-0 lead, and it was beautifully engineered by one of the summer’s big signings. Within five minutes, though, Deportivo equalized over some iffy defending off a set piece and header by Riki. Everything just looked a little loosey-goosey back there, which is to be expected, I suppose, with all the new players in there figuring out the system. After just five more minutes, Madrid reclaimed the lead when Aranzubia brought Raul down in the box and Ronaldo coolly converted the penalty. My hatred dissipated just a tad, momentarily at least, upon witnessing his celebration, which seemed entirely earnest in the emotion he showed at scoring his first official goal for the Merengues. Despite all his pomp and hair gel, he does seem to have a legitimate love for the club and appears to want nothing more than to succeed there, which is enough to make him palatable to me. Barely.

Deportivo wasted no time coming out of halftime, equalizing a second time on a nice strike by Juan Carlos Valeron from just outside the box. Once again, some lax defending left him in too much space and he snapped it past an onlooking Casillas after receiving a nice pass from Guardado. Last season’s stand-out Lassana Diarra finally settled matters in the 60th with a surprisingly crisp hit from the top of the box. He dribbled a bit, created some space for himself, and then fired it past Aranzubia for the third time. It came a bit out of nowhere, with all the millions of Euros standing around watching him, but it secured the three points nonetheless.

Epilogue

So in the end, I finished 2-2 on the day, although that last win was a little uncertain. Still, I’ll take it, especially after how horribly it all started for me, going from awful to horrendous in the Arsenal and AC Milan losses. A big thank you to Chelsea and Real Madrid for helping me finish the 24 on a good note. We’ll see how I fare on Sunday.

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Cuatro Puntos

Posted by hiphopmama on April 28, 2009

barca-valencia
Valencia 2-2 Barcelona
     0-1 Messi, 24′
     1-1 Maduro, 43′
     2-1 Pablo, 45′
     2-2 Henry, 85′ 

raul-metzelder-sevilla
Sevilla 2-4 Real Madrid
     1-0 Renato, 16′
     1-1 Raul, 45′
     1-2 Raul, 63′
     1-3 Raul, 66′
     2-3 Capel, 80′
     2-4 Marcelo, 90′ 

And they just keep on coming. I’ve all but written off their comeback effort multiple times this season, going on record predicting Barça’s league title and lauding Pep Guardiola’s team rehaul, but every time I check the standings the champs are still hanging uncomfortably around. They picked up two more precious points this weekend when Barça were fortunate to leave Valencia with a draw after a late equalizer from Henry while Real overcame a slow start to run rampant over a Sevilla team that was alternately breathtaking and head-shaking. 

Barcelona started in promising fashion, pouring it on Los Che and eventually breaking through with a typical Barça goal from a streaking Messi played in by a defense-drawing Iniesta. The Catalans continued their dominance right up to the end of the first half, when Valencia suddenly turned things around with two quick goals to send Barça reeling into halftime. Rather than coming out rejuvenated, as I admittedly expected, they were lackluster again and needed the full second 45 to build up the momentum to finally even the scoreline, as Henry did on 85 minutes off a corner kick spilled by Cesar. So while Guardiola got some intangible bonus points for bringing on Henry as a sub, he lost two very tangible ones in the race for the title.

Real Madrid opened their game in an entirely different manner, letting Sevilla run all over them and doing little more than look stunned for most of the first half. Then, just like Barça in the second half of their game, they started picking up steam and were able to tie the game off a Metzelder cross that Raul poked home under a charging Palop. Rejuvenated by the leveled scoreline, Real came out of halftime looking for more, which they got in the 63rd and 66th, both from Raul, who benefited greatly from Higuain’s set-up for his second and Palop’s mistake for his third. His hat trick should have been enough, but when Capel scored in the 80th Merengue fans got to nail-biting again. That is, until Marcelo sealed it with an injury time solo effort that he took his time to get just right. 

And just like that, Real were within four of the leaders going into the Clasico match-up at the Bernabeu this weekend. The first game between the two Spanish giants was Juande Ramos’ first La Liga game with Madrid, and even on such short notice he had his side performing admirably, holding onto a 0-0 draw until the very end before Barça poured two quick ones on them. Those were the only two goals Real Madrid gave up for quite a while after that as Ramos instilled a stouter defensive mindset before unleashing the full weight of his team’s offensive attack. Once the floodgates were opened, though, Real came streaming through and haven’t looked back, scoring in bunches (except in the Champions League, of course) and still managing to hold most opponents to limited opportunities. With Barcelona losing some of their luster in the weeks following their last match-up, you have to figure that this one is going to be an incredible, powder-keg of a game with both teams looking to prove a point while improving their standing in La Liga. Barça will be keen to prove that they are without a doubt the best team in Spain, if not the world, as well as to redeem themselves after a frustrating 0-0 draw against Chelsea in midweek Champions League play. Real will be hoping to shave three more points off that gap and close within one while proving that they are still a force to contend with now that they have closer to their full complement of players. Well, sort of. Van Nistelrooy is still gone for the season, Robben and Sneijder are out, and Pepe has gotten his stupid ass suspended 10 games. But none of them would argue against the fact that they are better equipped from a squad standpoint than they were in the last go-round. Should be a good one, don’t you think?

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Madrid Gains More Ground

Posted by hiphopmama on February 22, 2009

barca-espanyol

Barcelona 1-2 Espanyol

  • 0-1 De La Peña, 50′
  • 0-2 De La Peña, 54′
  • 1-2 Toure, 62′

madrid-betis

    Real Madrid 6-1 Real Betis

    • 1-0 Higuain, 7′
    • 2-0 Huntelaar, 15′
    • 3-0 Huntelaar, 24′
    • 3-1 Oliveira, 30′
    • 4-1 Raul, 36′
    • 5-1 Raul, 42′
    • 6-1 Sergio Ramos, 45′

    In a seemingly improbable turn of events, Barcelona suffered just their second loss of the season to bottom-of-the-table Espanyol in the Catalan derby, while Madrid rolled to a 6-1 victory by halftime against Betis at the Bernabeu. The result was a three-point swing and a reduction of the point gap at the top to just seven. It seems like just yesterday the lead was double digits and comfortably in Barcelona’s palms. Oh wait, that was yesterday…

    Derby games are always going to have plenty of intensity, but Barça had a particularly tough time of it against Espanyol, even at the Camp Nou. Things started promisingly enough for the blaugrana, with Barcelona controlling possession and creating a number of good chances, a couple of which were just begging to be finished off. But Espanyol were able to hang on and make to halftime with the score level.

    The first half started all wrong for Barça and continued that way, as Keita picked up a straight red card on an iffy decision by the referee. It was clearly a reckless challenge, most likely a yellow, but the red seemed a little harsh. It wasn’t two-footed and he didn’t come in exceptionally late, either. From that moment on – and well before it, really – it was a slugfest. “Chippy” doesn’t even hint at the back-and-forth that went on. For the most part it was calmly managed by the ref, but you could argue that he failed to get it fully under control fast enough. And I’m sure the Barcelona fans would say he made a number of questionable calls that went against the home side. Whatever the case, going down a man was a real blow to Barça, who had mostly controlled the game up to that point. With the man advantage, Betis finally got their act together and started counterattacking with conviction. On 50 minutes, Nene secured the ball, kept it away from two defenders, and found De La Peña with a cross, and the little Buddha headed it home past a scurrying Valdes. Valdes was personally responsible for the second goal, which happened when he horribly flubbed a pass to Pique, sending it directly to De La Peña instead. As expected, DLP immediately put it away, chipping it over Valdes who was caught (or rather, caught himself) in no-man’s land. 

    Yaya pulled one back for Barça on a gorgeous one-touch strike in the 62nd, and they looked likely to level the match multiple times after that. But that second goal just never materialized, and they lost their first match since the season opener against Numancia, leaving the door open for Real Madrid to storm through in their match.

    That game was just an old-fashioned romp over an inferior opponent. It definitely helped that Betis were spent after putting everything into their draw with Barcelona the previous week, but Real was always going to win this one. Once again the defense was solid – if not as iron-clad as in games past, conceding a goal – and the offense roamed freely. When you put in six goals in the first half, you know you have it working, and the rest of the match was just about saving face for Betis. Higuain opened the scoring after Raul won a tough header and sent it in Gonzalo’s direction. All that was left was for Higuain to slyly round the keeper and slot it home. Raul got the brace for a second straight game, and Huntelaar scored two as well, finally getting his first since signing with the club. Ramos closed out the half with a diving header off Heinze’s free kick to make it 6-1. At one point, Oliveira closed the gap to 3-1 when the Madrid defense left him in way too much space just outside the box and he burned them on a rocket from distance. He had a chance to make it 3-2 a while later when Casillas went all Valdes on us and sent a perfectly weighted pass in the Brazilian’s direction. Oliveiras wasn’t able to put his shot on target, though, and he ended up hitting the post for Betis’ last real goal-scoring opportunity. 

    For as divergent as their destinies seemed during the first half of the season, Real Madrid and Barcelona’s fates seem inextricably linked once again. It’s no surprise that Real have the only team capable of competing in the long-term with Barcelona. What is surprising is how quickly they have transformed themselves into real contenders, with plenty of help from a Barcelona team that looks, dare I say it, human. As a Lakers fan, I know how inevitable it is that great teams will go through slumps at some point during a long season, and one draw and one loss hardly qualify as panic-worthy results, but it was entirely predictable that they would have to come back down to earth at some point. The key will be how well and how quickly they can rebound from their mini-slide, and how long Madrid can continue their blazing run of form. Because when all is said and done, the title is Barça’s to lose, and even if Real play perfectly the rest of the way, they need Barcelona to drop points to have a chance. I have a hard time believing that Pep Guardiola’s team, as well coached and disciplined as they have been this season, will stumble enough to gift the title to its main rival. It at least makes for interesting viewing, since the leaders must think about the reigning champions nipping at their heels. Unlike Serie A and the Premier League, both of which look as good as decided (although good luck to Liverpool, just in case), La Liga could have a feisty finish on its hands. I sure hope so.

    Real Madrid-Real Betis highlights, to some lovely musical accompaniment:

    Barcelona-Espanyol highlights:

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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’s Continued Resurgence

    Posted by hiphopmama on February 3, 2009

    All hail

    All hail

    Numancia 0-2 Real Madrid

    • 0-1 Raul, 48′
    • 0-2 Robben, 56′

    This was the game where Raul finally caught up with the illustrious Di Stefano, equaling his total of 307 goals for Real Madrid and coming one step closer to passing the legendary Argentine in the record books. It wasn’t a pretty game, or even an interesting one for that matter, but it was yet another in a long line of matches under Juande Ramos that saw the Merengues pull out a victory and keep a clean sheet despite a middling performance. If all you can ask for are results, then Ramos has certainly bolstered his credentials since joining the club, winning every match and conceding just one goal – you know, aside from that one loss to some guys from Catalonia. 

    Both goals were created by – you guessed it – Arjen Robben. For the first, Robben nimbly skipped his way through a pack of defenders and then calmly laid the ball off to Higuain on the left. Higuain’s strike was parried by the Numancia keeper, but it landed perfectly for Raul, who poked it home into the empty net before running to the sideline and pointing to the name on his jersey in recognition of the historic goal. Right place, right time yet again. The second goal, on the other hand, was Robben’s work 100%. He dribbled his way in and out of defenders, moving to the left at the edge of the penalty area before setting up a beautiful left-footed shot to beat Juan Pablo Colinas and secure all three points for Madrid. 

    Nothing much else of note happened all game. Numancia had a few chances early on and Casillas was on top of it, as always, but the second half was slim pickings for them, aside from a couples stabs taken by Barkero. Real played cautious football and were rewarded for it with the clean sheet, but without Robben’s creativity you get the sense it might have been a fruitless offensive effort. The same can be said of most of their games in 2009, as the Dutchman has been about the only spark for the team, even if he does get caught up in his own dribbling prowess and ignore open teammates from time to time. Relying so heavily on a player so prone to injury seems like a shaky endeavor, but I suppose Ramos will cross that bridge when he comes to it and keep banking on Robben’s offense until Mr. Glass breaks down again. You have to wonder what happened to the Higuain we saw early in the year, although his time on the ball has certainly diminished since Robben returned to the lineup. As long as they’re scoring enough to keep winning games, it remains pure speculation, though.

    With Sevilla’s loss to Sporting Gijon this weekend, Madrid moved solidly into the second place spot, six points clear of the third place side. Of course, Barcelona managed a hard fought victory in a game many expected them to stumble in against Racing, so Los Blancos remain twelve points back of the leaders. It seems increasingly clear that Barça are not going to slip up, at least not enough to hurt them much, and that they will hold on to win the title. But if Real Madrid can stay close enough to keep the pressure on them, they will already have salvaged the season and set themselves up nicely for next year when they will hopefully have a fully rejuvenated squad to work with. Whether or not Juande Ramos will still be at the helm remains to be seen, but since all the Arsene Wenger talk seems to be little more than a pipe dream, I imagine we’ll see more of Ramos in the near future. Not that it matters much in Madrid, but he has earned a little extra time with the way he regrouped his players after the stuttering start to the year under Schuster. Plus he doesn’t have that stupid porn ‘stache – that’s always a mitigating factor.

    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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    New Look Real Madrid Gets the W

    Posted by hiphopmama on December 10, 2008

    • 1-0 Raul, 25′
    • 2-0 Robben, 50′
    • 3-0 Raul, 57′

    So Schuster was finally sacked and – wait for it – Juande Ramos, fresh off his firing from Tottenham, was hired as his replacement. Word is that the Porn Star knew Real were in talks with Ramos, which may explain his volatile behavior of late. On second thought, he’s always been good for some off the wall comments, so it was all in character after all.

    All that matters for the team now, though, is that they got a win under the new coach, and a convincing one at that. Sure, they were just playing Zenit in a game with no real consequences, but that is exactly the kind of scenario that found Madrid lacking so many times already this year. It wasn’t a flawless victory, but neither was it as nervy as many of their other wins have been.

    To start, I liked the lineup Ramos fielded, considering all the injury problems: Dudek; Salgado, Ramos, Cannavaro, Marcelo; Gago, Guti, Robben, Van der Vaart; Raul, Higuain. Getting Robben back made all the difference in the world, as he showed his ability to spark the offense and facilitate the play going forward. All three goals were a result of the interplay between Robben and Raul, who became the Champions League all-time leading scorer with 64 goals. The first was due to a mistake by the Zenit goalie, who didn’t properly handle a cross by Robben and left it for Raul to clean it up by tapping it past him and into the goal. Raul returned the favor by feeding Robben for a beautiful chip shot on the second. And Raul topped even that by nonchalantly chipping the keeper with his left foot off yet another ball from Robben. The first was fortuitous, but the last two were things of beauty and showed how much Real have missed having a winger of Robben’s quality. Now if he could only stay healthy…

    Juve drew 0-0 with BATE, so they finish top of the group on goal differential. All the groups are so stacked with quality teams in both first and second place that it should make little difference going into the knock-out stages. 

    It was an important win for Los Blancos under the new coach, especially going into the match-up with Barcelona this weekend. As Schuster so bluntly acknowledged, they are clear underdogs, but with Real you never know. It’s not going to turn their sputtering season around immediately, but it could be the start of better things. Still, I’m not holding my breath.

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