Monday, 28 April 2008

Just the two of us

The number two features highly following the league results at the weekend: two points out of the next four games are all that Real Madrid need to clinch their thirty-first league championship. Two is also the number of teams still in the race, as Barcelona dropped out of contention after going 2-0 in Riazor against Deportivo on Saturday. Only Villareal now have a mathematical chance of preventing the Real faithful congregating at the Cibeles fountain in Madrid to celebrate victory and they need to win every single one of their remaining games (at home to Getafe and Espanyol, and away to Recreativo and Deportivo).

In fact, as Villareal's home game against Getafe will finish before Real's away tie in Pamplona (against Osasuna), the merengues could find themselves champions before they even kick a ball. They already knew before their game this Sunday that Villareal had denied them the chance of singing the alirón (a word of disputed etymology, but you could say it is the equivalent of singing "We are the Champions"). Though the Yellow Submarine had torpedoed Betis, the Madrid players nonetheless came out determined to show their mettle.

Schuster lined up Saviola from the start, allegedly because he'd been training well and had not had the chance to come on in previous games when he had spent some time warming up. More suspicious minds may conclude that Real wants to give him a bit of an outing to improve his selling price come the summer. Regardless, the diminutive Argentine showed flashes of his class in his first league game since December 1st and pounced on a rebound from the Athletic keeper to put Real ahead after 13 minutes.

If the final result looks like a comfortable win, it is fair to say that it was only possible through the acrobatics of Iker Casillas. He may claim a lack of interest in winning the Zamora trophy, but he put paid to Athletic's hopes of getting back into the game with a crucial penalty save in the first half, and two more excellent stops later on. Athletic looked deflated and Schuster brought on Robben and Higuaín part way through the second half to finish them off.

And finish them off they did. Higuaín sped down the right wing and threaded it through to Robben for a simple finish. Barely two minutes later, he got himself on the scoresheet by latching onto a throw-in and sending goalkeeper Armando the wrong way.

The omens, if you believe in omens, are good for next Sunday's game against Osasuna. Real have won in their last three visits and have not lost at El Sadar (or Reyno de Navarra, as it is now known) since February 2003. Should they win the league title there, their next opponents will make the traditional pasillo welcoming the champions onto the pitch of the Bernabéu in a game that's already sold out. The identity of their next opponents? Barcelona.


John said...

I'm happy to see Higuain getting his scoring touch. I hope he keeps this up.

Good too see Saviola back and its been a while since we've heard anything about him.

Monter said...

Great game.
It was the type of perfect night that everything goes your way. Starting from Casillas, the defense line, Sneijder & Gago, Saviola, the substitutes .. err.. everybody .

But I'm particularly happy for Saviola. He put up a good show & effort. Also got himself a goal.
El Larguero yesterday talked about him being a super professional. Well, credit to him. Hope he keeps it up.

Oh, and you keep up your good work, mate.

Gonzalo said...

Of all the Argentinians on the side, it's Gago who seems to be slowly finding his way into the starting eleven. Higuaín will find it difficult to replace Raúl or Van Nistelrooy (when he's fit) unless he becomes indispensible in the goalscoring stakes. ASviola I think is likely to be sold in the summer if a buyer can be found.

Thanks! Glad you like the site and feel free to pop back and comment. The game was played at a great pace and it was refreshing to see it played so openly, Athletic did not give up (well, at least not until they were 3 down) and if it hadn't been for Casillas, it could have been a much edgier affair.

Merengue said...

A very interesting game, and as Gonzalo said Athletic played pretty well for most of the match but were stopped by San Iker. I liked the speed that Madrid played in this game, that is what we saw in the first half of the season. I too was happy to see Saviola in the lineup and have him play well. He is a good player but needs to find a club next season where he'll get more minutes.

But it has been Sneijder's play this past month and a half which has really been welcomed. He began the season well, then struggled for several months but has been playing well lately. He gives the midfield an additional passer, and one who works hard and is dangerous on set pieces. I like the understanding he is building up with Guti and Gago.

Evo said...

Gonzalo, I think you're dead right. I believe Saviola will be sold for sure.

For me, Gago is THE team member who has improved more than any other this season (Marcelo comes very close as best improver also, but had a few defensive blips).

john said...

It's really good to see a coherent, solid midfield combination in Gago/Sneijder/Guti with Robinho or Robben on the left. The way this group play together is consistent effective. I hope that Diarra stays for another season, because he's also (still) a valuable option in important away games, as he proved last week. I, also, am really glad to see Higuain playing well. His goal was professional, and run/pass to Robben was perfection itself.

Schuster has to be applauded for that substitution, which immediatly effected the outcome of the game. It was nice to see him go for the jugular, rather than trying to defend the meager lead. This, I still believe, is a great use of Higuain. It was his late inclusion (and fresh legs) in the matches last year that helped us to the title. Eventually he might be starter material, but in the meantime he can still be a valuable contributer to the squad.

Merengue said...

john makes some very good points, first about how well the midfield has been playing recently and then also about Higuain's effectiveness as a late game sub who adds some speed to the lineup. And like John I also would like to see Diarra remain with the team as he does add some steel to the midfield. When healthy there is a lot to like about this current Madrid squad. I don't think many changes need to be made this summer.

Gonzalo said...

I've written on this blog before how players like Diarra and Makélélé do a lot of the dirty work and get little recognition for their efforts. I agree Gago is coming on well this year now he's had some continuity, but by himself he's not enough to cover all of Real Madrid's defensive midfield duties.

Anonymous said...

I feel that the current squad is really injury prone. That cost us the Champions League this season. Our subs may be good enough for La Liga but when it comes to the champions league a few changes are required here and there.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, I'm happy that we've retained our form from the end of last season through to this season. I really hope we progress well in Europe next season and add to the nine trophies.

Gonzalo said...

I think that the raft of injuries is partly due to bad luck and partly due to some of the new joiners not being at peak fitness, rather than any major shortcomings at the club from a training prespective.

What's your views on where the club needs to reinforce with a view to next season?

Merengue said...

Gonzalo asked,

"What's your views on where the club needs to reinforce with a view to next season?"

I would say midfield depth, both centrally and out wide. But that would be covered if, as rumoured, Granero, de la Red and Javi Garcia return next season.

I suspect this will be Michel Salgado's last season at Madrid so depth at right back or ideally someone who could play on either side and is more reliable than Miguel Torres would be nice.

If Metzelder can stay healthy he fills the void for central defensive cover plus both Heinze and Sergio Ramos can play centrally too which is why I think a fullback who could play on both the left and right when either one of Heinze or Ramos are not available or move inside would be a good offseason move.

Other than that, I could se eboth Saviola and Soldado moving on so maybe another center forward. But it doesn't have to be, in fact shouldn't be, a star but rather someone who would be satisifed backing up van Nistelrooy. Ideally they could also fill in for Raul too.

Basically I like the current Madrid team, adding a few of the returning canteranos plus a couple of other complimentary players is all that I think the team needs to be very competitive next season. I don't think there is the need to splash a lot of money on a big name signing.