Monday, September 22, 2008

Racing Santander v Real Madrid, September 21, La Liga

This one I saw for the last forty minutes. In the fifty-fifth minute Real scored to take a lead. Then around the seventieth (or so I remember) they scored another. And that’s how it ended: two-nil.

Real sneaked to the Liga in Capello’s season and then won a lot more comfortably under Schuster. And while it hasn’t been the perfect start for them this season, one can safely assume that they will be close to the top (if not at the top) by the end of October or earlier and should be favourites to retain the title.

And yet when you look at this team, it is difficult to say they are the Champions. Schuster replaced Capello for what was to be a transformation to free flowing football but the one thing that Real distinctly fail to do, is look attractive. They do enough to win on most occasions and did enough against Racing on Sunday, but if you missed the goals, yu would be forgiven to think that you were watching a group of slow paced strugglers who had assembled for a game for the first time.

They have enough players of brilliance combined with flair but the onus of exhibiting on the pitch seems to lie on individuals and not the group. The last time I saw Real really being magical was under Carlos Queiroz before they suddenly collapsed after the Champions League defeat to Monaco. Since then under a host of managers and with different results, they have looked a set of individuals rather than a team.

There are still the moments of brilliance though that make Real compelling viewing. Both the goals against racing came from counter attacks. For the first, Higuain started the counter by easily outrunning two Racing defenders to get deep into the attacking third and floating the ball in to the centre of the box. Raul who had run in the line of the ball brilliantly dragged the only chasing defender to the far edge of the goal allowing de la Red to meet the ball in space and finish with ease. A frustrating glimpse of fluidity in an otherwise uninspired display.

The other goal again scored on a counter attack was a genius of a different nature. I think it was Diarra who played a perfect ball from the deep to Ruud on the edge of the box. With the Racing players high up in the Madrid half, there were a couple of defenders left to stop Ruud from doing damage. The Dutch striker looked around for arriving help and was well placed to lay the ball up to an oncoming teammate. Suddenly he dragged the ball wide as if ready to shoot in the far corner of the goal but a second later the ball was in the near post through the defender’s legs and beating the goalkeeper comfortably. Super strike from Super Ruud! Barring these flashes all you saw Real do was try and kick the ball out of their box desperately and at times with great difficulty. There was a comment in the post-match analysis that we should expect Real to be largely a counter attacking team this season without the influence of Robinho and with no major creativity added. Their approach indicated the same but one wonders if it can’t easily be very different. With more of a focus on the collective it is not too difficult to imagine a team that plays through the middle, passes, flicks, steps over and enjoys the game a lot more than the current lot seems to be doing. Maybe it is too early to judge them for this season. In which case I’ll not flinch if I have to change my opinion. In fact, will look forward to it.

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