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Michael Sebold


Madrid – A Tale of Two Weekends

Written by on January 21, 2011 | 10 Comments »
Posted in General, Real Madrid

Due to an administrative error (mine) this article was originally posted under my byline instead of the author’s – Michael Sebold.

Home . . .

Not unlike some other notable managers, Jose Mourinho endeavours to shift media scrutiny from his players onto himself, and it’s a skill he’s developed to a ridiculous level of mastery. From time to time, however, the scrutiny belongs squarely focused on him in the first place – this is certainly the case following Sunday’s disaster at bottom Almeria.

To be fair, this was the headline I had intended for last week’s aborted write-up: “Villarreal 2 – Mourinho 4.” That solid performance seemed a good occasion to re-examine what I had previously laid out as the task at hand for Mourinho to transform Real Madrid into a side that can legitimately hope to take three points from the Barcelona juggernaut in April – that task being to strip his superstars of their self-serving tendencies.

While the Villarreal result provided more evidence that he is in fact doing this (notwithstanding Ronaldo’s razzle-dazzle-give-aways), the convincing reversal of the early double-deficit also was almost entirely the wages of Mourinho’s tactical manoeuvring.

That Sunday’s goal-fest seemed to mark a point of departure for the type of football Real had been playing last year. It was also the emergence of something rather resembling character and perseverance for the team as a whole.

Without question, Mourinho’s still-questionable back-line, along with Alonso, absolutely fell asleep on Cani’s goal. But while Real’s leveller did come from its superstar-in-chief, it was also a flawless example of a team-goal: Benzema not just holding up the ball, but getting it to Özil, who befuddled the defence by continuing the exchange before giving Ronaldo one of his easier markers.

Of course, the Real defence promptly demonstrated that it doesn’t quite have the concept of the trap sorted out. But the Whites very much knuckled down after that, and Alonso’s superb serve to Ronaldo’s head for a sharp finish set the tone for what was to come in the second half.

After correctly sizing up the Submarine’s performance during the first half, as well as the effectiveness of his own tactical adjustments (like getting his defenders to be much more disciplined in the second half), Mourinho leveraged his side’s growing domination of the tiring visitors’ midfield by going offensive.

First he stabilized his own midfield by replacing the ineffectual-if-energetic Diarra with a more judicious Khedira, which enabled him to add Kaka’s creativity to the leading edge.

A two-goal lead firmly in hand, Mourinho promptly slammed shut the crack in the backdoor with Gago. So, while the perseverance of a team finding its stride is what kept the score level up to that point, it was this tactical master-stroke that earns Mourinho the credit for the convincing victory.

And Away . . .

Now, whereas the Special One is due his credit for the fine home performance, he is equally, if not more so, due the blame for needlessly dropping the two points vs. Almeria.

In fact, starting Benzema on the bench was such an obvious blunder that it rather smells of a managerial power move much more than an earnest attempt to take all three points from the cellar-dwellers.

Other not-insignificant managers have, to equally disappointing effect, attempted to use Ronaldo to lead the line—and typically out of necessity instead of a less than subtle dislike of the other available personnel—so it’s exceedingly doubtful that Mourinho was unaware of the risks involved in such a move.

No, whatever the legitimate criticisms of Benzema as a finisher, his presence on the pitch is critical to creating the space necessary for the likes of Özil, Di Maria, and now Kaka, but especially Ronaldo to operate.

Goals may have been lacking, but Benzema has relatively consistently delivered the goods in terms of holding up the ball, and more recently he’s even learned how to release it to good effect, with Ronaldo and Özil certainly having benefited.

We’ll probably never know what Mourinho was truly thinking in making his selections, but it’s reasonable to infer that his primary motivation was to compel some action from Valdano and Perez in the transfer market, by sneaking three points the bottom team without his striker in the line-up.

Almeria, of course, had other ideas, and Mourinho’s scheming was fully foiled by what had to be Di Maria’s worst day at the park this season, while Marcelo had relapsed into his give-away phase. Even the Germans were no help, and that’s not counting Sami’s momentary lapse of reason.

By the time Mourinho conceded to reality, the Real defence was set to disappoint once again, which it did at minute-60. Worse yet for his scheming, the goal that saved a point was capably set up, albeit not scored, by Benzema.

Still, the risk of this tactical approach must have been apparent to a manager of Mourinho’s stature, so he must have accounted for it in his overall strategy. It is, however, challenging to see how his league calculus comes together – at this point, even if he gets the striker of is choice, he seems to be counting on injuries creeping into the bigger of the Catalan sides as the season wears on.

With Mallorca missing some key personnel, and Santander not about to present a problem for Barca, this weekend is unlikely to shed much additional light on how things will turn out, but whatever the outcome at season’s end, Mourinho cannot now say that it wasn’t of his own making.

And in the wake of Almeria, the media spotlight shouldn’t trouble his players too much for their remaining fixtures.

10 responses to “Madrid – A Tale of Two Weekends”

  1. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:


    I think it quite simply comes down to the fact that Jose has lost all faith in Benzena. And for good reason too. True, Benzema did set up the Granero goal v Almeria and has had some moments this year. But Benzema has been largely ineffectual this year and his benching is warranted. In the Copa match yesterday, Jose opted to bench him again, play Ronaldo as CF, and Marcelo in Ronaldo’s usual spot on the wing (Kaka began on the bench).

    I believe that the squad Jose began with at Almeria was the strongest attacking lineup available to him at the moment and the result came down to his team simply not producing on the day and dropping two points. Real Madrid have been rather fortunate to have only started two points behind Barça entering the Almeria game and could easily have dropped more points in this campaign. I believe Jose thinks a lineup with Ronaldo as CF (with Kaka, Ozil, and Di Maria in MF) is superior to a lineup with Benzena as CF (with Ronaldo, Ozil, and Di Maria in MF). And I’d have to agree with him on that one. Kaka was a recent World Player of the Year. Benzema has been largely unimpressive. True, Kaka is still to attain full form and match fitness. But this was the ideal time to try something which should be superior to the lineup he had before. After all, Barça beat Almeria 8-0 on this same ground. So, Madrid’s failure of getting the full three points does not come down to tactics and team selection. Real should be getting all the points no matter if you start Benzena as the CF or Ronaldo as the CF (with Kaka on the wing).

    As for the issue of playing Ronaldo as a CF, I respectfully disagree with you. He’d be very effective there and did score a goal in that position yesterday @ Athletico. Henry used to be a winger and was converted to a CF by Wenger. Messi started as a winger with Barça and is now their CF. Ronaldo is going to score goals no matter where he plays. In all these cases, the conversions are all about putting your best goal scorer in the position where he will get the most goal scoring opportunities. A wise use of your resources. Just because Fergie did not have success with Ronaldo as a CF does not mean that Ronaldo cannot be effective there. Fergie does make mistakes. Didn’t Fergie opt to play Rooney ahead of Tevez quite often? I don’t think Rooney could polish the Argentine’s boots to be honest. In any event, there’s no excuse for Fergie to have such a multi-dimensional talent as Tevez on the bench for big games. So Fergie does make mistakes too.

    Other than that, I fully agree with you Bobby and well written. Thanks for a La Liga article.

  2. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:


    I know this is off topic but what the hell. Why have Celtic not signed DeRo? Certainly he could improve the squad couldn’t he? Celtic signed Freddie recently and it seems that DeRo is a much more effective player these days. Sure there would be a transfer fee but Celtic could afford it. What’s your take?

  3. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:

    Sorry Michael and Bobby. Thought Bobby wrote this article before looking. Anyway, either of your opinions on the DeRo matter would be helpful.

  4. Pep 5 Jose 0 – It was my error when I posted. The article has now correctly identified as Michael’s.

  5. Celtic – Could they afford it? Not necessarily. Would they want to pay him more than Toronto? – I doubt it.

  6. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:


    Could you elaborate a little more on “would they want to pay him more than Toronto”? I’m not quite following you.

    We’re not talking about a huge transfer fee here and they brought him into training in the first place. And he’d be more effective than Freddie no?

  7. Is De Rosario going to move from Toronto for less money than he is presently getting?

    I think you could also say that they brought him in on trial under a false assumption which then turned into training.

    It is not as simple as they signed Freddie and I think De Ro is better so why don’t they sign him. Freddie signed a six month deal and came free.

    I think that tells you a lot about far Celtic are willing to commit. Perhaps if the same deal was on the table they might go after De Ro but it isn’t. He is owned by another club. It is an apples and oranges comparison.

  8. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:


    I know Freddie’s situation is different than DeRo’s and that there was no transfer fee for the Swede. And I’m not saying Celtic should pick DeRo over Freddie as in it’s an either or thing.

    Why don’t Celtic sign DeRo as well? I’ve seen CFC on Setanta a number of times and believe DeRo would be an upgrade (has pace & can score goals). Celtic should be able to afford both the transfer fee and an increase in DeRo’s wages as well. So all parties should benefit on this one (Celtic, TFC, MLS, and DeRo). Win, win, win, win! No? Or what am I missing here? That’s why we come for the sage Bobby’s take …

  9. “Celtic should be able to afford both the transfer fee and an increase in DeRo’s wages as well,” and what makes you think that?

    It is not an ever ending pot of money so forking over a transfer fee for a 32-year-old De Ro means that something has to be given up.

    Thirty-two year old players do not get better so if he did not have it when he was in his prime what would provide any confidence that he does now?

    I have not seen a lot of Celtic this season but my sense is that goal scoring has not been a problem. Gary Hooper has done reasonably well in his first season. As for pace De Ro’s tends to be only in one direction. He has never struck me as the most diligent when expected to defend.

  10. Pep 5 Jose 0 says:


    Celtic have a large 60,000 + stadium, SPL TV revenues, merchandising, etc. OK, I’m not their accountant and don’t have access to their books but there is an opportunity cost to not winning the SPL title and direct access and better opportunity for advancement in the UCL. And now with Miller leaving Rangers, Celtic have an even better chance at winning the league. We are not talking about a Dzeko or Bent deal here. This definitely wouldn’t break CFC’s bank.

    As for his age, he is two years younger than Freddie and is playing better and is more versatile than FL. Many other pundits have mentioned that DeRo has definitely got the quality to play for Celtic and a European league such as the SPL. He’s a long time national team player, multiple MLS all star, etc. I heard that there were other issues as to why he never played in Europe during his prime such as wanting to stay at home. Anyhow, he definitely has the quality to play there. And Celtic thought so too or he wouldn’t have been training there for three weeks. Forget the circus and the fiasco surrounding ‘was he given permission to train there
    or not’. A bloke just doesn’t show up to training and say, ‘right then … let’s go’. I believe this whole episode just goes to show the breadth and depth of the ineptitude of the transitional TFC management and MLSE in general.

    Anyway, I just read that it was TFC that pulled the plug on this last week as Winter wanted him in training from day one. I just hadn’t heard anything on the tele about the issue and decided to ask you about it. I still think he would upgrade Celtic and it’s a shame that a deal could not have been struck.

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