Monday, 21 April 2008

Within striking distance

The best Racing side in living memory went into their clash with Real Madrid on Sunday knowing that a win would lift them up to fourth in the table and into Champions League territory. Atlético's surprise defeat at home to Betis on Saturday motivated the Cantabrian side to come out all guns blazing, much like one of those Atlantic gales that regularly hit Santander. Real, on the other hand, knew that Barcelona had failed to subdue Espanyol the previous day, and that Villareal had just beaten Valladolid 2-0, leaving their pursuers 8 and 7 points behind respectively before they'd kicked a ball.

Despite Racing's initial onslaught, it was Real who would score first when Raúl got the merest of touches on a goal-bound Robinho cross. The captain, who is almost certain to get a break from international duties this summer despite being the second-highest Spanish goalscorer in the league, increased his personal tally against Racing to thirteen goals, making it his second-favourite team to score against, after Valladolid.

The other element of Real's success on the night was the excellent work from the back four, in particular Heinze, who is giving Sneijder a run for his money as Real's most valuable signing of the season. The Argentine was not only exemplary in his defensive duties but also linked up well with Sneijder to relieve the pressure when most needed. Added to the back four, the excellent performances of Gago and Diarra meant that Racing could only reach Casillas's area with aerial balls from set plays.

The only fly in the ointment was that, despite Raúl's early goal, the forward line was not as effective as it could have been, and a couple of clear chances, one each from Robinho and Robben, went begging. The Brazilian is not showing the sparkling form of earlier in the season (is it fitness, or is it confidence?) and was substituted by Higuaín in the second half. Robben, while showing an excellent level of fitness, also struggled to make an impact, and Schuster decided to bring Balboa on for a few minutes at the end of the game.

The youngster played his part in Higuaín's goal, which, coming as it did in the third minute of injury time against an exhausted Racing side, was probably too much reward for Real's efforts. However, this now means that Real Madrid can mathematically win their thirty-first league title next week at home to Athletic Bilbao if both Barcelona and Villareal fail to win.


Anonymous said...

Javier Balboa is one bright prospect for the future. I hope we use him well.
Why isn't El Capitan getting a call up?
Do you really think Heinze has outperformed Sneijder as our most valuable signing??

Gonzalo said...

To take your points in order:

1. Balboa hasn't been asked to perform too often when the team is under pressure - I don't think he's started a league game this season. We'll have to see whether he has what it takes to stay at this level, but the signs so far are good. Whether Schuster chooses to use him regularly is another matter.

2. This is a long and complex issue. To oversimplify, the reason Raúl almost certainly won't be playing in Euro 2008 is because nobody tells Luis Aragonés what to do. Even when he's wrong. Especially when he's wrong.

3. All I said was that Heinze was giving Sneijder a run for his money. He hasn't had as much playing time as the Dutchman due to injury, but, on the other hand, he didn't have a major slump for about three months in the middle of the season. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

As for Javier Balboa, I totally agree with you there. Yes, he hasn't started a game yet. Almost all his goals have come in the dying minutes of the game on the counter attack in which he seems to be excellent and thus becomes just what the team needs. I'm just hoping we make good use of him.

About Luis Aragones, nobody else could've put it in a better way. Somebody does have to get some sense knocked into his head sooner rather than later. You think Vicente Del Bosque will have a different opinion about Raul??

I definitely think Sneijder has proven to be a better player than Heinze despite the amount of playing time both got. I'm totally impressed by the way in which Sneijder has become a part of the whole system. Well, Heinze definitely has been good. He was awesome in Barcelona especially and he has made a good impression amongst the fans, but I just think when you compare the two, Sneijder edges past Heinze with ease.

This is just my frank opinion. I must tell you that I haven't been watching Heinze closely but from what I've seen this is what I feel.