Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oppurtunities, Offsides & Orgasmou

Real Madrid celebrate after scoring their 700th goal in Europe
An AC Milan vs Real Madrid encounter is always special, even before the ball is kicked, because it is the coming together of European Royalties. To put things into perspective, they have a mind boggling 28 European trophies between them – enough for any trophy cabinet curator to have a nightmare maintaining them – and the 2nd leg played out last night lived up to the pre-match media hype. The match was significant because of two reasons:
  1. Real Madrid have never won at the San Siro, and with The Special One in charge (who incidentally used the same ground as home for the other Milan, the treble winners Inter Milan, and has never lost there), they had a chance to break the jinx
  2. Allegri finally seemed to have seen sense and benched Clarence Seedorf in favor of Kevin Prince Boateng. With Abbiati, Pato and Silva back in the squad, Milan could boast that they were full strength this time round, so there was going to be no room for excuses

The match started predictably with Real Madrid dominating possession and blooding Milan with sucker punches. To say that Real Madrid deserved to be two goals up by the 30th minute is no overstatement either as Los Blancos peppered the Milan goal. Higuain latched on to a ball by Ozil early in the half and drilled a shot to the far post through four static Milan defenders. Abbiati scrambled and saved what would otherwise have been a very fine goal. As the first half aged, Madrid started turning the screws tight, with Sergio Ramos sending in a cross almost from the goal line to Higuain who headed it in perfectly, only for Pirlo to head it off the line; the ball landed to Di Maria who unleashed a volley, which Pirlo again headed out to safety off the line. As the half wore on, the urgency dimmed a bit, but Madrid’s brightest spark Di Maria latched on to a loose ball, went on a typical marauding run before picking out Higuain and feeding in a majestic through ball to the striker, who announced his real arrival on the European scene by scoring past Abbiati to the far post for Real Madrid’s 700th goal in European tournaments.

Higuain writes his name into the Elite List
What Irony that Higuain, who some sect of fans dub as a failure on the European scene, now joins an elite list of players who’ve scored milestone goals for Real Madrid in Europe (Miguel Munoz - 1st, Di Stefano -100th , Puskas – 200th, Jensen – 300th, Losada – 400th, Guti – 500th, Beckham – 600th)


AC Milan looked to hit Madrid on the counter, but were not too successful seeing as the Real Madrid defensive line played high up the park and the forwards duly got caught offside. Ibrahamovic performed his disappearing act in Europe once more and Pato was a disappointment as well, but that was more due to the fact that Marcelo and Carvalho doubled up on him exceedingly well. AC Milan’s change came in the form of Inzaghi, the man identified by Mourinho as the danger man for Real and it was no surprise why Mourinho felt so, because Inzaghi scored two goals, the first one through combined gaffes by Pepe (who went to ground easily in a big game once again) and Casillas who misread Ibra’s cross and made a big mess out of it allowing Inzaghi to ghost in and score a header. Inzaghi’s second goal came from an offside position, which in the linesman quite inexplicably decided not to flag down, thereby cementing the popular phrase “Inzaghi was born and will die offside”


Finding themselves a goal down despite dominating the entire match, Madrid looked out of ideas, out of inspiration and out of time. That is when Jose Mourinho worked his magic once more. Now APTW is very fair when it comes to awarding credit. The particular change which Mourinho made (replacing the erroneous Pepe with Benzema), was a tactic which Mourinho had seemingly borrowed from Pep Guardiola (re: Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona). What Guardiola did then was push up Alves into a LWM position with Busquets dropping back into the remaining three man defence to restore parity with the number four. It was in effect a 3-4-3 which became a 4-3-3 when Barcelona were without the ball. A similar approach was used by Mourinho who took off a centre back and put in a forward who likes to drift in from the flanks. He then took off Higuain who was the lone reference high up the pitch, and put in Pedro Leon a right winger. The players were moved on the field like chess pieces, with Madrid’s 4-2-3-1 becoming a 3-4-3 in attack and a 4-3-3 in defence.

Khedira moved deeper to sit ahead of the 3 defenders and sometimes dropped even deeper to compensate for the 4th man. Ramos (just like Puyol in Pep’s setup), is primarily a RB who can play center back and he did just that. Ronaldo moved from the left flank into the centre of the attacking trident, with Di Maria moving to his preferred left flank. Benzema took up the right side of the attacking trident, Ozil moved from his advanced playmaking role into the deep playmaking role, while Alonso moved deep and slightly off to the left, to compensate further for the reduced man in defence. Pedro Leon on the other hand was given full freedom to utilize the right flank and co-ordinate with Benzema, thereby utilizing both players with fresh legs against the tired legs of Milan. This tactical change worked wonders, as Benzema took the ball outside Milan’s box and opened himself to unleash a shot. Pedro Leon meanwhile had moved high up the park, almost as a targetman, and just as Benzema opened himself to take his shot, Leon made his run. Benzema spotted him and made an inside pass to Leon who slotted it between Abbiati’s legs for the equalizer with 30 seconds to go, stunning the San Siro into pin drop silence.

Super Subs
He may not be a Zidane or a Maradona, but Pedro Leon certainly has the mentality to be one. There are not many people who come on as a substitute and score the winner with 30 seconds to go in a ground as intimidating as the San Siro. Gattuso who was subbed for Seedorf couldn’t believe his eyes, while Inzaghi (having flashed the number 69 after scoring in a dig to Raul) had that look by which one can surmise that he must’ve wished Abbiati was never born.

...All in all, the match was one of the most entertaining matches APTW has seen, and mainly because of the sheer aura that both the teams have. Real Madrid should’ve won the match had they taken their chances well, but in retrospect, a draw is a very fair result. Props to Howard Webb for letting the game go on, instead of being a whistle happy ref.


Canterano said...

Loved the review except for one thing, the system that you say Mou "borrowed" from Pep is wrong, even before the season started Mourinho had already stated that he will use a system similar to the 3-5-2, if and when needed, just pointing out mate, don't give credit where it isn't needed. ;)

Ashay K. said...

Thanks a lot mate. Well, I recall Mou saying that the team will alternate between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 at the beginning of the season.

The comparison with what Pep did was only because rather than the team being a 4-3-3, Mou used a 3-4-3 which became a 4-3-3 once we were without the ball, similar to what Barcelona did against Atletico. Obviously Mou is tactically more accomplished than Pep is.

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