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Just smiles at the end of the season

By Madridista Mac

So the season ended for Real Madrid. Sadly, it’s another bridesmaid finish for us with the eternal rival taking all the plaudits and the bigger one, among the 2 domestic titles that were up for grabs at the start of the term. Nevermind that the Copa Del Rey trophy pre-Sergio Ramos looks far more elegant to the gangly and grotesque-looking La Liga trophy (complete with studs) – winning La Liga is still the ultimate proof that Barcelona this season were the better team. I will admit to that much.

We will of course look back to the points we had dropped to La Liga’s relegation battlers (e.g. Sporting, Zaragoza, Levante, etc.) as the culprit to our 2nd place league finish yet again. And yet again for us, the season ends at 2nd place, many weeks before the referee blows the whistle on the final game of the season. The difference between this season end and that from seasons past where we:

– Went on a losing streak to end the season after the 2-6 hammering at the hands of Barca during Juande Ramos’ short spell with us.

– Ended the season with a fuck-it-we’ve-lost-the-title-anyway draw during our last match last season with Pellegrini.
This season, as the referee blew the whistle at the start of the last match there were at least a few reasons to smile about. A few humble goals to fight for.

-Cristiano Ronaldo was on the hunt for the goal/s that would break the La Liga goal-scoring record set by Hugo Sanchez and Telmo Zarra. And he wanted to be recognized as a record-breaker NOT ONLY by the delusional idiots at Marca.

-Kaka and Karim Benzema were still out to prove that Florentino Perez was not wrong to use them as part of his second coming’s ‘flagship galacticos’. Perhaps this was more so with Kaka, who seems to have all but lost his place as the team’s preferred ‘10’ to steal-of-the-summer Mesut Özil. For Benzema, last Saturday Night’s game was merely for him to show us that his 2011 explosion into form had not been abruptly cut short by the niggles he’s gone through these last few weeks.

-There’s also Emmanuel Adebayor, now facing the reality of waking up from the dream that has been his 2011 so far. The 2010-11 season had started out as a nightmare for him, warming the bench for Noveau-Rich pretenders Manchester City. In 2011, he then found himself in a dream: scoring goals in the Champions League Quarterfinal and lifting silverware for Real Madrid, a club whose pedigree is the subject of the insecurities of all Noveau-Rich Clubs like Man City – the source of most of his 2010 nightmares.

-And finally, there’s 38-year-old Jerzy Dudek – playing his last game with the club and perhaps as a professional footballer. A Champions League winner (and a hero in a final-for-the-ages match that turned me into a Liverpool fan), and a great teammate. Almeria’s was his farewell game with the club and with the Bernabeu, and Real’s players performed the classy act of forming a pasillo to honor their teammate. Dudek was with us for 4 years (?) and hardly played a significant game – he won’t be remembered for any magical saves he made in big matches, he won’t be remembered by any of us for titles which he helped the team to win. In fact it was he who was between the sticks in many of our ill-fated Copa Del Rey exits at the hands of 3rd division clubs.

To his teammates however, he was the elder statesman – the veteran who gave sound advice, and who set the example of being a professional. A hero who has held aloft the Champions League trophy as one of the key players from the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’, I’m pretty sure that his credibility was never in question. In a dressing room filled with men barely out of their teens, a man of his stature would surely be of great presence, importance and value to the coaching staff and his fellow players. That he would be greatly honored by his teammates for his 4 years with the club is no surprise – but that he would be given a Pasillo as a tribute while he made his way off the pitch to a standing ovation from the Bernabeu chanting his name is an act of class that truly befits Real Madrid. It was a truly refreshing moment to remind us all, despite the ugliness that we were a part of during those 2 weeks of clasico madness, what the essence of Madridisimo is all about.

In the end there was only 1 title to celebrate.
No La Decima, No La Liga.
It was a season of consolation prizes in many ways.
But in the end, despite all that, there are reasons to be optimistic and look forward to the future. There is a great coach.
There is a great squad whose core will be retained.
There is a great spirit in the team and in the club.
There will be continuity.
And as the referee blew the whistle for our last match of the season, there was no jubilation.
Just Smiles.
And for now, that may just be good enough.


Fans for Real – Welcome Nuri

Nuri Sahin: A Fantastic Signing in my opinion.

By Madridista Mac

So it’s official. Nuri Sahin, formerly of Borussia Dortmund is now officially a Real Madrid player.
He is now the 3rd Bundesliga player to join Real Madrid in Florentino’s 2nd stint at the Madrid presidency following Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil. And if it’s true that a move for Bayern Munich’s Hamit Altintop is on the cards, that would make for potentially the 2nd of 3 players of Turkish Descent (based in Germany) to join Real Madrid.

Quality, Dollars (or in this case, Euros) and Sense

There are plenty of key interesting points to note following Sahin’s arrival at Madrid that reflect a change in the Florentino Perez Version 2.0 transfer policy. Following his opening salvo of mega galacticos that include the 96m Euro Ronaldo, the 65m Euro Kaka and the 35m Euro Benzema and Xabi Alonso, Perez’s most notable signings for his second transfer season were clearly of a different type on many levels. Firstly to note was the fact that the signings were not of the Galactico profile or price (the closest, price-wise was the 25m Angel Di Maria), next was the fact that barring, Ricardo Carvalho, they were essentially young players (Ozil, Di Maria, Khedira, Pedro Leon and Canales) – but most intriguingly, they were very good deals financially. Carvalho, age 32 cost us 8m Euros, and if he plays another year or so like he has this season then I’d say he’s dirt cheap. We paid 7m for Cannavaro for the 2 years that exposed the fact that he was on his last legs at the World Cup (to the point that even his beloved Napoli said ‘No Thanks’ to him when he left us). The 2 Germans (Ozil and Khedira) were heading into the final years of their respective contracts and cost 15m each. Khedira has made 35 appearances and has become a vital cog in Mourinho’s midfield. Ozil on the other hand is starting to get astounding comparisons to the likes of Zidane. Perhaps to put Ozil’s success on the pitch and in terms of how much he cost, consider this: while much of Madridisimo has started to contemplate the possibility that the 65m spent on Kaka has been a waste and that he’s probably at best only worth 30-35m by now, if we add Kaka’s 65m with Ozil’s 15m, that’s 80m = 40m per player (for Kaka and Ozil)… all of a sudden the Kaka money wasn’t so badly spend after all!

Nuri Sahin arrives under similar circumstances: 22 years old, having been the engine that drove his team to the Bundesliga title and heading into the final year of his contract. He arrives amidst rumblings of other possible acquisitions by the club which also supposedly include: Bayern’s Altintop on a free transfer and Espanyol’s ex-canterano Callejon for 5m. 10m Euros for a 22-year old central midfielder of his talents is ridiculously cheap. To put all of this into context, the total transfer cost of these 3 players is only 15m – the price of Sami Khedira. I have no doubts that we can sell Fernando Gago and Pedro Leon for at least that amount – which technically means, we haven’t spent at all.

There will be perhaps the sentimentalists who would have continued to fantasize a transfer coup by landing Cesc Fabregas (perhaps inspired by the delusional rumblings of the English media) or the romantics who would have liked to see the return of ex-canterano Borja Valero. 35m pounds is the supposed price tag on Cesc (who’s openly a Cule and would probably only return to Spain wearing Azulgrana) while Valero certainly isn’t as cheap as 10m either. For Madridistas, the absolute dreadful (but potentially realistic) possibility of seeing Barca swoop for the pearls of our cantera like Borja and Juan Mata will have to continue… because however which way one wishes to cut it: this transaction is damn good business for any team, nevermind Real Madrid. I would also like to point out the fact that Sahin’s signing alongside the supposed deals for Callejon and Altintop are a pleasant surprise considering the timing of the signings: a refreshing change to the last-gasp purchases which Real Madrid have been infamous for during the past several transfer seasons.

Where He Fits

I won’t pretend to know all about Nuri Sahin. Given that I’m not a regular follower of the Bundesliga, my knowledge of him and his capabilities are still yet to be firmed up. I only know of him from what I’ve seen on the Bundesliga weekly shows which I catch on occasion as well as from the article here and there to read online. I do know for a fact however that he generally plays as one of the team’s 2 ‘pivots’. This is a role that he shares with one of Germany’s Bender twins who plays the ‘Khedira role’ as the midfield utility man to win balls, aerial challenges, make short neat passes and keeping play connected yet simple. It is Sahin apparently who played the ‘Xabi Alonso role’ during this season’s Bundeliga-title-winning campaign. It was his ability to link up with Japanese Dynamo Shinji Kagawa (perhaps a similar relationship between Xabi Alonso and Ozil or Di Maria) that has been crucial to Dortmund’s success this season. And though it is clear that Sahin is no ‘conductor’ of the orchestra as Xabi Alonso is (there is no one in the world that is currently like our Basque Pass Master), the young Turk is more mobile and is more comfortable in a slightly more advanced position (but not to the point of being a ‘10’).

A quick review of his highlights shows great vision and the ability to make precise and direct goal-making chances from a variety of positions in midfield: showing that he can be effective in this role whether positioned deep, playing box-to-box or even from advanced positions. Perhaps the compelling statistic about his is that he is the man in the Bundesliga who has created the most scoring chances this season. To be able to do that from a true midfield position (as opposed to a ‘10’ position) – is no joke.

I’ve often heard many complain about the fact that Real Madrid are not quite the same team without Xabi Alonso. I continue to believe that this will be so even despite the arrival of Sahin. I do believe however that Madrid will not be as lost without Xabi Alonso as they have been these past 2 seasons now that Sahin is onboard. At this point in time, I can imagine 2 distinct roles for Sahin: either as a substitute / understudy to Xabi Alonso when Mourinho makes use of his Double Pivot system or as Xabi Alonso’s ‘creative partner’ in a trivote, while backed up by a utility midfielder: a role Khedira and Lass fulfills effectively.

Question Marks

This effectively means in my opinion that Gago will likely be shown the door this summer. The Argentine who has neither mobility, tackling capability or an impressive passing arsenal can hopefully fetch a decent price in the transfer market. Also to watch this summer is if Lassana Diarra will stay or go knowing that he will remain a squad player (I can only hypothesize that this is the reason why the acquisition of Altintop is being considered alongside the permanent return of Mateos from his loan at AEK Athens).

The big question marks however will have to loom over the team’s canterano aspirants: Firstly Granero, who will have to accept being pegged back in the pecking order of midfielders. Perhaps there’s a bit of hope for him should Canales go on loan and he plays the role of being the 3rd-choice ‘10’ behind Ozil and Kaka (where Mourinho has said he is well suited for) and also as an option for one of those Central Midfield spots (with Khedira, Lass and Sahin). Followers and fans of Dani Parejo, who perhaps are still hoping to see the return of the canterano will perhaps look at this with a bit of alarm. But let’s be honest here: while Granero and De La Red have won themselves places to the Spanish National Team on the back of their performances for Getafe, Parejo on the other hand has yet to reach this level.

I’d like to end with a little confession: I first came across Nuri Sahin 5 years ago… playing FIFA 2007 on my PC. Playing Real Madrid in the manager mode, I bought him as a teenager in the video game and saw him turn into an absolutely fantastic player. 5 years later, here he is 22 years old, the best midfielder in Germany and just about to pull the white shirt on. It’s funny how reality follows ‘fiction’.

Be sure to check Madridista Mac’s blog!


Fans For Real – Pretend Coach

«You guys are this close to be like me.»

By Madridista Mac

Dear Fans of Real Madrid – I’ve got the immese pleasure to introduce you our latest collaborator, none other that Madridista Mac, one of the finest Real Madrid bloggers out there. His first post is an exceptional analysis of the fierce battle we’ll live tonight. Enjoy it!

• • • • •

So here I am, half-disgusted-and-sick-and-tired of these El Clasicos, but also half-nervous and begging for a miracle tonight. The realist in me tells me that it’s game over. But I am overcome with the desire to dream. Call it the spirit of Juanito, call it the heart of Pipita (Real Madrid’s current Patron Saint for Refusing to Lose)… call it what you want. But I’ve spent a chunk of the day pondering how we can beat Barca tonight. 0-2 will send it to Extra Time. 0-3 or 1-3 will take us to Wembley. An 0-1 or 1-2 is a consolation victory. But a victory nonetheless which we can take with us to the offseason, along with what’s left of the Copa Del Rey Trophy before a parting taunt at Barca: ‘See you in the Super Copa!’. Get to Wembley or not. Real Madrid NEED a win. Someone summed it up beatutifully this afternoon (on twitter) «Tonight’s game will decide if this season has been either a good one or a historic one.»

Mourinho’s act of genius before all this of course was to be able to find Barca’s ‘Anti-christ’: Pepe. But Barca apparently managed to expel their ‘anti-christ’ by PLAY ACTING to be Jesus at the hands of the Romans. Excuse the Blasphemy. No Pepe. No Ramos. No Khedira – these are the constraints. Now Mourinho must go to the Camp Nou, sit in a VIP box and let Karanka do the rest. His objectives are clear:

1.) Score 2 goals AT LEAST. (TRY for 3 goals)
2.) Keep a Clean Sheet

For objective no. 1, it is very clear that Real Madrid have the firepower for such a task. Ronaldo, Benzema, Pipita, Adebayor, Di Maria, Kaka and Ozil can take care of that (apparently our ‘magnificent 7’ as according to Marca, have scored 109 goals between them). On the other hand, it’s objective no. 2 with our constraints that’s going to be tricky.

4-3-3 Formation: the Cornerstone of our recent El Clasico Successes.

Let’s start with a very simple fact which has been ignored by most people thus far: except for the 2nd half of the Copa Del Rey (when we were fatigued) and the last 25 mins. of last week’s CL tie when we were down to 10 and left with yellow card-burdened players on the pitch: we essentially had Barca where we wanted them. And the most basic principles behind this recent success can be found in Mourinho’s use of the 4-3-3. The principle is simple: to use 1 or 2 of the midfield 3 as ‘raiders’ on defense or as carilleros to shuttle the ball forward. i.e. the use of defensive AND offensive carilleros.

In Game 1 we used Pepe in this role and got a draw while in Game 2 we used BOTH Pepe and Khedira in this role and won the Copa Del Rey but only after surviving the opening 25 minutes of the 2nd half where Barca’s renewed resolve and our tivote’s fatigue kicked in.
Tonight, while needing to attack, I’d like to propose the formation below: which makes use of the personnel in our Double Pivot formation but in a ‘Trivote’:

My Wannabe-Coach Moment: My current Proposed Solution for Tonight’s game. What do you guys think?

The key ideas are simple:

1. Barca’s midfield is like an Earthquake. If you let them start, it will become a tsunami by the time they get to your third of the pitch. The momentum must be killed before it can begin. The momentum usually begins right smack at the center of the pitch, where Xavi and Iniesta weave magic together with Messi when he drops deep (see white dashed arrow lines): the key principle is to box them in with our ‘Trivote’ (see yellow rectangle).

2. Di Maria will play as Pepe. El Fideo has always been known for his willingness to help on defense and press the opponent. On defense, his job will be like Pepe in the Copa Del Rey: to cut off the link between the Busquets the Bigot and Xavi. On attack he will become a carillero/winger: to shuttle the ball forward from midfield to either a surging Marcelo to link up with either of the front 3: just as he did with Argentina last summer.

3. Lass will play as Khedira: He will cut off the link between Iniesta and the racist Busquets. He may shuttle the ball forward to our guys in attack but MUST REMEMBER THAT HE IS NOT ZIDANE (i.e. keep it simple).

4. Xabi Alonso will play as he did in the Copa Del Rey: he will be the passing and positional fulcrum of the team (all the yellow dashed lines attached to him are his possingle passing channels). He is also to keep an eye on Messi if the little Master drops deep in his ‘false 9’ role.

5. Ozil as part of the front 3 can drop deeper in his preferred fantasista role (to form a narrow ‘rombo’) and also help in closing Busquets the monkey. His presence in this role can also allow him to be the guy to close down Pique when he makes one of his wannabe-Franz-Beckenbauer runs with the ball forward. On attack, if we assume he will be coming from a deeper position, then he just might be able to make thant late run for a Lampard-esque goal/s.

6. In front, CRon and Benzema/Adebayor/Pipita can pair up but must perform the role of pressing the Barca defenders.

7. The flanks: it will be a one-on-one Brazilian Dogfight between Marcelo and Alves. Both will probably cross swords at the middle of the pitch where they are generally stationed. Marcelo must show his maturity in balancing his attacking play to pin Alves behind and tracking his compatriot… or risk exposing his defense. If everyone does their job, Carvalho + Albiol will only either need to worry about Messi or Pedro and not both simultaneously. On the other side, Arbeloa’s natural tendency to be conservative should see him play 1-on-1 vs. Villa tonight: a matchup I truly believe he can win.

8. Substitutions: Di Maria will probably look like a starved Somalian by the 70′ in this role (wait, he sort of looks like one already, haha) – Kaka or Granero can come in as a reliever. On attack, Ozil and Benzema can be replaced by Adebayor and Pipita. I quite like Pipita in these endgame situations because a player with a Kamikaze ‘Banzai MotherF*cker!’ personality like him might just be the guy who makes a difference while an Aerial Threat with pace and skills like Adebayor totally changes the gametime situations which the Barca defenders will face.

Be sure to check Madridista Mac‘s blog!


Fans for Real – The bitter taste of victory

By Austin Hammond

After the turbulent match between Real Madrid and Barcelona last Wednesday in the semifinals of the Champions League, Barcelona fans, rather than bragging about their victory as they are accustomed lately, seem to be observing an awkward silence that speaks for itself: playing important games against Barcelona is becoming synonymous of playing with one player less. And this is an irrefutable fact. It is true that during a soccer match, a large number of plays will occur and the referees do not always get to see them all. Making the right call is not always as easy as it seems on television. Yet, one thing is to miss a penalty or a foul, and quite a different one is to see it where it has not happened. That kind of calls speaks a lot about one referee’s attitude. Drastic decisions such as calling a penalty or red carding a player in such relevant games as Wednesday’s should always be backed by the certainty of what’s been seen. Otherwise, these decisions will always lead to suspicions, especially when they always benefit the same team. Whether the action of Pepe deserved to be punished with a red card or not, would the referee have called the same if the action was committed by a Barcelona player? Some would say “Of course he would have!” but the reality is that that never happens.

Regardless of what might be called conspiracy theories, we (the TV cameras and us) have also witnessed for too long the shameful attitude of a club which, leaving aside the purely sport tactics –and allow me to stress that offensive and  defensive approaches are equally respectable when it is about winning- is consistently practicing the shameful art of deceit openly and without any resentment. Many respected names of soccer have already echoed the miserable “performance” -pun intended- of the Catalan club, more likely to be found in B movies characters than in the members of a team that is contending in Europe’s top soccer competition. Fans around the world feel ashamed that grown men act that way while they are getting paid millions, aside from constantly and annoyingly proclaiming themselves role models for all the children around the world. It’s even possible that many Barcelona fans would have rather lost as Madrid did than to win in such a regrettable way.


Fans for Real – You can’t miss what’s coming!

Reminding them who’s best.

Ever feel frustrated ‘cause you couldn’t read the most awesome Real Madrid blog in the world? Well, now you can! Starting today, every Monday Fans del Madrid will feature an original entry for english-speaking fans around the world. These entries will keep our characteristic honesty, humor, depth of analysis (well, sometimes…) and foul language! Sure, there are excellent Real Madrid blogs out there, like Madridista Mac, but don’t forget to check Fans for Real weekly. Of course, feel free to comment – we’re willing to exchange points of view, either agreeing or having  a good old argument over Real!

• • • • •

What a week this has been! When you’re playing what can arguably be called the most important game in 5 years and you happen to win it brilliantly, one can only say it feels fucking great. I’m sure that even those of you living out of Spain have noticed the relentless campaign of late years presenting Barsa as the ultimate football team, best of all time and even morally superior, playing for children and whatnot. Well, after a real long time of standing that crap, there was a sore need of slapping them in the face, and Ronaldo’s header did just that. Real’s brilliant shorcircuit of Barsa’s midfield and the tactical variety we’ve shown in these last two games are the best reminder that football can’t be confined to a single idea, and that endless passing can be nice, but also frigging boring, and what’s worse, ineffective. A 63% possession of the ball did no good to Barsa, who came back home empty-handed and scratching their heads.

Yup, the hit has hurt, and it’s showing. Guardiola’s already playing the victim, complaining that they lost «because of a referee with very good sight who gave a 2 cms.-offside». Was he expecting him to ignore it or something? He also stated that Mourinho would be «delighted» if a portuguese referee was assigned to the Champions League semifinal. I’m positive he’d have preferred the match to be refereed by Tom Henning or Massimo Busacca, right? Sure, Guardiola has repeatedly assured that he doesn’t speak about referees, but you see, what he meant was «I don’t speak about referees when we’re winning!» Well, finally we’ll have a german referee, and I just hope he gives an equal treatment to both teams, unlike what has been usually happening with Barsa. Expect more rantings from Guardiola in case thing don’t go as he expects.

Of course, I’ve got to mention the saturday Valencia league game, which at first seemed an inconvenience and ended up being a huge confidence boost. What skill our bench players displayed! It really helps to know that if one of the starting men isn’t available, you have a backup just as good. At any rate, the Champions League semifinal is the big finale to this season drama – if you have any liking for football, don’t miss these two games for anything, as they’re bound to pass into history. It’s rare that two so dominant teams come up at the same time, and if you add the tremendous rivalry among them, it really doesn’t get any better. In case you’re new to football (or soccer, if it suits you) and you’re wondering who to support, thae answer is clear – Real, of course. That is, unless you like teams that ally themselves with segregationist movements, that spend millions upon millions on players but pretend to be youth academy-based, and that are sponsored by obscure foundations with disturbing links to islamism (full story here). Yeah, and that’s only the beginning, mates.

Real, in the other hand, has always been clear about itself – we only want to be the best, bringing in the best men in the game. I’d say we’ve been really good at it so far, and intend to keep doing so.